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.
A long wooden porch wraps around the outside of Bangkok Cuisine, guiding patrons to the restaurant's pink-and-yellow awning. Once inside, noses absorb the aromatic hints of coconut and pineapple that accent steaming curries and stir-fries. Scallops and juicy sliced steak pile up next to fresh vegetables and tofu in "Jai's Specials," owner Jai Vang's recommended dishes. To help diners with decision-making, the menu includes chili-pepper icons next to spicy dishes and crescent icons next to dishes that have been eaten on the moon.
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.
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.
At Thai Cuisine, there isn't a smorgasbord of dishes from all across Asia. That's because Master Chef Fimon Song doesn't cook dishes he hasn't mastered. Instead, the menu is populated with carefully crafted Eastern Thai dishes that Fimon learned while training in Thailand. His signature dish is the duck laab, which features a slightly bitter and sour taste courtesy of the sauce's orchestration of lemongrass, cilantro, mint, and garlic. Most dishes rely upon fresh seafood, which chefs toss with aromatic sauces and herbs to create plates of curry crab and pineapple and tomato shrimp. Meals are paired with creamy glasses of Thai tea and bubble tea that's more fun to drink than a fire hydrant filled with chocolate milk.
An Nguyen's full-wall photos of cool, shadowy bamboo groves serve as a tranquil backdrop to her restaurant and a reminder of her homeland of Vietnam, which she left in 1970. All of Rice Paper's recipes emerged from An's childhood in Vietnam, with an emphasis on contrasts such as sweet and sour, soft and crunchy, hot and cold, or Laurel and Hardy.
Though the dishes are traditional, they have been stripped of fat and salt in favor of healthier steaming and grilling. While perusing the eatery's separate gluten- and dairy-free menu, guests can sip on a glass of wine or artisan sake.