When Thom Pham opened Azia in early 2003, he introduced a new dining concept to Eat Street — Asian fusion.
The restaurant incorporates the flavors of the entire Asian continent. “We use many local ingredients — people often refer to our cranberry dishes — and fuse them with sometimes unfamiliar flavors to meld a new creation,” he said.
When he first came up with the idea for Azia, many of his friends and family questioned him. But he persisted and said he’s learned a lot since launching the Eat Street restaurant.
“Sticking to your vision and plan is key. I see businesses open and close because they attempt to adapt — and often become something that even they don’t understand anymore,” he said. “Don’t get me wrong. You can easily go out of business by sticking to your plan, but I’d rather fail with my vision than with someone else’s of what I should or shouldn’t be.”
Pham has had his share of ups and downs.
In the fall of 2007 he was attacked by a group of men near Azia — an assault that landed him in the emergency room with serious injuries. His restaurant Temple closed in the spring of 2008 after an 18-month run.
But during a recent interview, he didn’t mention those setbacks and instead was eager to share his vision for the future of Eat Street.
“I would love to see the vacant store fronts rented out.
I would love to see entrepreneurs drawn to our neighborhood with fresh ideas,” he said. “I love how Eat Street has developed but don’t want to stop there. It has potential to be a stronger player in Minneapolis neighborhoods. I think we’re on the right track to get there.”
Pham got his start in the Twin Cities restaurant scene at Kinhdo in Uptown. He soon got the urge to open his own place and in 1999 he launched Thanh Do in St. Louis Park. The restaurant features dishes from China, Vietnam and Thailand, among other Asian regions. He has since opened another Thanh Do in Anoka.
Azia has evolved into a hotspot that can appeal to many different demographics.
“Anyone can walk in here — whether they’re 8 or 80,” Pham said.
Since it first opened, the restaurant has expanded, adding the Caterpillar Lounge and the Anemoni Sushi & Oyster Bar.
Cuisine: Asian fusion
Price range: $5–$28
Hours: 11 a.m.–2 a.m. Monday–Saturday, 3 p.m.–2 a.m. Sunday; Anemoni Sushi Bar: 11 a.m.–2 a.m. Monday–Saturday, 3 p.m.–2 a.m. Sunday
Address: 2550 Nicollet Ave. S.
It’s tough to single out one item at Azia — the menus for the restaurant and its sushi and oyster bar are very extensive.
The Journal has highlighted Azia’s cranberry cream cheese wontons before, but when asked to pick a favorite item on the menu, Pham pointed to the pork tenderloin.
The tenderloin has a Grand Marnier glaze and is served on a bed of sweet potatoes and cranberries (clearly a favorite ingredient of Pham’s). The dish is garnished with asparagus.
What does Eat Street mean to you?
“Eat Street is a culturally rich neighborhood of Minneapolis,” said Thom Pham. “In addition to the incredible selection of food and restaurants — it is a culmination of cultures and lifestyles. Minneapolis is incredibly lucky to have an area like Eat Street.”