The name Hawkers makes sense once you know the concept, and it only sounds odd if pronounced by someone with a Boston accent.
The idea behind this charming little eatery is to present an array of dishes the type of which might be sold — hawked — by individuals who stake out space on the sidewalks and streets of various Asian cities but with, you know, stricter health department guidelines.
I’m resisting the urge to describe the dishes as tapas-like, but most of the menu items are “small plate” in nature. And the best way to experience Hawkers Asian Street Fare is the same as you would a tapeo, except instead of doing a tapas crawl, you might virtually wander these Asian streets and sample a number of delectable items.
You’ll want to try the banh mi sliders, a smaller, but really quite ample, version of the Vietnamese
sub sandwich, available here with various meats. I had the duck, succulent meat with pickled carrots and cucumbers with a sweet, vinegary taste, and an ample slather of mayonnaise that oozed out from the soft bun. Delicious.
So too the five spice pork chopettes, small chopstickable pieces of fried pork tenderloin coated with myriad spices that range from delightfully salty to just hot enough. Mostly sweet notes were evident in the not very daring coconut curry shrimp. But the crispy roast pork siu yoke had a wonderful slightly charred taste.
The curry laksa, a Singaporean soup, was a bright and colorful bowl of curry stew flavored with coconut. Also in this red sea of layered spices were bits of chicken breast, slices of hard-boiled egg, tender shrimp and stalks of yu choy (yow choy on the menu), a tangy type of green, and big, fat egg noodles. One not so niggling point: shrimp were served with the tails intact, a messy prospect for a soup, and no dish provided for the discards.
The incredible thing about the food here is that most of the dishes I just mentioned are priced at $6, which is also the most expensive price on the menu. Yes, portions are smaller than the typical “western” meal, but they are also ample enough to be filling. You can have a satisfying feast here for a relative pittance. Given a choice, I would rather dine like this than in “traditional” fashion.
The staff were all as friendly and efficient as could be. There is an impressive list of beers and ales from mostly micro breweries; the wine list should be so inventive.
Hawkers has taken over the Chinatown space and, miraculously, the new tenants managed to get rid of the musty odor that pervaded the place. Of course, that meant ripping out the carpeting and just about everything else in the high-ceilinged restaurant. But the bare concrete floors and corrugated metal wainscoting really go with the theme, as do the tabletops with laminated Asian-language newspaper motif. The sound system plays a new agey sort of soundtrack like you might hear at a massage therapist’s studio. I had to stop myself from stretching out on one of the tables.
The restaurant uses only part of the building. You may recall when Chinatown first opened, it also featured a market where one could buy, among other things, live fish. Which was even closer to the hawker theme. Perhaps the owners — there are six partners, I’m told — will find an appropriate use for that space. It would be just fine if they gave us more of the same.
Hawkers Asian Street Fare is at 1103 Mills Ave., Orlando. It’s open for lunch and dinner daily. It isn’t live yet, but the website domain will eventually be hawkersstreetfare.com. If you click the highlighted text coming up, you can download a copy of the Hawker menu. The phone number is 407-237-0606