Photo: Destiny Cafe
I don’t get to University Ave. in St. Paul as often as I would like, but every time I do, I discover something new and interesting.
Last week, after reading reports that Krua Thailand would soon close, I decided to head over for one last meal at this better-than-average Thai restaurant. I was pleasantly surprised to learn that Krua will stay open, under new ownership. The mother and daughter team of Woraphak and Yuwadee Lor plan to add a few new dishes to the menu, and eventually shorten the name to Krua Thai (krua means kitchen). My entree of fried tofu with Thai basil and vegetables was nothing special, but I’m curious enough to give this place another try.
Big Daddy Gene Sampson, a legend on the local barbecue scene, is back in business with a University Ave. storefront to call home. In the past few years, you could sometimes find Big Daddy and his partners Bob Edmond and Ron Whyte on Saturdays, cooking ribs in the parking of Abundant Catering. But a few months ago they took over the former West Indies Soul at 625 University, and they are now open for lunch on Thursdays; from 11 to 9 on Fridays and Saturdays, and from 11 to 6 on Sundays.
The menu is short and sweet: pork ribs, beef ribs, chicken and pork rib tips, with sides of potato salad, cole slaw and greens. A whole slab of ribs costs $18; half is $11. I had already eaten, but I couldn’t resist one of the Thursday lunch specials – half a pound of rib tips for $3.75. I ordered it to go, which meant that I drove down University back to Minneapolis with one hand on the wheel and the other hand in the styrofoam box, trying to dip chewy morsels of smoky meat into the little plastic cup of barbecue sauce without actually taking my eyes off the road.
In spite of the big Hmong presence in the Twin Cities, Hmong restaurants are a rarity, and unless you look carefully, you could easily drive by the Hmong shopping mall at 995 University without ever noticing the signs for the Destiny Cafe, tucked away inside the mall. But at lunchtime, the place is packed with customers. There are a lot of similarities between Hmong, Thai and Vietnamese cuisine, and Destiny’s menu offers an eclectic mix.
The most popular dish appears to be the pho, a Vietnamese noodle soup available with beef, seafood, or a combination, in three different sizes ($5.50-$6.95). Shrimp tom yum, a hot and sour Thai soup is also offered, as is Kowpoon, a spicy Laotian noodle soup. The distinctly Hmong specialties include grilled chicken, coarsely ground sausages, and whole fish (tilapia) coated with herbs and spices and steamed in a plastic wrap ($7.95). I enjoyed everything I sampled, including the combination Pho, and a stirfy of shrimp, squid and greens in oyster sauce, but I didn’t quite have the nerve to try the pig uteri – apparently a popular dish is Laos.
Krua Thai, 432 University Ave. W., St. Paul, 651-224-4053.
Big Daddy’s, 625 University Ave. W., St. Paul, 651-222-2516
Destiny Cafe, 995 University Ave. W., St. Paul, 651-649-0394