Most places I visit for this blog I find out by reading various food sites and trying to keep up with the buzz, and then some places I just stumble upon, like Imm Thai Street Food on University Avenue in Berkeley.
It has been awhile since I’ve spent much time in Berkeley, but recently after visiting the UC Berkeley campus, I was wandering downtown looking for lunch when I noticed Imm Thai, which was packed at the time. The restaurant, which has been opened for a little over a year, didn’t look like the typical Thai restaurants, which are plentiful around Berkeley.
Imm Thai had a fresh, contemporary look, and the decor was hip. The menu looked like it has the typical Thai options such as pad thai, pad se ew, and green, yellow, and red curry. But it also has a few items I never saw at Thai restaurants before, namely the popular duck noodle soup (which is often mentioned by Yelpers).
When I tried the duck noodle soup ($10), it was a pretty bowl of honey-roasted duck breast and bean sprouts and spinach. The egg noodles were thin, reminding me of Hong Kong-style won ton mein, but the dark colored broth was savory, slightly salty, with a definite anise flavor.
On a recent visit, I started with the traditional papaya salad ($8), which was a fresh mound of shredded papaya with green beans and peanuts in the distinctive chili lime dressing. The large plate was topped with just two pieces of cooked prawns.
One thing I noticed about Imm Thai is that the kitchen (which works feverishly to keep up with the orders) doesn’t hold back on the spice. Not that dishes are spicy to the point you can’t eat them, but they definitely have a nice kick, like the papaya salad. Also, the green curry ($9) I ordered with chicken had a spicy flavor, softened and made rich with coconut milk.
However, the ingredients in the curry were pedestrian, almost like what you see at every inexpensive Thai restaurant, like the thinly sliced chicken breast, mushy eggplant and chewy green beans. The real star of the bowl is the actual curry itself, which explains why I read that a lot of people like to order the starter of pan-fried roti with curry as a dipping sauce. Next time I’d order that because I loved just eating the green curry, spooning it over my rice.
While sometimes dishes like the duck soup noodles seem different, other items were sadly ordinary, such as the pad thai ($9). The plate of noodles were disappointingly gummy and soft, and the sauce overly sweet.
Side note: There are nice option for drinks (including beer and wine), but also my favorite Thai ice tea ($2.50) and my first time having cucumber soda ($3).
The last bite
Imm Thai Street Food checks the boxes for typical Thai restaurants with its low prices and straight-forward ingredients, but it also draws the crowd probably for its bright dining room and friendly service. The dishes won’t blow your mind, but its menu offers some different dishes that try their best to be authentic.
The rating: 2 out of 4 camera snaps
The deets: Imm Thai Street Food, 2068 University Ave. (near Shattuck), Berkeley. PH: 510.898.1123. Open weekdays, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.; and weekends, noon to 10 p.m. No reservations, major credit cards accepted. Facebook page.
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