Yimm Arrives in Rockridge
The new Thai restaurant delivers exceptional home cooking alongside Southeast Asian standards.
Pad Thai, a stir-fried rice-noodle dish containing veggies and eggs and tossed in a sweet peanut sauce, is a Thai cuisine staple.
Tom yum soup. Papaya salad. Pad Thai. Basil chicken. Rinse. Repeat.
I love Thai food. But somewhere along the line, things got a little stale. Choose any restaurant, it seemed, and they’d offer a carbon-copy menu of familiar Thai fare. You always knew what you were getting—but on the other hand, you always knew what you were getting.
That’s changing fast. Eclectic spots such as Bird and Buffalo, Daughter Thai, Farmhouse Kitchen, Funky Elephant, Kacha Thai Bistro, Lanna Thai Restaurant, and Torsap Thai Kitchen—not to mention San Francisco’s Michelin-starred Kin Khao—have brought a level of glamour, appeal, and regionality to Thai cuisine not seen in the East Bay for decades.
After an under-the-radar opening in Rockridge earlier this year, Yimm adds another fascinating entrée into this bird chili–level hot dining scene. The sister restaurant (phonetically and by ownership) of Berkeley’s Imm Thai Street Food, Yimm quietly replaced Osmanthus on College Avenue. While the menu is peppered with well-executed Thai standards, those looking for something more offbeat should beeline straight to the section labeled “home cooking.”
What does that mean? Aya Amornpan, who runs Yimm with her husband, chef Note Mansawataphaiboon, explains.
“The concept was inspired by how you cook when you’re at home: using the things that are left in the fridge and mixing and matching ingredients,” she says. “This is how moms cook for kids, or friends cook for friends. It’s not chef cooking; it’s home cooking.”
If that sounds suspiciously like preparing leftovers, you’re not wrong. But it should not be dismissed as a gimmick. As any home cook (or Chopped contestant) can attest, some of the most interesting dishes arise out of trying to create a cohesive meal from disparate elements.
Take Yimm’s tom yum omelet rice. A mound of rice is blanketed by a velvety free-range egg omelet fluffed with whole milk. Plump butterflied shrimp and delicate sautéed oyster mushrooms are layered on top. Finally, this affable ensemble is enlivened by fragrant, julienned kaffir lime leaves and a wonderfully complex spicy and sour sauce—a concentrated riff on Thai tom yum soup.
I inhaled it. Not only was it one of the best things I’ve eaten all year, but it’s a perfect example of Yimm’s concept—who hasn’t wondered what to do with some leftover rice, eggs, milk, or mushrooms kicking around in the fridge? But I would quibble with Amornpan's description of the food as not “chef cooking.” The mix of ingredients might suggest an amateur cook ad-libbing during a midweek meal, but the execution and final product were as refined as anything you’d find at a fine-dining restaurant.
While fine dining is not a term I’d use to describe Yimm, the restaurant effortlessly offers many of the same perks without the pretension and price. The bright, airy interior is basic but fun with a no-frills contemporary feel. The vibe leans casual, but Yimm’s friendly staff delivers professional service and even surprisingly good cocktails from the small, fully stocked bar in the back. And while the prices are a few dollars higher than at Imm—blame those Rockridge rents—nearly all of the entrées fall in the $14 to $16 range.
That includes the pa-lo. This common home-cooked Thai stew mixes gelatinous pork belly, halved hard-boiled eggs, and fried tofu into a sweet, caramel-like broth rich with notes of soy sauce, garlic, and star anise. It’s totally comforting—like the Thai version of a homemade beef stew—with the fried tofu, in particular, bursting with flavor absorbed from the liquid. It’s served with a side of white rice—another great vehicle for that delicious broth—and is a steal at just $14.
