Much more than simply “the man behind the curtain,” Kanwee “Jack” Kiatnikorn, proprietor of Street Side Thai Kitchen, enthusiastically participates in all aspects of his restaurant. On the evening of our visit, Jack greets us with a warm and gracious smile—a kind feature that he keeps the entire night. His knowledge of each menu item is intimate as many of the dishes served at Street Side Thai Kitchen are specifically chosen by Jack to reflect his many trips to Thailand, his homeland. Jack sits down with me at the end of our meal to discuss the restaurant and the role he plays in it.
When did the restaurant open?
We opened in September, 2010.
Is this your first restaurant?
Yes, this is my first.
What inspired you to open Street Side Thai Kitchen?
At this question, Jack chuckles to himself nervously.
Well, I used to be a computer programmer. After 10 years of doing the same thing over and over in a cubical, I got burnt out. So I was looking for something else. I love Thai food—I’m from Thailand—I go home a lot and with the support of my family here I am.
Mr. Kiatnikorn’s nonchalant tone implies that his business just fell into place one day, but that is certainly not the case. Any success that has and will come to Street Side Thai must be attributed to his keen entrepreneurial skills and passion for food.
Jack continues by noting that even the dining room’s décor is constructed around his trips home to Thailand. Jack waves his hand over our heads to the large photo prints mounted on the wall.
These are the pictures from my last trip home. My friend took those.
He beams with pride as we ‘ooh’ and ‘ah’ over the pictures’ masterful depiction of real moments centered around authentic ingredients and dishes. it is gratifying to know that every component of the Street Side Thai Kitchen dining experience incorporates what it should mean to enjoy food with roots that run deep in a culture. Not only does Jack introduce his guests to fare close to his heart, but he also invites us along with him to the places he holds so dear, if only for a short while.
What is your clientele base?
We get a lot of locals. It’s not in a tourist spot like at the beach, so we have a lot of locals… we also have guests that bring family from out of town.
It’s true; North Park continues to lie just off the radar of happening San Diego neighborhoods. However, with places like Street Side popping up, North Park is quickly becoming the up-and-coming alternative to the Downtown scene.
What role do you play in creating the menu?
The chefs and I work together to choose dishes—we see what we like and what works…
Jack tells us that the menu has already changed once according to customer appeal.
How strongly do you rely on seasonal ingredients?
We’re lucky to live in Southern California. We have fresh vegetables all year long. Thailand is a hot country also, so it’s not hard to find similar ingredients. I will say something about the Thai chili: the spiciness of the chili depends on the weather. Some seasons it’s really hot and other seasons I can bite it. I say, ‘This is okay, I can eat this.’ So when the seasons change we have to try the new chilies.
What are your favorite menu items?
Jack thinks a moment and laughs to himself. “I love those chicken wings!” He exclaims with a level of excitement uncharacteristic to him thus far during our interview. He adds giggling, “I try to give them to everyone.” Jack continues, “The most popular dish is the Pad Thai…”
Upon my inquiry about the origin of the house specialty, he replies, “[Referring to the Street Side Thai Chicken] On my last trip back, I had that dish inside a mall and really liked it. So that was my inspiration.”
For a personally guided tour of Thailand’s celebrated street cuisine, come visit Jack at the Street Side Thai Kitchen. His genuine appreciation for traditional techniques and authentic flavors translates into a restaurant that preserves a sense of sincerity and community inherent in true Thai cooking.