On’s Kitchen VIII (St. Paul, MN)

If Grand Szechuan is our family’s favourite restaurant in the Twin Cities, On’s Kitchen is a close second. We’ve been eating here since it opened and it has very rarely let us down. One of those occasions was our last dine-in meal there in late 2019. Later I learned that On had retired from the kitchen earlier that year—significant news that you might think the local food media would have shared loudly while honouring her. We nonetheless ordered takeout from On’s on multiple occasions during the height of the pandemic and it seemed to us that the quality had once again gone back up. This past weekend we finally ate there in person for the first time since that 2019 meal. And I am very happy to say that it was a rather excellent meal. I don’t know who is running the kitchen now but they’re putting out very good food.

We arrived at noon on Saturday with some friends to find a largely empty restaurant. It filled up gradually over the course of our meal, a little slower than we did. We were five adults plus our boys and we did a fair amount of damage. As always, we got everything to share.

We got a few of our old favourites but also sampled broadly from the “Today’s Special” section of the menu, which was almost entirely different from the version we’d seen in 2019. Earlier this year we’d got the Khao Soi (dark meat chicken on the bone in a rich coconut-milk curry gravy with soft and crispy noodles) from that section in a takeout order and had quite liked it. Accordingly, we got it again. We also got from that section the Yum Sardines Salad, the Steamed Lemongrass Mussels, and the Kaeng Kroua Tender Beef (a red curry of slow-cooked beef with potato). The old favourites included the Chicken Satay and Khao Mun Gai (steamed chicken over chicken-rice with a tamarind sauce on the side) for our boys. For the adults: the Haw-Mok (cabbage-wrapped fish steamed with coconut milk in banana leaves); Larb (we got it with ground beef); and the Pad Sa-Thor (sator beans, peppers, shrimp and ground pork in a thick red curry).

Almost everything was very good but a couple of things were excellent: the Khao Soi and the Pad Sa-Thor in particular, with the Kaeng Kroua and the Haw-Mok just a little behind. The only dish that didn’t fully do it for me was the Lemongrass Mussels: I liked the tart-hot dipping sauce a lot but the mussels themselves were not the best: a bit overcooked and some of them a little tired.

I should say that we ordered in a very particular way: we asked for everything that should be hot to be made very hot and for less sweetness in everything. And the hot dishes were indeed rather hot—especially the Pad Sa-Thor and the Kaeng Kroua—and nothing suffered from the cloying sweetness that is the bane of Thai food in Minnesota, usually even at On’s if you don’t specify.

To end we got three desserts. The Mango & Sticky Rice (which was just okay—the mango was not great); the Thai Donuts (very nice, especially dipped in the accompanying condensed milk); and the Durian & Sticky Rice—this was served warm in a glass, mixed with sticky rice that was doused in reduced milk, and it was dynamite. The funky aroma of the durian was just barely palpable and its custardy texture and rich flavour set the rice and reduced milk off perfectly. If you’ve never had durian and have been curious but nervous about trying it, I would recommend it in this incarnation. But you’ll need several people to help you finish this because it’s rich, rich, rich and there’s a lot of it. (It wasn’t the only funky thing we ate, of course: sator beans are called “stink beans” for a reason.)

For a look at the restaurant, the menu and what we ate, launch the slideshow below. Scroll down to see how much it all cost, for notes on service, and to see what’s coming next.

The total, with automatically added 20% tip (presumably as we were a larger group) and tax came to $210. It was enough food for at least 8 hungry adults—so just over $25/head. A steal for the quality and quantity. Of course, if you’re eating alone, all you need to order to be very happy is the Khao Soi. I like the versions at Bangkok Thai Deli and Krungthep Thai but I have to say this might be the best one we’ve had in the Twin Cities so far—and much better when eating in, unsurprisingly, than as takeout.

As with most places emerging from the pandemic, staffing is not at optimal levels right now. Our server was very nice and got everything right but they were clearly stretched more and more thin as they got more and more busy. Nothing to really complain about though.

Alright, what’s next from the Twin Cities? The missus has a big number birthday this week and we are celebrating it with a return to Demi. I’ll have that report next Tuesday. This weekend I’ll try my best to finally get to my long-promised first Ireland report; and I might try to knock another Kauai report out as well. Let’s see how it goes.


2 thoughts on “On’s Kitchen VIII (St. Paul, MN)

  1. We got takeout from On’s last night. Perhaps takeout is the death knell of excellence. We had the tofu soup, satay, and (I know) the fried rice and spring rolls.

    It was all competently prepared; no pools of grease, nothing undercooked, adequate amounts of protein. But it was underwhelming, to the point at which if I had to guess which restaurant the food had come from, I would have guessed the Chinese-American place down the road. We’ve had enough positive experiences with On’s that I’ll chalk this up to an off night. But it’s disappointing to see the frequency of that increasing over time.


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