There ought to be a Thai food index that can give you, in one number, a quality-to-cost ratio. The index wouldn’t take into account service, ambiance, or the number of local brews on tap. It would just tell you if you are getting overcharged for rice noodles and if they are any good.
If we made a heat map of our imaginary index, Uptown would be blue (yes — of course there is some good Thai food in Uptown, but it is expensive) and University Ave in St. Paul would be deep red. And at the center of the red zone would be Royal Bangkok, with its $5 lunch special. We won’t make any declarations of best-ness, but we’d put the food at Royal Bangkok up against any other Thai place in town, and during lunch, it is astonishingly cost effective.
The lunch special, available Monday – Friday, is served cafeteria style. You choose five dishes from a line of 20 or so options that span the menu: appetizers, rice, noodles, stews, and curries. One pork eggroll counts as a dish, as does a ladleful of their rich green curry. You can try five different dishes or get five portions of the same thing. Each additional serving is $1. This isn’t B-squad food, whipped up quick for the lunch crowd – this is Royal Bangkok displaying the breadth and depth of their prowess. The selection varies from day to day, but on our visits the lemongrass beef was a sweet and aromatic highlight, as was the herbal and savory basil chicken. Crispy pork featured perfectly cooked Chinese broccoli, an excellent accompaniment to the crispy-on-the-outside, chewy-on-the-inside pork. And the green curry is as good as you’ll find anywhere in town. You’ll finish every last drop of the broth.
Royal Bangkok has been open for about two years in a space that resembles a food court in a tiny, fly-by-night shopping center. The owners have been in the restaurant business for years, and their experience shows. Since the launch of the lunch special, the price has already gone up from $4, as advertised on some vestigial signs. Hurry before the price goes up again!
Thai-Cambodian restaurant in St. Paul
315 University Ave W
St. Paul, MN
Owner / Chef-Owner: Regina Vong / Somaly Vong
Hours: Daily 10 a.m.-9 p.m.
Reservations / Recommended: Yes / Yes on Weekends
Vegetarian / Vegan: Yes / Yes
Entree Range: $5-$15
Parking: Small lot, street parking