Never judge a book by its cover.
In the two years since I started Berks County Eats, I have found that old cliché rings true more often that not.
While many chain restaurants lure customers with their elaborate exteriors, the real draw to restaurants is the food, no matter what the outside looks like.
I’ve found amazing food in roadside trailers, former factories and fire companies. But one place I keep finding myself is strip malls, spaces I once believed were reserved for chain sandwich shops, cookie-cutter Chinese restaurants and average pizza.
But I have been proven wrong over and over again.
The Berkshire shopping plaza in Wyomissing doesn’t look like a place for a foodie, with a Wal-Mart, Taco Bell and a Burger King, but take a closer look.
In the Redner’s strip mall, tucked between Jake’s Coin Laundry and Sally’s Beauty Supply, is Thaiwat, a small restaurant serving authentic Thai cuisine.
The menu tells the story of the tiny restaurant, which literally means “Thai temple.” It’s only appropriate then that Buddha stands guard over the dining room from his perch along the back wall.
Decorative wall panels helped make the restaurant feel more like a building in Thailand than a Berks County strip mall.
For those who are new to Thai cuisine, a guide in the front of the menu illustrates the differences between common Thai spices like sweet basil, galangal and kaffir lime.
One of the most common spices used in Thai cooking is ginger, which is found in most of the dishes on the menu ,including the traditional Thai iced tea, which is made from tea, milk (or cream) and ginger for added flavor. The dairy made it a lot thicker and creamier than any iced tea I have tried before, and the spiciness of the ginger gave it a completely different, but completely enjoyable flavor.
There’s also a guide to Thaiwat’s heat scale, where one pepper is a “stimulating kick to the lips and tongue,” two is a “tingling sensation and spreads a hearty glow,” and three is a “raging fire represents the exotic flavors of Thailand.”
For my meal, I opted for the “Evil Jungle Princess.” Despite its foreboding name, it only registered a single pepper on Thaiwat’s scale.
The dish consisted of spiced chicken and a vegetable medley tossed in red curry with coconut milk. There was definitely some heat in the curry, but the coconut milk helped cut the spice, giving it a delicious sweet heat.
All of the entrees at Thaiwat are served with Jasmine rice on the side. For our party of two, a super-sized rice ball was brought out to split between us.
While the red curry heated up my plate, Thai basil leaves were the main spice in my wife’s dish, appropriately called “Thai Basil.” The dish featured beef, green beans, carrots and ginger with a gentle, yet flavorful, spice. The sauce was more broth-like, but all of the ingredients, especially the rice, soaked it up well.
“Good things come to those who wait,” is another cliché that seemed appropriate on our trip. There was only one server working during our visit so service was a bit slower, but it was well-worth it when the cook (yes, the cook), brought our meals out to our table.
Thaiwat also offers vegetarian entrees, duck prepared three ways, Thai noodle dishes and curry. And everything is very reasonably priced with no entrees above $20.
The book that Thaiwat is writing is a small piece of Thailand just outside Reading, with good food in a unique atmosphere. But you would never know that from the outside.
Just remember, when it comes to restaurants, don’t judge a book by its cover. Judge it by its food.
Thaiwat may have some of the best food in Berks County.