While the pa-lo comes across as a winter dish, Yimm also excels in its warm-weather offerings. The mee cook features a base of thin vermicelli noodles served cold. Crispy fried garlic and shallots, shredded chicken and herbs, and chopped carrots and celery (again, who doesn’t have carrots and celery somewhere in their fridge?) are dressed with a perfectly balanced tangy-sweet tamarind-lime sauce. It’s a simple, light, and refreshing dish you could imagine eating on a hot Thai summer day.
Even better is the sweet corn salad, which Amornpan says she and her husband picked up after a recent trip to their native Bangkok. (Their hometown’s vibrant dining scene is a big source of inspiration.) This spin on papaya salad subs out the classic Thai dish’s namesake ingredient for slices of corn sheared straight from the cob. Sourced from Berkeley Bowl and Monterey Market, the corn provides a naturally sweet counterpoint to the spicy, tangy, fishy notes of a complex salad spiked with crunchy peanuts, dried shrimp, toasted garlic, peeled carrots, tomatoes, snappy green beans, fish sauce, and chili lime juice.
Which speaks to another aspect of Yimm that I liked: The food, by design, isn’t loaded with sugar. “American Thai dishes can be so sweet,” Amornpan says. “That’s not the case in Thailand. Some dishes can be sweet, but not everything.”
That restraint is evident and welcome in some of Yimm’s more traditional dishes. A pad Thai stir-fry with chicken was unusually light and fresh with just a subtle sweetness and tamarind tang (my kids loved it). The chicken wings came with glassy-crisp skin covered by a sweet-spicy sauce—but not drenched in it. The kitchen lets the chicken do the work, flavor-wise, and the juicy, tender wings were more than up to the challenge. Even the petite spring rolls—wrapped with marinated tofu, carrot, cucumber, avocado, and, most prominently, aromatic mint—tasted particularly delicate served with a mild curry-peanut sauce.
That’s the nice thing about Yimm. You can order a dish you’ve eaten a hundred times or one you’ve never before seen—and you’ll be happy with the results regardless. yimmoakland.com.
Try These Too
Diablo rounds up five more Thai spots that offer something a little out of the ordinary.
Bird and Buffalo
From the owners of the longtime Rockridge hot spot Soi 4, this casual concept in Temescal bills its menu as “Thai soul food”—simple, rustic fare that you can enjoy with a beer.
Try: Mussamun neur stewed beef short ribs in red curry; graduk mu yang grilled pork ribs; blistered green beans.
Farmhouse Kitchen and Daughter Thai
Seemingly tireless chef-owner Kasem Saengsawang launched his Farmhouse Kitchen empire in San Francisco in 2015 but rapidly expanded across the Bay, bringing his festive, refined, and flavorful brand of Thai food to Montclair with Daughter Thai, and opening additional Farmhouse Kitchen locations in Jack London Square and, soon, Berkeley’s Gourmet Ghetto.
Try: Panang neua short rib; neua num tok rolls with Wagyu beef; mieng salmon with smoky peanut sauce and seafood sauce.
Supasit Puttikaew, former chef de cuisine at James Syhabout’s beloved Hawker Fare, uses top ingredients in his carefully executed “Thai comfort food,” served out of a petite shop in north Berkeley that’s been recognized by Michelin.
Try: Pad Thai Old Skool with gulf white shrimp and Hodo tofu; nam kao todd crispy rice salad with house-made red curry paste; fried organic “party” wings with house-made chili jam.
Kacha Thai Bistro
This multiple Diablo Best of the East Bay winner scores points for its pristine takes on Thai classics and its elegant interior.
Try: Chicken pad Thai; pineapple fried rice (served in a half pineapple); green curry.
Walnut Creek, kachathai.com.
Torsap Thai Kitchen
Taking over a sleek, high-profile space in downtown Walnut Creek, Torsap delivers with gorgeously presented dishes and flavors to match. Good cocktails, too.
Try: Lemongrass sea bass hot pot; mussamun lamb with peanut curry; volcano beef.
Walnut Creek, torsapthaikitchen.com.