Street Eats in Orlando
Hawkers offers a wide sweep of Asian finger foods for a small price.
Roasted duck breast with spring onions and dipping sauce at Hawkers in Orlando
In the endless search for modern foods that are small, clever and affordable, a group of Orlando entrepreneurs has found a very old model for their new restaurant, Hawkers — as in street vendors who "hawked" small bites of food in the cities and byways of Asia in the millennia before food trucks.
In this case, the Asian street fare has a fixed location — and on an appropriate street. Mills Avenue is one of the chief axes of Colonialtown, also known as Little Saigon, a lively cluster of immigrant businesses in the heart of Orlando locally famous for its Vietnamese restaurants and markets. It is not pedestrian, but Hawkers includes a 12-foot-tall window looking out at oncoming cars.
Hawkers has modernized and sanitized a setting more hip industrial than rustic Third World market. Yet it keeps a sense of humor with corrugated tin walls, high common tables and everything covered with Asian newspapers, like a Korean beer hall in an anime graphic novel. As with street food, prices are small. Nothing is over $6.50, even roast duck, shrimp, cod or calamari, encouraging anytime eating for as many and as long as you want.
It is an unusual new restaurant in Orlando, a tough-to-achieve status in a market where chefs are busy cooking up and importing new formats, often with a they-might-be-chains dream ["Test Kitchen"].
The menu at Hawkers covers a wide sweep of Asian finger foods from India to China and a large helping of curries and noodles from Singapore, Thailand and Malaysia.
While some dishes such as fried pot stickers and lettuce wraps are familiar, Hawker dresses skewers with Malay, Korean, Vietnamese or jerk seasoning and serves wings 10 ways, including sriracha and General Tso.
The most intriguing items are authentic, like puffy roti canal flat breads with curry, fried green beans and pickled vegetables or chicken-shrimp noodles — recipes borrowed from the owners' relatives, who still have market stalls in Malaysia. Others are modern fusions: Five-spice fish tacos and "sliders" of bulgogi beef with Vietnamese?banh mi garnish or a $3 dish of curried mashed potatoes.