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.
Manned by professional drivers, the pedal-powered Traveling Tap carts up to 16 passengers around Minneapolis and Saint Paul via one of three routes listed here. It's up to guests to supply their favorite beers, wines, or malt beverages which the personal bartender pours into cups or stores in the bar-on-wheels’ built-in coolers. Throw on your ear-flap cap and goulashes for early season rides or let the misting system keep you cool on warm summer days. Traveling Tap also boasts adjustable seats to fit all sizes, seat backs, and a smooth ride even Grandma would enjoy. Listen to tunes from a six-speaker overhead stereo while you take in the sights and sounds of the Twin Cities on each 7-mile-per-hour trek.
Using natural meats from local farms and culinary inspiration from all across Asia, skilled chefs craft dishes such as tom yum noodle soup and Vietnamese banh mi sandwiches filled with Korean BBQ pork. Patrons can customize their orders of Japanese shoyu ramen with an assortment of meats and veggies, including pork belly, calamari, bok choy, and wild mushrooms. Kinsen Noodles & Bar also offers an array of vegan, vegetarian, and gluten-free options, which diners can devour while seated inside a cozy booth or standing atop a table. The restaurant's wall of mirrors reflects the cool blue glow of the bar, where mixologists concoct fruity drinks ranging from classic sangria to rum punch with coconut milk.
Successful restaurateur Supenn Harrison made her first foray into the restaurant business more than 30 years ago, when she bought a burger joint in the Twin Cities. For Supenn, slinging patties wasn't enough to satisfy her love of the culinary arts; the Thailand native and former teacher quickly traded deep fryers for woks and opened her first Thai restaurant.
She eventually launched the first Sawatdee in 1983 in an abandoned warehouse, transforming the unlikely setting into something you might see in the heart of Bangkok, with gold-leaf ceilings and traditional artwork. Now, Supenn owns seven Sawatdee restaurants throughout Minnesota and has expanded the menu to include sushi dishes. Besides sharing her culinary skills through hands-on cooking classes, Supenn has disseminated her authentic Thai fare by catering birthday celebrations, family reunions, and the Rolling Stones' anti-retirement party.
Stone tiles surround a serene Buddha as he presumably listens to the light chatter ricocheting off the carved wooden walls and ceiling. The cuisine at Chiang Mai Thai is just as nuanced. Chef Thi Mai Evans nods to Bangkok street food with appetizers such as chicken satay and sweet dried beef, but then turns toward southern Thailand with comforting curries spiced to the preferences of her diners. She also draws from the Thai royal family's cookbook to balance hot and sour flavors in tom yum soup. Along with piquant dishes, the candlelit Buddha Lounge encourages social dining with creative cocktails infused with thai basil and lemongrass. It also hosts events such as Back Alley Karaoke every Thursday, which is sometimes known as Friday's slightly more responsible sibling.
Seafood and red meat define the core of Malabari food. The cuisine melds multiple culinary traditions represented by the colonial nations that visited the Malabar region in southwest India, but rice dishes and specialty curries local to the region stand out. Each made-to-order dish at Malabari Kitchen celebrates that history, like textbooks you get to eat. Take the njandu curry: its softshell crabs are marinated and cooked with dry-roasted and ground coconut-coriander paste. Creamy rice pudding with cashews and pistachios—a dessert called kheer—might finish off meals. Mambazha lassi, a mango puree blended with milky yogurt, also complements dining experiences at Malabari Kitchen.