Photo by Tina Eshleman
Owner and chef Jojo Best proudly poses with her new restaurant's mural, which she hand-painted herself.
[12/1 Update: Strawberry Thai and More is currently closed. "Dear Customers, we are terribly sorrowful to inform you Strawberry Thai will be closed until further notice. The partner we were working with decided to take all of our money and go to Egypt. Jojo and her her crew are looking for other locations and options. We loved cooking for you!" reads a statement on the restaurant's Facebook page.]
[Update: After multiple construction delays, Strawberry Thai and More will open tonight, Sept. 23, at 5:30 p.m. with a limited dinner menu and cold case selection. Lunch service and full menu will launch after the completion of the UCI World Championships Races.]
Each day, dozens of Fan passersby peek past the bright "OPEN SOON" sign at 407 Strawberry St. Inside, Jojo Best is laughing, both surprised and flattered by the attention her new takeout and delivery restaurant, Strawberry Thai and More, is getting.
“Oh my gosh, at least 15 people actually come in and talk to me a day, but people who just walk by and take photos of the menu? It happens all day, constantly,” she says.
It's a welcome signal of support for the chef and owner, who's been working tirelessly to launch the new spot that's tentatively set to open on Monday, Aug. 10. The new restaurant, occupying the space of short-lived neighborhood market Buy the Way, will offer classic Asian dishes ranging everywhere from Japanese yakisoba and Korean bulgogi to Thai green curry and Indonesian-style gado gado — an array of egg, blanched vegetables and tofu in a peanut Madras curry sauce.
The space will also sport a to-go cold case full of house-made fresh rice noodles, cold salads like Japchae (a Korean salad of cellophane noodles made from sweet potato starch), and three varieties of kimchi: cucumber, cabbage and daikon radish. You'll also find a frequently-rotating specials board. It's there that you'll see Best really exercising her creativity, she says, and serving up items like crispy pork with beans, and battered and fried soft-shell crabs in spicy chili sauce.
“My dad was in the Army, so we moved around a lot, but my mother, being Thai, was able to dial into the Asian communities no matter where we were," she shares. "We had a lot of Vietnamese neighbors and Korean neighbors and also Thai and Indian [neighbors], so I just came up in a household of good, exotic food.”
Best's bringing Strawberry Street her experience as former co-owner of The Viceroy, and a cumulative 10 years at Whole Foods Market, both in the kitchen and on the corporate side of things, where she helped launch the major grocery chain's pre-packaged food program. It's undoubtedly a useful background as she heads into her new venture, which will offer her made-from-scratch, grab-and-go items and sauces, plus fresh ramen from Bombolini.
“I came up with a strawberry dipping sauce, and it’ll be the signature sauce," she says. "We’re on Strawberry Street! We’ve got to have some strawberries!”
Asian food is often gluten-free by nature, but Best is taking dietary consideration even further: Many of her items will be made vegetarian and vegan, sometimes eschewing traditional ingredients like fish sauce and gelatin completely. Her desserts, for instance, will be vegetarian-friendly, inspired by Asian tapiocas, gelatins and custards, but made from agar-agar, a plant-based thickener derived from seaweed.
Around eight months after opening, Best will introduce a traveling food cart, which you'll find out and about roughly four days a week, typically stationed at breweries and festivals. Right around that time, Best will introduce sushi to the menu, bringing in a designated sushi chef. For now, even as I type and as you read, she's awaiting her new stove — to be delivered today — and a gas meter, due sometime, she expects, in the next week. From then on, it's go time.
“As soon as that gas meter goes in, we’re going to hit the ground running,” she says. “I’m gonna do it. It’s happening! The train has left the station!”
Strawberry Thai and More is located at 407 Strawberry St. and is expected to open on Aug. 10, from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Thursday, and 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday.