Naviya’s Kalico Elephant

A Thai fine-dining restaurant gets a blue-collar cousin

When Naviya’s Thai Kitchen opened on Penn Avenue in Richfield in 2007, many diners immediately crowned it the best Thai restaurant in the metro. Others got sticker-shock: $8 for spring rolls? The best sure was pricey.

Well, budget-gourmets, your day has come! Naviya’s has opened a second restaurant designed as the blue-collar alternative to their fine-dining original. It’s called Naviya’s Kalico Elephant, and it’s in the old Ketsana’s spot on Lyndale Avenue, just north of I-494. [EDITOR’S NOTE: This address now hosts Joy’s Pattaya Thai Restaurant, under different management.]

Where to start? How about with the garlic rice, a classic Bangkok street food made by boiling chicken, then serving it with rice that’s been stir-fried with lots of garlic and cooked with the chicken broth. On the side, there’s fresh garlic sauce made with ginger, chilies, fermented soybeans, fresh lime juice, and cilantro. You dip the chicken in the sauce and chase it with a little of the savory rice, you come to understand why this is the basic street food of Thailand, the pizza slice of Bangkok. It’s delicious, zesty, wholesome, and interesting: something you could eat every day and still crave when it’s not around. (You can also get it with grilled or fried chicken, or pork, though the sauce shows up better with the traditional boiled chicken.)

The red curry is also excellent. It’s steamy, smoky, lightly fiery, and manages to wrestle beef, basil, coconut milk, and bamboo strips into a moment of complicated bliss, the way that only the greatest curries can. I didn’t think much of the Kalico Elephant’s pad Thai (it was more like a saucy stir-fry), but almost everything else that I tried was memorably good.

One warning: Don’t go in hoping for a beer. Owner Kim LaBarge says he applied for a liquor license only to learn that Richfield had changed its laws. Now liquor licenses will be granted only to restaurants in properties valued at $600,000 or more. So much for Richfield’s burgeoning Thai restaurant scene: LaBarge vows that the next Naviya’s—and there will be more—will be in another city.

7545 Lyndale Ave. S., Richfield, 612-866-0660 »