Pandemic Takeout 55: Basil Cafe (St. Paul, MN)


In my recent review of takeout from On’s Kitchen I noted that we would not go three months between Thai meals again and as it happens we didn’t even go three weeks. This past weekend we went back to University Ave. in St. Paul (the Twin Cities’ true Eat Street) to pick up another round of Thai takeout. Not to On’s again and not to Bangkok Thai Deli or even Thai Cafe either. In fact, we went to a place we’d never been before and which I’d not even really registered the existence of till someone recommended it to me in a discussion on the excellent East Metro Foodies Facebook page: Basil Cafe. Recommendations from strangers for Asian restaurants of any kind in the Twin Cities can be hit or miss—usually more miss than hit—and this is particularly true of Thai food, the preferences for which in the area seem to run towards the sweet and standard. And so I won’t deny that I was a bit skeptical going in. I am, however, very happy to say that we did in fact enjoy the food a lot. Here are the details.

Basil Cafe, which opened in the summer of 2019, is located on University Ave. right before it hits Dale. By the way, if you look at their website you’ll see their hours listed as 10 am to 8 pm, Tuesdays-Sundays. On their Instagram and on Google it says 11-7. Trust their Instagram and Google: the hours are 11-7. When you do get there you’ll find they have a parking lot right alongside which makes life much easier. The restaurant is currently open for dining in but you’ll have to call ahead to make a reservation. We, of course, were getting takeout and I was pleased to see our food waiting for us as we had to book it right back home for lunch on the deck with friends.

It’s a very attractive restaurant on the inside—something it has over all the other University Ave. Thai stalwarts. Lots of natural light streaming in through large windows, dark wood floors and nicely spaced tables. If ambience is a consideration they’re probably tops among the Thai competition. The food is not bad either but the menu is very compact and devoid of things like larb—I will confess that this is the other thing that had given me some pause. As it turns out, however, what they do have is very good, or at least everything we had was very good. There were no big highs here—no dishes better than the best versions we’ve had at On’s or Bangkok Thai Deli, or even on par with the best versions there—but there were also no lows at all; the baseline was pretty high. That’s a good thing.

What did we get? We started with orders of fried pork belly with garlic and their beef and pork jerky. We were disappointed that the weekend special sausage that’s on their website has been discontinued but these were all very tasty. A Thai-style papaya salad alongside. I’d asked for this to be made at the hottest setting and it brought a fair bit of heat. Up next: an order of boat noodles. I’d been a bit taken aback to see boat noodles listed as a variation of pho but it was quite good indeed with a fair bit of pork liver among the meaty bits. The two curries—one red with beef, the other green with pork—were a bit thinner than I would have liked but they were sans the dread Minnesota sweetness and quite tasty. While the best green curry we’ve had at either On’s or Bangkok Thai Deli has been a fair bit better this was nonetheless better than the most recent versions we’ve had at either place. Both also were quite hot, as requested.

Also on the table was an order of pretty good fried rice. Better still was the pad ka pao—though here the versions at the University Ave. stalwarts are quite a bit better. The boys were disappointed that there is also no chicken satay on their menu but they really enjoyed their orders of khao mun gai (steamed chicken over rice) and khao moo krob (crispy pork belly over rice). To end, two orders of mango sticky rice, which I enjoyed quite a bit.

For a look at the space, menu (there are no prices listed on their website so you may find these pics useful) and the food, launch the slideshow below. Scroll down for price and to see what’s coming next.

On the whole, a very good meal and one that made me wish that they would add a few more dishes to their menu—at least a larb and a meat salad and maybe khao soi. Still, there’s enough on the menu that we didn’t try this time that I am looking forward to eating when we can eat in—the stir-fried noodles etc. are unlikely to travel well for takeout.

Price? With tax and 20% tip this came to $168 or so. We were four adults and two children and based on leftovers this was enough food for eight adults and two children. So roughly $17/head all-in. Not bad at all. I join with the person who recommended them to me in recommending them to you.

What’s next in pandemic takeout? This weekend seems like it’s going to be very nice. If our podmates are willing to do dinner rather than lunch I might go up to the Cities to get some barbecue (from a place only open in the evenings). If lunch then I’m not entirely sure yet what it will be. Let’s see how it goes.

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