Chef Ann Ahmed’s newest restaurant, Gai Noi, opened this week in the former 4 Bells space on the edge of Minneapolis’s Loring Park. A successor to Ahmed’s restaurants Khâluna (an Eater 2022 best new restaurants winner), Lat14, and Lemongrass, Gai Noi’s menu is expansive, spanning from a stellar snacks section (crispy basil wings, tempura green beans, watermelon salad topped with shrimp flakes and roe) to grilled salmon skewers and a creamy, tomato-rich khao soi. Certain dishes carry extra narrative weight: Ahmed has traveled extensively in Laos, and she has said her biggest inspiration for Gai Noi was Luang Prabang, a northern city that has sat at the junction of the Mekong and Nam Khan rivers for thousands of years. There are three kinds of larb, the national dish of Laos, on the menu, as well as shaved Luang Prabang-style papaya salad, mok paa (fish steamed in banana leaves), and four kinds of jeow, a spicy, salsa-like Lao dipping sauce.
Notably, Gai Noi is open from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily, making it a great spot for brunch or lunch in a city that’s a little short on daytime restaurants. (Or for date night, for that matter — the cocktail menu offers no fewer than 16 drinks, curated by Earl Giles’ Nick Kosevich, which highlight tropical fruits and spices.) Here are five dishes to try at Gai Noi.
Gai Noi offers beef, chicken, and tofu versions of larb (a.k.a. laab), a classic Lao dish. This grilled beef flank is sliced thin and tossed in a hot lime fish sauce vinaigrette that delivers equal doses of umami flavor, pure heat, and citrus. The addition of toasted rice powder adds a little textural intrigue, while scallions, cilantro, and whole mint leaves make the larb — especially when wrapped in buttery lettuce leaves such as these — taste like the sharp, green arrival of spring itself. $16
This panang spaghetti brings to mind Khâluna’s popular bucatini talay dish. The former is tossed in a chile-rich curry sauce; the latter in a lush tom yum ragout that’s accompanied by shrimp, squid, scallops, and tobiko. But both dishes speak to Ahmed’s ability to marry elements of diverse cuisines — in this case, Italy’s durum wheat noodles — with Southeast Asian flavors. Gai Noi’s version is creamy, comforting and (miraculously, given its richness) dairy-free. $13
Careful with these bean thread noodles — they glitter and refract sunlight like a thousand tiny mirrors. Served chilled, they swim in a bright lime vinaigrette and, given the chance, will glide off your chopsticks back into the bowl of shaved red onion, cherry tomatoes, crushed peanuts, and herbs. Light and summery, this dish makes for a great starter. $13
Green papaya salad
Gai Noi’s green papaya salad is done Luang Prabang-style, which means the papaya is shaved into long ribbons instead of being chopped and shredded into little spears. It makes for a more tender bite. Quartered cherry tomatoes nod to Luang Prabang’s tiny climbing tomatoes, which Ahmed made note of on a recent trip. This salad is best enjoyed with a side order of sticky rice (which, in fact, is so fragrant and beautifully pearled that it’s a treat in itself). $13
This dish is at once starchy, satisfying, rich, and herbaceously fresh. In other words, it’s a great brunch pick. The ground chicken isn’t ground so finely that it turns to mush — little nuggets of meat are sauteed with fragrant basil leaves, designed to be scooped together with rice and egg. $16