Sen Yai Sen Lek in NE Minneapolis

Katie Cannon / Heavy Table

Katie Cannon / Heavy Table

The dining room and decor of Northeast’s Sen Yai Sen Lek is bright and cheery with light, wooden tables accented by brightly painted walls and colorful artwork. A second room houses the bar and a grouping of couches that, presumably, would lend the area toward lounging.

Standard Thai fare fills the menu — entrees of rice and noodle dishes with a smattering of curries, and appetizers of spring rolls, chicken skewers, and lettuce wraps. Portions, as can be expected, are large but, depending on the dish, can be finished solo by a hungry diner. The pad Thai begs for a to-go container, as does the daily curry special; the soups and sticky rice dishes are more manageable.

The ingredients are fresh, crisp vegetables are abundant, and dishes well prepared; the only let-down is the beef, which could stand to be more tender. Dishes are denoted as *spicy* when appropriate, which creeps just over the edge of “Minnesota spice.” To compensate for their mild approach, entrees are served with a selection of housemade condiments, allowing you to add your own combination of salty, sour, sweet, and spicy to your dish (Thai chilies in fish sauce, jalapenos in vinegar, sugar, and plain dried chili flakes, respectively).

Katie Cannon / Heavy Table

Katie Cannon / Heavy Table

BEST BET: Po Pia Tod (fried spring rolls) appetizer for $5.50 is crisp and fresh and their daily curry special (ranging from $12.95 to $15.95) promises to be a filling, flavorful entree served with rice and a bonus Thai omelet.

Sen Yai Sen Lek

Thai in Northeast Minneapolis

PHONE: 612.781.3046
ADDRESS: 2422 Central Ave NE
Minneapolis, MN 55418
OWNERS: Joe and Holly Hatch-Surisook
HOURS:
Mon-Thu 11am – 9pm
Fri and Sat 11am – 10pm
Sun closed
BAR: Beer & Wine
RESERVATIONS / RECOMMENDED?: No / No
VEGETARIAN / VEGAN: Yes / Yes
ENTREE RANGE: $8-16

Katie Cannon / Heavy Table

Katie Cannon / Heavy Table

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30 Comments

  1. HazelStone 05/21/2009 Reply

    I hate to dissent, but this seems to be the one of the worst restaurants I’ve visited in the last year without actually getting food poisoning.

    The service was terrible; the room is a obnoxiously bright echo chamber and the food is expensive, boring, inauthentic and in tiny portions. Bleeeeeh!

    I wouldn’t recommend this place when Lemongrass in BP and True Thai are still open. If you want yummy but not incredibly authentic Thai food go to Chiang Mai Thai in Uptown (try the Nam Prick Num, and ask for the veggies steamed for an actual authentic NW thai dish). The ambiance is better and it has a great happy hour.

    But then again, I’m picky and used to live in Thailand.

  2. And Hazel, I have to completely dissent with you…
    I will admit, there are times when the service can be a little spotty, but the food “is expensive, boring, inauthentic and in tiny portions”, leads me to believe that you know little to nothing about Thailand. If you actually lived there, you would have at least a bare minimum understanding that Thai food is very regional in taste and preparation. Joe’s food and preparation are very much the traditional way of preparing them in Isan, the northern regions of Thailand. And by referencing the Nam Prick Nu at that utterly horrible Chiang Mai Thai, show you have no understanding of the food at all.

  3. Ooh, catfight!

  4. Lady Marin 05/21/2009 Reply

    I agree with Hazel on all points.

  5. Lady Marin 05/21/2009 Reply

    I agree with Hazel on all points.

    Except I’ve never lived in Thailand.

  6. I eat at Sen Yai Sen Lek at least once a week. The place in my opinion is exactly what NE Mpls needed. I have almost always had great service (especially when eating in the bar), and they are very accomodating when it comes to special diets. I think the prices are exceptionally resonable and I for one, always have leftovers. My friends and I will continue to support Sen Yai Sen Lek.

  7. I am interested in this place but haven’t tried it yet. It seems to me that any Thai dish approaching $16 is a little spendy. One of the bonuses of Thai food (other than being delicious) is the price most of the time. I’m no cheapskate by any means, but that does seem a bit high.

  8. HazelStone 05/26/2009 Reply

    I haven’t visited every region of Thailand, but I did live there. I’m thrilled to see an unconventional (not to mention healthy) dish like Nam Prik on a restaurant menu even if I can’t vouch for the validity every ingredient in the recipe. The stuff I’ve had at CMT tastes very similar to the stuff my Khun Maa brought home from the Market in Chiang Mai every Sunday afternoon. That is to say, effing incredible. I’ve almost gotten into fights with people over trying to share Nam Prik. Now, mind you the Pad See Yew at CMT is a friggin’ atrocity. Sugary, both slimy and rubbery and served with American broccoli rather than charred gailan. DISGUSTING. Their menu is all over the place, but don’t damn one of CMT’s few good dishes. Plus CMT is the only Thai place in the metro with a good date ambiance. I mean, that isn’t the only reason to go to a place, but sometimes you want the romantic mood and if you stick to the stuf CMT does well (yellow curry with sweet potatoes, pad thai and the besmirched Nam Prik) you’ll be reasonably happy.

