Thanh Do (St. Louis Park, MN)
By Karen Cooper and Bruce Schneier
Thanh Do has got to be the busiest take-out place in St. Louis Park. We arrived at seven on a weeknight, and the crowd for take-out orders was so big we didn't understand at first that we weren't in line for a table. And every table was occupied. Happily, we were seated in a few minutes, and away from the door at that. The stream of people coming in and out made it chilly near the front.
Thanh Do is in a strip mall, as suburban restaurants tend to be. (The other notable tendency is for new restaurants to move into free-standing buildings once the Country Kitchens and Big Boys have been run out of town by changing customer tastes. We think such re-purposing is a good thing, all in all.) The dining room here is spare, but with enough interesting accents to make you think this might be better than your average strip-mall joint.
And it is. The menu offers relics like egg foo young and chicken chow mein, echoing the location's former life as a Chinese restaurant. But Thanh Do is more than a Chinese restaurant. Tom Pham, the owner and chef, is from Vietnam; on the menu you'll find influences from Thailand, Viet Nam, Malaysia, Singapore, and elsewhere.. You'll get both fork and chopsticks, since Thai food is eaten with a fork, and the other cuisines from that part of the world are eaten with chopsticks.
Start your meal by ordering the best chicken wings you've had in a very long time. They're richly coated in a sesame tomato sauce and with just enough pepper to make you pay attention. Another great appetizer is the green papaya salad: pungent, crisp, and cool. It's ideal for whetting the appetite for a main course. Share both of these with your table.
The pot stickers are forgettable.
Pay attention to the specials. We had a complex and rich curry called Carmellita. It consisted of coconut milk, onions, almonds, and big shrimp served with plenty of sauce on rice noodles with a side of asparagus. Wonderful.
The dish called Java Sea was also delicious. The scallops were perfect and plentiful, with lots of straw mushrooms, pea pods, squid, and shrimp. The portion is easily enough for two, so order accordingly or take some home.
The Vietnamese beef noodle soup, or pho, has the fragrant anise beef broth that makes this dish one of our favorites, though the thinly sliced rare beef we expect in pho tai was here replaced with something a little fattier and less good.
Even better, Pham has a signature dish: cranberry curry that's a Minnesota take on those hoary sweet-and-sour standards. Craisins add a chewy sweetness and don't fight with the coconut milk curry base. We liked this with chicken.
The East-West connection also appears in his wonderful Almond Joy dessert. Finally, chocolate at an Asian restaurant! This is coconut ice cream and coconut sauce, sprinkled with almonds and drizzled with Hershey's chocolate syrup. It's big enough to share -- we split it four ways -- and an ideal end to a pan-Asian meal.
Atmosphere: Bustling storefront restaurant
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