Orlando has had some really unique new restaurants opening up lately, and tonight, my wife and I tried another great new place, thanks to the recommendation of our own TastyChomps blogger and regular Chowhound poster, Ricky. He recently mentioned Hawkers Asian Street Fare, which I had never even heard of, but I'm so glad he tipped us off to it. It's at 1103 Mills Avenue, very close to Colonial, and my wife thinks it took over the space previously occupied by Winnie's Oriental Garden.
Hawkers describes itself as an Asian gastropub, featuring a variety of common street food specialties from several Asian countries. China, Thailand, Vietnam, Korea, and Malaysia are all represented, and the menu is quite extensive. Most of the portions are relatively small, so it's a perfect place to order several dishes and share them. However, unlike most of the tapas/small plates restaurants I've been to, I felt the value was excellent -- ordering multiple dishes didn't break the bank, we left happily full, and even have enough leftovers for lunch tomorrow.
My wife picked out the jicama salad, which I wanted no part of (no offense to her or the fine people at Hawkers who made it). It came with an orangey-red pasembur dressing that she said reminded her of ketchup, and it was the only dish she didn't love. She also ordered vegetarian summer rolls that came with peanut sauce (her go-to app at most Vietnamese restaurants) and sesame chilled egg noodles, which were very good. The noodles were delicious, and came tossed with bean sprouts and a thin peanut butter-based sesame sauce.
As for me, I loved everything I ordered. I started with the roti canai, a soft, rich, buttery Malaysian flatbread that we both fell in love with. It came with a small bowl of curry dipping sauce that had a few chunks of meat and even a soft piece of potato in it, which I liked despite not being a huge curry fan. That was only $3, but we loved the flatbread so much we asked for two more, and they were only $1.50 each.
Beyond that, I got the beef bulgogi banh mi sliders, which were $6 for three small (but not tiny) banh mi wedges, dressed with plenty of mayo, cucumber, carrot, and cilantro. I love banh mi, and this was actually one of the better ones I've had in some time. The roll was perfect -- crusty on the outside and soft on the inside, and the flavors worked great together. All told, the three sections pretty much equaled about a 6" sandwich that could stand up against a few of the banh mi joints in the same neighborhood. It was light on the meat, but I was still satisfied.
Then I ordered the roast duck tacos, which came dressed with cucumber, scallions, and hoisin sauce. The plate had two full tacos for $5, so we each got one. The soft flour tortilla was lightly grilled, and the taco was wonderful. It reminded me a bit of one of the best foods I've ever eaten: the pork belly buns we had at Momofuku in New York City on our honeymoon, which came dressed the same way. I'm a huge duck fan anyway, and would definitely order these tacos -- or another dish contaning duck -- again.
Finally, we shared the largest of the "small plates" (which proved too big to finish), the Malaysian char kway teo noodles, which were very similar to pad Thai: stir-fried wide rice noodles with chicken, shrimp, egg, and shallots. I could easily have made a whole meal of just those wonderful noodles, and I'm glad I get to enjoy them again tomorrow.
I will note that of the seven things we ordered, five of them were marked as "signature dishes" on the menu: all but the summer rolls and the roti canai. Oh, here's the menu, by the way:
We don't drink, but it sounded like they have a pretty nice beer and wine selection. We were impressed that our waters had orange slices in them instead of the usual lemon -- our first time getting that, and something we hope other restaurants pick up on. It was a very nice, modern room with a high ceiling, and I was pleased to note they were very busy on this Friday evening. Our waitress told me Hawkers has only been open for four weeks, but hasn't had an official grand opening yet.
Now that Orlando is getting so many fun, affordable new restaurants and discovering the wonders of well-prepared street food thanks to a small group of hip food trucks, I think Hawkers will represent the best of both worlds for adventurous diners looking for something new. I would definitely go back, and that's my biggest test for recommending anyplace.
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