    As for SYSL, I agree, $16 for watery curry is a robbery in progress. And if I want overpriced food served in a place with the acoustics of an aircraft hanger mid taxi, I’ll go to Penninsula where I’ll actually enjoy the food.

  9. FYI, on the “vegan/vegetarian friendly” tip, the following 11/2008 Chowhound post (not mine, I keep getting banned from there):

    “I was disappointed to find out that Sen Yai Sen Lek prepares every single dish with fish sauce. Worst yet, they actually use the word “vegetarian” on their menu but do not disclose that every dish contains fish. This is misleading and greatly upsetting, especially considering there is a huge vegetarian population in the Twin Cities. The kitchen was willing to make something from scratch (though it would take 45 minutes), which is a nice gesture, but also shows that they cut corners in their preparation techniques. At the very least, the place should disclose that they use fish sauce in everything and not pretend to offer vegetarian options. Fish is not a vegetable.”

    Maybe not true anymore?

  10. Nicole 05/29/2009 Reply

    I love the food, service and atmosphere at Sen Yai Sen Lek. They have a great happy hour too! More importantly to me personally… I am happy to see yet another great restaurant making its mark on Central Avenue. This neighborhood has so much to offer and the more great eating destinations we get, the more people will discover it. Keep up the good work Sen Lai Sen Lek!

  11. So Hazel, when the heck did Nam Prik become a dish?
    Now I know you have no idea what you are talking about, Nam Prik simply means Chili Water. It is a sauce not a dish…
    What the hell, you work for CMT or something?

  12. Shogunmoon 06/18/2009 Reply

    HazelStone:

    I am not entirely sure what your problem with Sen Yai Sen Lek is… it seems to go much deeper then just not liking the food. While no Thai food in the US can be exactly like it is in Thailand, Sen Yai Sen Lek tries a lot harder then most places. Where else can one order Khao Soi, Khao Pad Kapi (fried rice with shrimp paste), Miang Kam and a few others you won’t see elswhere?

    I happen to know that one of the waiters is a white dude that lived in Thailand for a while, and states most enthusiastically that, perhaps aside from Bangkok Deli, the food at Sen Yai Sen Lek is by far the closest thing he has found in the Twin Cities. Definitely the best place that sports Surly and Flat earth on tap.

    Basically what you have done is hijacked this Heavy Table post so that you can grind your axe and appear “knowledgeable” while essentially slandering an honest man that is doing everything he can to run a Thai restaurant with a great atmosphere and great working environment. His commitment even extends to the environment in general with the expensive composting and purchasing of local and sustainable meats.

    The only time items on the menu at Sen Yai Sen Lek approach the $16 Dollar price point is if there happens to be a curry special that features beef or shrimp, and this also comes with a side of stir fry vegetables and a Thai Omelet. Only a few of the menu items get past $11 or $12 otherwise. These prices include something that none of the other Thai restaurants on the TC area currently offer: sustainable meats. Chicken from Kadejan, beef from 1000 Hills ect. These products are expensive.

    These prices are not exactly highway robbery. Don’t believe me? Check out the website.

    Senyai-senlek.com

  13. Shogunmoon 06/18/2009 Reply

    Naam Prik:

    Naam Prik translates directly to Chili Water, but generally means something more akin to a relish pounded in the mortar and pestle. Pok Pok!

    It is not a dish, and the preparations of it vary dramatically, I am sure. Sen Yai Sen Lek, aside from featuring the Northern Thai dish “Khao Soi”, is rooted in Isaan (Northeast Thai) and the street food from Thailand. Joe (the owner) and many of the cooks that work at Sen Yai Sen Lek are from the Isaan region, and that is what they tend to do best.

  14. Shogunmoon 06/18/2009 Reply

    And finally, vegetarians? Come one come all…

    Malay:
    Since you took the time to read that Chowhounds post, I will go ahead and refresh on one of the comments that followed the post you copied and pasted into this forum:

    “There has been some misinformation posted about the restaurant. Sen Yai Sen Lek has developed alternate sauces for many of the dishes that are both Vegan and Gluten free. 70 – 80 percent of the menu can be made with the alternate sauces, mock duck, and the various tofu (Fresh, Yellow, or fried.) No dairy is used in the cooking, so a vegan simply needs to ask for eggs to be omitted.
    The stock used at the wok always vegetarian and homemade daily. The sauces are also all made in house.
    Most of the time, the curries are Vegan.
    Unfortunately, the waitstaff hasn’t always been aware of this, but this is be fixed by now.
    The owner now has posted lists of what is available for the servers, so hopefully what happened to the previous poster won’t happen again.”

  15. Tried it twice. Wasn’t in love with it but liked it. Definitely not my favorite, but worth checking out. I love Thai food but am far from being an expert.

