Street Side Thai Kitchen caters to the needs, wants, and imagination of its North Park neighborhood. Surrounded by other independently owned boutiques, bistros, and businesses, Street Side Thai Kitchen accommodates the area’s calling for quality, reasonably priced Thai fare, while setting a precedent for restaurants that refuse to skimp on style in the name of being affordable. Named for the authentic dishes served by popular food vendors throughout Thailand, Street Side Thai showcases the traditional and more familiar flavors so many of us have come to love and crave stateside. And beyond simply offering guests a bold and satisfying meal, the restaurant’s particularly modern and chic interior beckons weekend-walk-in’s and groups of on-the-town diners alike.
The restaurant’s discrete awning with red scribing shades a single row of tables on the outdoor patio, and only hints at the casual sophistication of the atmosphere inside the dining room. A dark wood shelving unit filled with accessories like candles and decorative tea pots acts as a partition between the waiting area and dining room; past the divider, the room is a deep rectangle with the kitchen at the rear. Bar height tables line the interior of the front windows, and banquettes line both sides of the room, providing ample dining and aisle space. The walls are painted in a warm beige tone accented by a large architectural feature in the form of a brick red wood platform that houses recessed lighting suspended from the ceiling. The platform winds its way down the length of the room, fixed to the walls in sections as subtle yet distinct design elements. The left wall is also adorned with large canvas prints of savory delights and kitchen scenes, which are actually personal photos taken by friend of Owner Kanwee “Jack” Kiatnikorn while on holiday in Thailand. Conjuring images of a wooded forest is the right wall with its backsplash of brick red offset by long bamboo shoots that support a similar light fixture. Back lit wood cut-outs of tree branches positioned in the corners of the room cast a serene and slightly whimsical glow.
Street Side Thai Kitchen is open for lunch and dinner daily. Midday diners fill the dining room to savor Street Side’s incomparable Lunch Special Menu that features dishes served with steamed rice, a green salad, bowl of soup, and an eggroll. The price of this complete meal is determined by the type of protein you choose: vegetable or tofu, chicken, beef, pork or mock meat, shrimp or squid, tender pork spare ribs, salmon, scallop, or mixed seafood. In addition to the enticing lunch specials, Street Side also promotes a different special for every day of the week, from 5:00pm to closing time. Serving up particular food and drink discounts nightly, Street Side makes sure guests always have a reason to celebrate.
The Street Side Thai Dinner Menu is just as inviting as the lunch menu, as it hosts an extensive selection of tried-and-true staples and soon-to-be favorites. Starters like the Moo Yang (Thai style pork skewers) and the Street Calamari (prepared in a special batter and fried) whet the appetite for the feast to come. The classic Tom Kah coconut soup may be ordered in two portion sizes, with the option of having it with chicken, vegetables, shrimp, squid, or tofu. Farther down the menu you will find the Secret Corner, where many of the Street Side Thai meat and seafood specialties reside. The “Ho Crab!” leaves guests exclaiming just that—it is a deep fried soft shell crab stir fried with vegetables in a yellow curry cream sauce. Visit the menu’s Fish Corner for a number of family-style options of whole fish entrees, each prepared differently and served with steamed or brown rice. Various curry dishes are offered as well, in addition to rice and noodle plates. Similarly, the Street Wok portion of the menu is where much of the action takes place. Select your protein of choice to go into dishes like the Ka-Prao (chili and basil leaves) or the Broccoli and Oyster Sauce with mushrooms and carrots. All of this pairs brilliantly with a glass of Thai Iced Tea or Thai Iced Coffee.
Speaking of beverages, Street Side Thai Kitchen does offer a limited selection of beers and wines to accompany your meal. The wine list hosts varietals exclusive to the US, offering around 12 different glasses of red and white wines, with prices hovering well below the $10 mark. For bottles, they feature approximately the same number of options—the bottle prices stay below $30. The beer selection highlights popular Asian and local brews; From Thailand’s own Singha to Japan’s Sapporo to San Diego’s Stone IPA, this international spectrum of beers is a natural fit with the street cuisine menu.
My guest and I are delighted to have our meal hosted by Jack, the owner of Street Side Thai. Throughout the evening, Jack visits our table to ensure we are content, making the rounds to every table to see that other guests are just as pleased.
