Chef Kimberly Gamble opened Lucky Bird in 2019—before the pandemic moved into town. Located near the UC Berkeley campus, Gamble closed down the chicken-centric restaurant in 2021. “All the college students weren’t there anymore,” she said, “and we wanted to change the menu.” Cousins Asian Street Food is her new restaurant concept, which opened last month in the same Lucky Bird space on Shattuck Avenue. As the name suggests, Gamble brought a younger cousin in to help her run the business.
“We have a family recipe for homemade noodles,” Gamble said. Her grandmother taught her mother how to make them. And, in turn, her mother taught Gamble. “My grandma used to make them on special occasions,” she said. “I remember coming back to the States [from Thailand] and asking my mom to make them, especially if I wasn’t feeling good. That noodle, in a soup, is really good.” The chef felt that finding homemade noodles like theirs at restaurants was a rarity. So they decided to focus on them at Cousins.
I ordered a plate of Nam Tip Street Wok ($14.50), her version of Pad Thai. Instead of the usual thin flat noodles, Gamble’s homemade ones were long, thick and chewy, like udon but denser. They changed the consistency of the dish and the way the ingredients melded together. It was Pad Thai, but reinvented, and generously sprinkled with fresh green onions and mint.
I didn’t get to try Lucky Bird before it closed, but the space, in its Cousins reincarnation, is filled with natural light from several windows. At most, there are 10 tables total, but it doesn’t feel crowded inside. The address shares a small “alley” between the building entryways, where there are also a few tables set up outside.
There is some good news for diners who miss Lucky Bird. Cousins hasn’t ditched every dish from the previous menu. Gamble still makes her eggplant fries, crispy pork belly and a pumpkin curry ($13.50) with the warning “spicy” printed in red. The heat in that curry is no joke. Gamble says she’s, in part, making Southern Thai food. “It’s based more on spices. The pumpkin curry is really flavorful, because of the fresh turmeric and the chili pepper.”
Gamble’s family also runs Lanna Thai in Livermore. “The curry there is made with our own curry paste that we set as ‘medium,’” she says. “If people want it spicier, there’s ‘hot’ and ‘high hot.’” Even though the chef prefers a medium degree of heat in the food she eats, many of her customers can tolerate high hot, and they love it. Gamble also points out a Cousins dish called Mother’s Wok Dry Curry. “It’s also made with a curry paste but without coconut milk,” she says. “It has that curry flavor, but it’s even spicier.”
If Gamble’s name is familiar to East Bay diners, they might be familiar with her cooking at Daughter Thai Kitchen in Montclair. In fact, she is the daughter the restaurant is named for. “I grew up in the restaurant business,” Gamble says. “Since I was 10 years old, I was always helping my mom at the restaurant.” Her mother not only taught her how to cook but also how to run a business. Opening Daughter Thai Kitchen for the owner was a good experience for the chef, but after a couple of years there she wanted to start her own restaurant. That’s when she decided to open Lucky Bird.
Expanding on the menu at Lanna Thai, Gamble is interested in combining different cuisines together. “If you think about Thai food and Chinese, Indian, Vietnamese—they’re all very similar,” she said. “We all use the same ingredients, but the techniques are different when we cook them.” While she does help her mom out at Lanna, Gamble’s attention is focused on Cousins.
“I didn’t want to open a regular Southeast Asian restaurant. I wanted to have a unique dish,” she said. In addition to her Grandmother’s noodle recipe, Gamble is always looking at ways to come up with new dishes. “I like combining different cuisines together. Later on, there’ll be different types of curry noodles, noodle soups and stir fries.”