After months of watching the build out, followed by a ton of social media chatter, I was very interested in checking out Hawkers for myself. After hearing so many good things about it, I was a little worried I was being set up for disappointment. However, luckily for me, it turned out to be a pretty perfect first date–from vibe to food to price.
Hawkers has tapped into the three essential elements for success: a great location, a cool factor, and good food. It is perfectly situated on the corner of Park and Post, serving to expand the 5 Points dining district. While the design is understated, it incorporates some interesting elements like woks used as sink basins and light fixtures, and amazing windows that open onto the street, creating an airy, casual environment, allowing you to enjoy street food in a dining room.
The menu is extensive, but well organized, recognizing Asian cuisine from 6 different areas: Malaysia, China, Korea, Singapore, Vietnam, and Thailand. It is categorized by food type, like soups, noodles, stir fry, small plates, grill, etc., and most everything ranges from $3-$8–the pricing sweet spot for encouraging diners to order a little bit of everything.
Food service is intentionally relaxed, blurring the line between street vendor and restaurant. Everything comes out as soon as it is cooked, not necessarily all at the same time or in the traditional order. It is important to realize that this is somewhat of a turn-and-burn style restaurant by concept, so don’t go in expecting stellar service. The servers are friendly and knowledgeable; they are just spread a little thin.
While I realize my blond hair and blue eyes don’t give me much Asian street food credence, I love it and know when it is done well, and Hawkers does it well. My top three favorite dishes include the Roti, Duck, and Udon. The Roti is served with a slightly spicy curry sauce. Roti is their bread service, and it is like a cross between a tortilla and a croissant and could easily be addictive. You have to throw caution to the wind when enjoying it and forget that the copious amounts of butter could round out the gut very quickly. If you love duck, there are lots of options throughout the menu, as a small plate, a slider, or a taco protein, to name a few. The cooks in the kitchen know how to prepare duck. It’s roasted and served with tender meat and crispy skin. Finally, I really enjoyed the Udon Noodles, served hot with some stir fry vegetables and chicken on top with a spiciness factor of 4-5 on scale of 10.
Clearly, this is a place to come with friends–just make sure everyone has a lesson on sharing, know that the food moves fast, and it’s hard to keep up with who ordered what.
My only small disappointment is that they only offer beer and wine, but maybe Hawkers is keeping it intentionally simple. They do, however, have a very eclectic beer menu, full of craft brews. Just remember that if you do grab a brew-ski, those full bodied beers go down a little quicker than normal when you are trying to tone down the spice factor.
There is definitely more to love than not with this place, and I think it’s a great addition to the Riverside dining scene. I’m grateful for something cool that doesn’t have to be expensive. And, I’m grateful for some good Asian food. Now, if only they would deliver…
Jennifer Earnest aka “Gutsy Girl Jen” is an active member of our local food community. She is co-owner of The Chef’s Garden Catering & Event and The Café at The Cummer and co-founder of the 2GutsyGirls food blog.