  16. Shogunmoon, excellent posts. I also felt the subby had an axe to grind…
    In addition, if you look at what Joe is doing for sustainable food from local growers, he really hits it out of the park!

  17. Shogunmoon 06/24/2009 Reply

    Oh, and Hazelstone,

    Did you and your table talk to the owner about your bad service? I assure the owner, who is almost always there, would have been most interested in bad food and bad services, and would have almost certainly done something about it.

    He, and the staff at SYSL, are only human, and may not to great work always. However, what right do you have to walk out of there with fake smiles, and start blathering about it anonymously on some “food magazine?”

    And, if you DID complain about this, you did not disclose how the service handled it.

  18. HazelStone 06/24/2009 Reply

    So it is my responsibility to assure restaurant quality? I went there a few weeks after it had opened and the place was a madhouse. Good luck locating an owner under those conditions. I wouldn’t recommend it if you are looking for an authentic, hearty meal. And so, I wouldn’t return.

    If people like the place (they clearly do) who am I to quibble? There are plenty of other reasons to go to a restaurant though–drinking, hanging out, or maybe you don’t actually like authentic thai food. Squeamish Minnesotans need restaurants, too.

    If the sustainable, local produce stuff is true, then I applaud them for it.

  19. Shogunmoon 06/24/2009 Reply

    OK,

    So, you went to a restaurant a few weeks after it opened and are complaining about it a full 8 months later? And, instead of complaining, or asking for the situation to be corrected on the spot, you have decided to, anonymously I might add, start flaming local forums. Again, 8 months after the fact. That seems a little unfair.

    I hope that others reading this are able to see through this. Many feel that Sen Yai Sen Lek is one of the most “authentic” thai places in the Twin Cities. HazelStone does not.

    It is unfortunate that his/her comment was the first comment posted, as it is probably doing an honest and quality establishment harm the better part of a year after the offending meal.

  20. HazelStone 06/24/2009 Reply

    So, Shogunmoon, do you work for SYSL?

    I commented about this 8 months after going because that’s when it showed up on Heavy Table, which I read daily. I was sort of incredulous about he glowing review, so I left lurkdom to comment.

    As I stated VERY CLEARLY in my first post, I went once and thought it sucked. I might have given it another chance if I had liked ANYTHING about the place–the food, service, ambiance, prices, ANYTHING. But I didn’t. And believe me, I really wanted to have a good thai option that is 5 minutes from my house rather than the 45 that I have to slog to get to Lemongrass in BP. Hell, SYSL is walkable from my house. I could have forgiven 2 of 4 problems, but they completely struck out with me.

    People can take my advice…or not. I don’t really give a damn. Your obnoxious tone though, that’s what really sucks. Even worse than SYSL.

    And what’s the problem anyway? The place is packed all the time! I don’t think I’m going to bring it to its knees anytime soon. NE hipsters have to have someplace to get their bland spring rolls.

  21. HazelStone 06/24/2009 Reply

    @RK,

    Nam Bpla is fish sauce (ususally with sliced chiles in it). Nam Prik Nuum is a VERY hearty roasted veggie dip, usually eaten with sticky rice and/or a veggie plate. Or at least, that’s how the THAI HOST FAMILY I lived with for 5 months and all my thai university friends ate it. That’s a filling dish. There’s also a version made with ground pork, kind of like Larbp, but in a spicy sauce.

    And I don’t think I’d be calling any of CMT’s dishes disgusting if I worked for them. Hell, I said you should only consider ordering three dishes there. I guess I’m not earning my pay, huh?

  22. I have never eaten in the restaurant, only take-out, so I couldn’t comment on the service but I have eaten the food. I had pork rolls which were awesome and a vegetarian soup which definitely did not taste vegetarian. The soup contained galangal, lemongrass and whole thai chilis. All of which are inedible unless carefully prepared. So I sat there picking out the pieces from the soup. Cook’s error or complete lack of judgment? It was still delicious though.

  23. Well, I’m making my first visit there. Hoping its tasty and I don’t get food poisoning. :)

  24. Konnie 03/04/2011 Reply

    My husband and I were really excited to try this place and finally went about a month ago. The service was AWFUL. Lots of waiting (from the moment we walked in) and a server who made us feel that we were an inconvenience to her. I am a patient person who has worked in many restaurants, but I wanted to talk to the manager after having such a horrible experience this time.

  25. Big German 03/06/2011 Reply

    Cheap Grain Belt. Sauces on the table (zing it up, or leave it bland). Simple, clean, tasty. Meat from sources that are not least cost. Fair pricing. Kind server.

    The griping earlier in this thread is regrettable, as it’s chronological. It’s kind of like farting and leaving the room…. Sorry.

  26. This is the best Thai food I’ve had since I can recall. We eat here at least once a month and have since they opened. I adore the lettuce wrap/ dried shrimp appetizers, the kids meals really healthy and simple and overall the options for special diets ie. Gluten-free are outstanding.

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