We’re happy to announce that we’ve found the perfect dish for the last lazy days of summer. Actually, we simply happened upon it on a recent trip to Little Mekong District, the strip of Southeast Asian restaurants on University Avenue in St. Paul. While Little Szechuan and Bangkok Thai Deli are familiar to many dedicated eaters in the Twin Cities, there are several lesser-known spots in the same area serving up first-rate cuisine. It was at one of these below-the-radar restaurants, Thai Cafe, where we stumbled upon our latest summer crush.
At the recommendation of chef / owner Ya Poophakumpanart and her precocious teenage daughter, Aun (both pictured above), who skillfully runs the front of the house during school breaks, we sampled the Thai Papaya Salad ($6) (also known as “Som Tom”). It was the ideal choice for the hot and humid afternoon.
Long sticks of slightly tart, slightly crunchy green papaya (not to be confused with the much sweeter reddish orange variety) blend marvelously with fish sauce, sugar, chili, and lime in this cool concoction. The impressive balance of sour, sweet, salty, and spicy in Thai Cafe’s Som Tom separates it from run-of-the-mill papaya salads, generally too sweet, too sour, or too fishy. Here, crisp and fresh, a green papaya salad reaches its peak: Extremely refreshing and tasty, it’s the perfect dish to cool and nourish on a steamy August day.
Thai Cafe, 371 University Ave W, St. Paul, 651.225.8231