The first dish that Jack presents to us is the Mean Wings. A glistening white plate has a lettuce leaf laid out in the center of it with six large chicken wings configured on top. A vibrant sprinkling of green onions finishes off the dish. These plump chicken wings are fried and glazed in a complex sweet, sour, and smoky sauce. At the forefront of the first bite is a tangy, sweet, and sour note accentuated by the almost molasses texture of the sauce. Once I begin to chew the chicken, my taste buds and sense of smell begin to coordinate, introducing me to a rich undertone of smoky and spicy flavors. I can deduce that chili paste plays a role in the mix and Jack tells me that tamarind is another key player, along with palm sugar and other spices. The moist chicken is satisfying on its own as it pulls effortlessly off the bone, but combined with the sticky-finger appeal of the sauce that is both unexpected and downright addictive; this appetizer will make fast friends of many a diner.
The Spicy Beef Salad is another dish that engages the senses and excites the palate. Placed on a bed of romaine lettuce is an artistic composition of vibrant flavors, toothsome textures, and arousing aromas. Thin-cut slices of grilled beef are tossed with cucumber, green onion, chopped lemongrass, and cherry tomatoes in a spicy lime dressing. A sprinkling of roasted rice flakes tops the dish, offering a slight crunch to every bite. The beef is firm yet tender under the knife, and retains the smoky essence of the grill. With a slightly charred edge to each piece, the meat is the anchor to a dish that boasts intense citrus notes. The lemongrass and onion work well with the beef, striking a fine balance between being pungent and peppery. The juicy cherry tomatoes and cool cuts of cucumber elicit the familiar feeling of indulging on a classic summer salad, while the spicy lime dressing with a traditional base of fish sauce is sweet, sour, and slightly salty. Whether enjoyed on the patio under the sun or inside on a rainy day, this salad sings.
Next, Jack introduces us to the entrée portion of the meal, bringing us three of Street Side Thai Kitchen’s most popular dishes. First out is the Street Side Thai chicken—this house specialty is direct in its approach yet provocative in its intent. Generous cuts of chicken breast are dipped in a rich Panko bread crumb batter and deep fried to golden goodness. Moist on the inside and delightfully crisp on the outside, the chicken in drizzled with a lime cream sauce and sits atop a bed of deep fried spinach. The lime sauce is sweet and tart, steadied by the silky and ever-so subtly sour mayonnaise base. Each morsel of fried spinach is equally crisp and delicate. Upon having it crunch in the mouth, it immediately melts into pure spinach flavor. The Street Side Thai Chicken is a sophisticated and refreshing take on a dish everyone enjoys, no matter which side of the Pacific they’re on.
Served with a small pot of steaming jasmine rice, the Pumpkin Curry comes to us in a high-sided bowl with its fragrant broth beckoning us to take our first taste. As with all the curry dishes, the Pumpkin Curry is made with your choice of protein—we enjoy ours with chicken tonight. Long strips of thin-cut chicken breast are submerged in a coconut milk-based yellow curry sauce with thick-cut carrots, red bell peppers, pumpkin squash, zucchini, and a hint of jalapeno. To my pleasant surprise, the more delicate vegetables (the squash and zucchini) do not melt away in the warm soup, but retain their distinct flavor notes and lush texture. Similarly, the large pieces of carrot and bell pepper are firm without teetering on tough. The coconut curry is decadent, comforting, and surprisingly delicate. Combined with the natural aromatics and starchiness of the rice, the curry is as filling as it is fulfilling.
The next and final dish we savor is one that truly embodies the simple yet satisfying foundation for Thailand’s legendary street cuisine. The restaurant’s Pad Thai with shrimp is one dish that deviates very little from the way it is prepared in Thailand, Jack explains. Rice noodles are stir fried with plump shrimp, bean sprouts, green onions, and egg in a complex sauce showcasing a creamy peanut base. Decidedly sweet and nutty, this Pad Thai is noticeably different than the dish served in many other Asian cafes. As I swirl my fork around a large tangle of noodles I appreciate the thick and glossy sauce that coats each piece. Whereas other variations are sometimes dry and only tease you with a fine sprinkling of ground peanuts over top, Street Side Thai Kitchen’s Pad Thai is a luscious plate of succulent seafood and wholesome noodles—it’s exactly the type of quality fare one hopes to find in their own neighborhood.
This visit to Street Side Thai Kitchen instills me with a rekindled appreciation for the understated complexity of traditional Thai street cuisine, further cementing my faith in my own neighborhood to embrace and share such familiar yet exotic fare. By introducing guests to a menu that is equally approachable and intriguing, Street Side Thai Kitchen is serving up a fresh look at Thailand one dish at a time.
Insider Tip: Given that every day of the week is known for its very own Street Side Thai Kitchen discount, it’s pretty hard to find a reason not to stop by. Street parking on University Ave. is always a challenge to find though, so we recommend arriving at the restaurant early.