The Twin Cities area is blessed with plenty of Thai restaurants, but few possess the distinctive personality and heartfelt warmth of On's Kitchen. By the way, that name is right on the money: Walk in the door and you'll find On Khumchaya laboring away in her galley-style kitchen with the concentration of a diamond cutter. Only the very clueless would sit in her modest dining room and not be aware of her presence, whether it's the sounds of woks clanging in the open work space or the chef herself, gliding from stove to table, a glorious dish in her hands and an ever-present woven cap on her head. Life's hassles hassles fall by the wayside when the food is this good. One don't-miss dish is the huh-mok, a kind of fish custard -- steamed tilapia -- singing with lemongrass grace notes and served inside a banana leaf shell over a bed of slow-braised cabbage, total Thai comfort food. Other don't-miss dishes: shaved pork neck, rich and slightly fatty, stir-fried with chiles and garlic and dressed with cool mint and Thai basil. The green and red curry dishes are a delight, with subtle flavor layers and a spicy heat that sneaks up rather than immediately overwhelming. The menu's overwhelming, 100-plus roster spans the continuum of home-style and restaurant-style cooking, with doses of street-food fare tossed in, but Khumchaya goes to great pains to ensure individuality among that vast (maybe too enormous) assortment. Still, the initial reaction of some diners might be to fall back on familiar Thai-American favorites. That's OK, because Khumchaya treats them with respect. Skip dessert, and keep your expectations of the friendly service staff to a minimum.
1613 W. University Av.
St. Paul, MN
9 am-9 pm Mon.-Sat.
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