Inside a restaurant whose vibrant purple awnings help diners spot it from afar, cooks concoct 75 different dishes derived from the "roof of the world." Artwork-laden walls surround the tables and cushioned chairs in the dining area, where patrons enjoy home-cooked items ranging from Tibetan-style dumplings made with lean chopped beef to batter-fried sesame chicken. The restaurant's separate bar area provides patrons with a place where they can grab a drink, watch TV, and practice thumb-wrestling moves with others.
Thom Pham, the founder of Thanh Do, Azia, and the Caterpillar Lounge, first learned to cook as a child in the Vietnamese village of Qui Nhon. As a youth, he helped his grandmother, Bo, run her catering business. After a Minneapolis family adopted 14-year-old Thom, his culinary sensibilities began to shift, creating the mix of local Minnesota flavor and Chinese, Vietnamese, and Thai influences found on Thanh Do's menu. When not digging into cranberry curry, diners can chew through spare ribs that chefs have marinated overnight, then cooked over a gentle flame for six hours while reading Goodnight Moon aloud. Pham's team can also cater to vegetarian diets with tofu or mock duck. Sunny-yellow walls and fiery orange lanterns infuse each meal with a sense of warmth, preventing diners from kindling campfires with chopstick friction.
Similar to the Great Wall of China, the menu at Pagoda is a daunting, seemingly endless composition: more than 200 items populate its 20-something pages. The length of the menu makes a bit more sense when patrons realize the restaurant serves dishes from China, Japan, Malaysia, Korea, and Thailand.
Such a wide variety is a good thing, too, considering Pagoda "really has an eye on feeding the busy neighborhood," according to the Star Tribune. It does just that with chef-recommended creations, such as pork rib stew and walnut jumbo shrimp. For dinner, diners can opt for entrees with bottomless sake specials, and for lunch, they can choose from more than 90 dim-sum dishes until 3 p.m., when local students awake from their afternoon naps and collectively howl in anticipation of dinner.
Third-generation barbecue master Willie J. Bridgeforth III, owner of Willie B.'s Memphis BBQ Catering, has traveled from Mississippi to Memphis learning to prepare authentic southern barbecue for catered events. The business-luncheon menu ($9–$12/person) boasts five combo options with seasoned meat that marinates for 24 hours, smokes for eight hours with three woods, is basted with an 18-ingredient sauce, and scored a 1430 on the SATs. The combos sate luncheon-goers with two side dishes, including creamy coleslaw, Memphis mac 'n' cheese, or Susie Q.'s southern baked beans. Generous helpings of cornbread help sop up leftover sauce from crispy chicken, pork chops, or racks of pork ribs that can form the centerpiece of a corporate get-together or post-LARPing dragonfeast.
A large neon arrow points the way into Thom Pham’s Wondrous Azian Kitchen, where, as chef and owner Thom Pham puts it, “classic French techniques bring together Azian spice and Minnesota nice.” Inspired by French settlers’ impact on Southeast Asian cuisine, the eatery’s menu of traditional Japanese and Chinese recipes hobnobs with European preparations such as tartar and carpaccio. Dishes sizzled atop woks and Korean barbecue touch down amid colorful dragon murals and gilded floral artwork in the many dining rooms, and a fully stocked bar supplies signature cocktails and wine. Sippers can also slip into cherry-red booths in the adjoining Caterpillar Lounge, lit by flower-like hanging lights. On weekends, an all-you-can-enjoy dim sum brunch loads tables with a multiplicity of small plates, ideal fodder for a shared meal or family juggling act.