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BEST THAI RESTAURANT Minneapolis 1998 -

Readers' Choice: Sawatdee Thai Restaurant

Yes, it's OK to save a soft spot for the struggling little Thai place around the corner from your office, but we're talking superlatives here, and only at Sawatdee can you experience Thai in all its regal glory--fresh ingredients, stellar preparations, and solicitous service. Of the five Sawatdee locations (the dressy one on Washington Avenue in downtown Minneapolis, another in Bloomington, another in St. Paul, and an untried one in St. Cloud), we prefer the abovementioned Bar and Cafe: For one thing, there are more than two dozen beers to choose from, plus an extensive cocktail menu. Also, the kitchen stays open until midnight (10 p.m. on Sundays). Above all, we like the family-style portion of the menu, which includes the wonderful Bangkok Salmon (a whole coho scored and seasoned with ginger and spices and steamed or fried and served in a sweet and fiery red curry sauce) and the delectable Hua Hin Mussels (two pounds of New Zealand green-lips sautéed in wine and purple Thai basil and tossed with a very light green curry). Desserts here are also a tad jazzier than you'll find elsewhere, particularly the Thai Fried Banana, a coconut- and tempura-battered darling served with honey, which is as lovely as the airy room.

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