Naviya's and On's Thai spice up the Twin Cities

Two new Thai restaurants in Linden Hills and St. Paul

In a nod toward its neighbors, the restaurant has dispensed with palate-challenging ingredients like durian and, to satisfy local politics (it's across the street from the former Linden Hills Co-Op), cooks with only naturally raised meats. There are obvious comparisons to be made with Rice Paper, which recently moved to roomier Edina digs, as Naviya's presents a more upscale experience than most of its Southeast Asian contemporaries. The brasserie offers a wine and beer list with several organic options and has steeper prices ($7 for spring rolls), though the $10 lunch specials offer a generous discount and include a choice of soup or salad.

Naviya's pad Thai costs $16, but it's a commendable execution that comes in a huge, sharable portion. The noodles are light and springy, and not at all greasy. The veggies are crunchy, the flavors subtly sweet and smoky. The cooking at Naviya's is done à la minute, and dishes are served hot out of the wok, so the flavors and textures pop.

Familiar green and red curries have the jungle funk associated with stewing in the humidity of tropical heat, and their spiciness, though not overwhelming, isn't meek. Thom-kha-gai soup offers chicken and vegetables in a milky coconut broth with a tart, lime tang that jump-starts the salivary glands. Vegetables in the Rama Thai stay crisp and are specked with char, but the chunky peanut paste could use more sweetness or heat to cut through its thickness. At her first restaurants, Naviya LaBarge's cooking hewed closer to Thai traditions, but this time around she's given herself more creative license. That's why you'll see non-Thai vegetables like cauliflower in the thom-kha-gai soup, the sweet and sour stir fry, and the Rama Thai during the winter months.

Thai goes a bit upscale: Naviya's massaman curry with beef shank
Emily Utne
Thai goes a bit upscale: Naviya's massaman curry with beef shank

Location Info


Naviya's Thai Brasserie

2812 W. 43rd St.
Minneapolis, MN 55410

Category: Restaurant > Thai

Region: Southwest Minneapolis

On's Thai Kitchen

1613 University Ave. W.
St. Paul, MN 55104

Category: Restaurant > Thai

Region: Macalester/Groveland


On's Thai Kitchen
1613 University Ave. W., St. Paul
appetizers $3-$9; entrées $7-$15

Naviya's Thai Brasserie
2812 W. 43rd St., Minneapolis
appetizers $5-$8; entrées $13-$18

The flavors at Naviya's are perhaps not haunting enough for foodies to drive across town, but the restaurant will surely be an asset to the neighborhood. The overall dining experience is quite pleasant and might be improved with just a few small changes. The first regards the small workspace set up on one of the tables behind the host's stand that's visible to those seated in the back of the restaurant. During one visit, the ad hoc office contained just a laptop and printer—no big deal. Surely there are numerous business tasks to be attended to every day, and one wouldn't be expected to pay bills on the stovetop. But during another meal, the table was stacked with piles of paperwork and the adjacent banquette piled with miscellaneous clutter. It made the restaurant feel cozy, like it was an extension of the LaBarge's home, but part of the reason we go to restaurants is that we don't want look at our own messes, much less someone else's.

A few of the servers at Naviya's don't always explain the menu as well as they might, either due to shyness or lack of familiarity. For example, if a guest requests hot tea, why just bring the standard cup of green without offering the restaurant's multi-page beverage menu that enthusiastically explains the extensive tea collection? Lovely pots of white tea can be had for roughly the same cost as a basic jasmine, and connoisseurs can select such bewitching brews as a 60-year-old, cave-aged Pu'er tea that costs $40 a pot!

Naviya's plans to increase its seating this summer with a few sidewalk tables, but the place will still surely fill up quickly with all the famished lake-walkers. If you can't get a seat, Naviya's Thai fare would also make a great takeout picnic.

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