I was thrilled when Reverie Cafe + Bar nominated Sen Yai, Sen Lek (Big Noodle, Little Noodle) for Forward Eats. This standout restaurant on Central Avenue is 10 minute saunter from my house, and the first business in Northeast Minneapolis featured in this series! I took a stroll over the other day to chat up co-owner Holly, and hang with the FE crew for a very inspired dinner.
The wonderful and difficult thing about the Northeast neighborhood is that it's both incredibly diverse, and also ever-evolving. Holly, along with her Thai-American husband Joe, opened up shop in 2008 after years of building up the courage to do so. They opened, as it were, in the midst of that year's infamous economy crash. "The weird thing is, " explained Holly, "we were so consumed with starting the restaurant up that we were kind of unaware of an economic crisis." Holly's main concern was, once they opened their doors, who was going to come through them?
"Northeast was a much rougher neighborhood 8 years ago. Almost all of the restaurants and coffeeshops and breweries that are here now weren't here then. There was no Thai food in Northeast and certainly not a place to sit down and hang out with a drink along Central Avenue. So I kept thinking, 'how's this gonna work? Where are customers going to come from?'"
It turns out, Northeasters are a very loyal bunch, and enjoyed having a new gathering spot in their neighborhood. Plus, Holly and Joe are very committed to running their business around their 4 guiding principles: Family Ownership, Cultural Authenticity, Social and Environmental Sustainability, and Community Orientation. "We operate Sen Yai based around meeting these principles, not necessarily around making a certain profit. We just make everything else work out along the way."
And Sen Yai has certainly become a stronghold for Thai food in Minneapolis and beyond--the restaurant has been awarded a "Thai Select" certification 2 times--an award the Thai government gives to American restaurants they deem are procuring authentic Thai food.
This place is great for a family-style meal, a hearty solo entree, or a few drinks up at the bar. The have monthly specials created by staff members, and an ongoing "Thai-ku" poetry contest for all to participate in. The amount of love and passion Holly and Joe put into Sen Yai was very obvious in the the outstanding overall experience we had. Can wait to get back to try more menu items, and order the gem below again, and again, and again.