In the heart of the Elmwood Village, consumers can get overwhelmed with the flurry of shops and restaurants lining Elmwood Avenue. But on the blocks between Lexington Avenue and Bryant Street, one location sticks out from the rest.
Street Asian Food shines brightly, with an exterior to match. Maybe it is the neon green walls, or maybe it’s the flavors of Thailand, Burma and South Asia that brings customers in.
Serving the staples found on street carts overseas, owner and chef Than Oo aimed to create an Asian fast food restaurant focusing on authentic Asian street foods with fresh ingredients and quick service.
Positioned to be a takeout restaurant, seating is available and ordering is done at the counter with a giant menu perpendicular to it. The sheer abundance of items can be overwhelming at first, but it's easy enough to work through.
Starters include fried or fresh spring rolls ($6), samosa ($6), various tempura ($8) and dumplings ($6). Drinks are Coke products ($2), Thai iced tea or Thai iced coffee ($3.75 each).
Fried spring rolls (two for $6) came out crisp and filled with carrot, cabbage, cellophane noodles and green onion. They were served with a house sauce made with red chiles and garlic that was perfect for dipping. Vegetable samosa filled with potato, onion, curry powder and other spices also did the job and are probably the heaviest item you’ll find on the menu.
Salads were next up. Tea leaf salad with tea leaves, tomato, red onion, mixed beans, peanuts, cabbage and lime is the cheapest option at $7. We opted for the Thai beef salad ($12) and mango salad ($8).
The Thai beef had steak, cucumber, lemongrass, makrut lime leaves, rice, tomato, red onion, cilantro and scallion. The beef was a bit tough but the overall flavor finished nicely combined with the citrus notes of lemongrass and makrut leaves. The makrut lime is native to southeast Asia, it emits an intense citrus fragrance but is nothing to steer away from.
The mango salad was a bright spot on the palate but not something I would order as a main entrée. A base of noodle-like mango (think of thin spaghetti but shorter) with red onion, cilantro, scallion and lime had a texture similar to seaweed and was a change of pace from the rest of the menu.
Street Asian Food carries broth and noodle soups. Broth soups have choices of chicken, pork, veggie and tofu ($7 to $8), beef and shrimp ($11) or a seafood combo ($15). Tom Yum soup ($8), Tom Kha ($8) and Pho ($10) are also available.
Lastly, let’s get to the entrees. Pad Thai ($12) is available but change it up and go for the lesser-known Pad Kee Mao ($13) or “drunken noodles.” There isn’t any alcohol in them and I’m not sure why they’re called drunken noodles, but it’s almost an instant order when I see it on a menu. A wide, flat rice noodle with egg, onion, sweet Thai basil, red pepper, bamboo shoots, Napa cabbage and their own sauce makes it a perfect dish.
Three spice levels – mild, medium and hot – give options, but medium provided enough heat without sacrificing flavor. Get it with beef and order it when you want a different kind of pasta/noodle dish. Or get it the night before and after drinking it will kick your hangover the next day.
Traditional Burmese chicken curry is slow cooked with chicken thighs, potato, ginger, turmeric, garlic, onion and paprika and served with white rice. If you’re not a fan of curry that uses coconut milk, definitely give this a try.
Most, if not all dishes are vegetarian, but the crispy eggplant special ($14) should not be passed over by carnivore types either.
A gigantic menu that cannot be tackled in one trip certainly leads one to go back and try everything that Street Asian Food is serving.
Street Asian Food
516 Elmwood Ave. (886-4001)
Hours: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to midnight Friday and Saturday, 4 to 10 p.m. Sunday.
Gluten-free options: Salads, soups, curries.
Wheelchair accessible: No