Twin Cities, do you know how lucky we are?
Let’s say you were a huge fan of the truly wonderful On’s Kitchen on University Avenue, where homestyle Thai cooking has been wowing fans for years. But On's is in St. Paul, and you’re in Minneapolis, and you also happen to be at work. So, how are you going to get at your favorite fiery laab salad, your red curry soup?
Well, you’re going to get something very much like it at Pad-Ga Pow! in the La Salle building, the best thing to happen to skyway eating since skyway eating was invented.
The owners are the children of On Khumchaya, and the resulting cooking is very similar to the stunning, complex Thai cookery at On’s, but at faster food prices and with speedier service, perfect for the busy skyway diner.
Though the dishes are being served up in the fast-casual style of “now,” we detected no hint of corner-cutting, and though they’re running diners through the line like air-traffic controllers on the day before Thanksgiving, the place retains the vibe of a bona fide, dependable, true-blue Thai restaurant.
In the name of speed, they’ve plunked their best-selling items into steam tables, and you just point at what you want with your choice of white or brown rice. The price starts at $6.99 for one item and goes up a couple of bucks for each additional item. And holy man, was everything delicious.
Thai green curry with purple nubbins of eggplant, bright sections of bell pepper, herbaceous basil, and tender chicken are swimming in a tropical lake of hot coconut broth. And I do mean hot. Spice levels have not been tamped to appease khaki-wearing Minnesotans, so be forewarned.
Or try the five-spice pork, a wobble-tender braise of pork shoulder hunkering down in a fragrant brown sauce humming with spice-cabinet depth. It gets a little pot of citrus condiment that sends it zooming to the far other end of the flavor spectrum, so you’re getting both extremes in one bite — profoundly deep and shockingly bright.
Or how about some pad ga prow, a ubiquitous comfort dish that’s about as basil-y as an entire basil patch. It's a quick stir-fry noodle dish with basil, soy sauce, fish sauce, a lot of garlic and chile, and your choice of protein. It’s the kind of thing that’s as comforting as a bowl of macaroni and cheese steaming up from your lap as you sit in pajamas on the couch. And you could make that very scenario happen for yourself, people of the skyway, if you were to ferret away a clamshell of this in the office fridge to sneak home for dinner.
Pad Ga Pow has everything you want for not just lunch but dinner too, because not only are they serving these fast-casual, fast-moving favorites, but you can choose from (count ‘em) over 80 other dishes as well, freshly made to order: crab cakes stuffed with pork and plum sauce, “three-flavor fish,” which is a whole tilapia with curry, bell pepper, and Thai herbs; soft-shell crabs; even Meing Kum, an elaborate snack of Chinese broccoli leaves presented with dried shrimp, diced shallot, lime, peppers, roasted coconut, whole peanuts, and house-made sweet and tangy sauce for you to roll up and eat like a lettuce wrap.
All of this out of a tiny skyway storefront!
There's also plenty of in-store seating, so you don't have to balance your whole fish on your knees while perched on a radiator in some corner of an office building. You can have a full-on feast here. And don't be deterred by the crowds. Just when you think there will be no possible place to sit, like magic a seat will open up in time for you and your broccoli leaf set-up.
They really haven’t missed a beat, with a whole wall of condiments that include handmade fish sauce with chiles floating about and fresh chile garlic sauce so addictive you’ll be wanting to tuck little pots of it into every spare pocket you’ve got.
They’ve also got Thai iced coffee; bubble tea in mango, honeydew, coconut, and taro; pineapple fried rice; and spicy tripe soup.
Didn’t I say we were lucky?
811 LaSalle Ave., Minneapolis