Hawker’s Asian Street Fare. The Ultimate in small plates traversing all of Asia’s cuisine. If you’ve ever walked by Hawker’s in Riverside, you know that there is ALWAYS a line out the door. And for good reason. It’s delicious. I would suggest bringing a few friends who don’t mind sharing because the best bet is for each of you to pick out one or two things and then everyone shares – it is small plates after all – and that way you get to try a bit of everything. They’ve also got an amazing beer/wine/alcohol menu (and hello, the special was a Not Your Dad’s Rootbeer Float…yum). During happy hour, which is 3-6 M-F, they put a lot of their specialty small plates on sale for $3 each – not bad, given that they are anywhere from $5-$8 usually. Be prepared though – and your server will probably tell you this too – the food comes out as it is made, so if you order separately, not everyone may get their food at the same time or your roti may come up before your noodles. Hence, why it’s also a good idea just to go with friends and share so you all eat a bit as it is delivered to your table. Side note as well – their water comes with orange, not lemon. Small touches – and it made it that much more delicious. Not to mention that our waiter always kept our drinks full.
Now, for the menu. There are “from the grill” options, small plates, salad/soups, noodle bowls, and rice bowls. They are known for their curry and their pad thai, but those aren’t the only great things on the menu. Our group ordered the Roti Canai, Roast Duck, Crispy Roast Pork Sui Yoke (Pork Belly), and the Pot Stickers. We also added on the Curry Duck Noodles and Hokkien Mee Noodles.
If you peruse any reviews or talk to anyone who has been here, you’ll hear about the Roti Canai. Roti is similar to Naan – an unleavened flatbread, except Roti is much flatter, not usually stuffed with anything, and crispier than naan. It comes with a dipping sauce – the most unusual sauce I’ve ever eaten. It’s supposedly their curry sauce, but it’s much milder than the curry on the duck and has a stronger peanut flavor and oil texture. It’s pretty indescribable – but what one of my friends and I discovered is that you keep having to go back for more of the complex sauce (even if you can’t comprehend what you’re tasting). I’d suggest if you are going to share, to ask for additional roti pieces (it comes with one, and they usually recommend one per person…but the sauce is more than enough for four to five people).
The Crispy Roast Pork Sui Yoke is pieces of pork belly deep fried with a side of hoisin sauce. Hoisin is like barbeque sauce – a bunch of different ingredients mixed together to make a tangy, rich sauce. The smaller pieces of pork belly were the most successful – the larger pieces tended to be a bit too chewy (as many complain about pork belly). The flavor was amazing, and the hoisin was the perfect accompaniment. Simple, but tasty. I suggest always getting the Roast Duck – a few tender pieces with a slightly sweet sauce and spring onions. One of the best duck dishes I’ve had. The Pot Stickers were equally delicious. Pot Stickers are familiar to most, so almost every asian restaurant has some on their menu. Which means, you have to make yours exceptionally delicious if you want to get my vote. And I have to say, these were not bad. The filling was moist with just enough seasoning and the usual warm soy dipping sauce topped it off. If you have someone who is unsure about trying new things, this is always a good introduction. And for those who have had plenty of asian food, it’s a dish like homemade chicken soup – always hits the spot.
The noodles were both also good – one spicy, the other sweet and tangy. The Curry Duck Noodles are tossed in the house curry sauce – which is pretty spicy. On a scale of 1-5, they are about a 3 or 4 on the heat level. The duck is the same tenderness as the roast duck small plate, but the small plate roast duck is much better. We didn’t get the Pad Thai, as one of our eating companions was hesitant on the spice level, so our waiter suggested the Hokkien Mee Noodles. These had a much sweeter soy sauce and had all of the meats – chicken, pork, shrimp. The noodles in both dishes were the perfect level of doneness (al dente perhaps?) and the portions were just right for two to three people to share, depending on how much other food you order.
The atmosphere is absolutely what you expect – fast paced, chaotic, loud. Some of the tables are far too close together for the comfort of patrons, and the air conditioning could be bumped down a few degrees (especially for the customers eating the spicy dishes they sell), but the service is exceptional. The open kitchen and friendly/funky waitstaff make for entertaining observations. Not 100% sure why they chose to decorate with Cafe Du Monde coffee-chicory cans, but from what I gather, the Vietnamese love that style of coffee (perhaps just the association with New Orleans made it confusing). If you try to go anytime past 6:30, be prepared to wait – and probably wait outside since its a small building. The spot fills up fast for sure. They are apparently trying to start up an online ordering system, but that’s TBD. I might be first in line when that happens – what more could a girl ask for than sitting in her PJs watching Netflix with an array of asian food at her disposal? Perfection.