Hawkers Asian Street Fare is an engaging, affordable new chain restaurant that has opened in the StudioPlex Alley on the East Beltline, near Auburn Avenue. The colorful new restaurant is a stark contrast to an area of the Beltline that always reminds me of the Berlin Wall before its fall. It’s edged with brutally bland, beehive architecture mainly occupied by white busy bees. They angrily scorn the word “gentrification,” but I do wish they’d do the right thing and get behind the effort to create affordable housing for the people they have displaced.
But I’ll put all my socialist carping aside long enough to acknowledge that Hawkers itself is a quick transit to a delightful, not dystopian, other world. First, there’s the brilliant aesthetic of Kenny and Leslie Ellsworth, who operate Studio SOGO Architecture & Design. They have turned Hawkers’ 4500 square feet into a three-dimensional collage whose overall effect is delightfully chaotic, campy, and kitschy. When you look closer, you see that the countless posters and graffiti both honor and shake-up the memes we associate with Asian pop culture in its so-called native and Westernized versions. Who doesn’t love a taxidermied squirrel dressed as a monk with prayer beads draped about his paws? I would be happy to sit there and meditate with him all day.
But I’m not going to go hungry. The food, mainly served as inexpensive shareable plates, is irresistible. The menu is large, divided into small plates, salads, noodle soups and plates, rice plates, and sweets. There’s a full cocktail program and the front of the restaurant is a long bar that seems to wander in and out of the restaurant’s garage-style front doors.
We sampled a few dishes from the menu and encountered no fails. One of my favorites was the “chicka-rones,” whose name alludes to “chicharrones,” which are the fried chunks of pork skin so popular in Mexico. But these “chicka-rones” are a Filipino dish of fried chicken skin seasoned with jerk seasonings and served with a roasted tomatillo sauce. Your lips are going to sting in the very best way. Three other simple dishes I can recommend include five-spice, fried green beans; pad Thai; and roti canai (Malaysian flatbread) with curry sauce. A new-to-me dish was “caulini,” a veggie that is the bastard child of broccoli and cauliflower. It was cooked with celery, red peppers, and Sichuan peppercorns. Finally, we ordered the Shanghai stir fry, which included steamed, chewy rice cakes, pork strips, shiitake mushrooms, scallions, and bean sprouts, all in a lo mein sauce. I confess I don’t care much for soy-based brown sauces that over-douse so much Chinese cooking. When you visit, I urge you to ask your server to help you create a menu of dishes with diverse flavors, so you don’t get stuck in the common soy-sauce black hole. (661 Auburn Ave. 470-809-1586, eathawkers.com/atlanta-oldfourthward.)
BACK TO LITTLE REY: I’m happy to update my report of the new Little Rey in the Voice’s last edition. After four visits, I found two dishes at the restaurant that were stunningly good. One was the pozole rojo. It’s a popular soup usually reserved for weekends at “authentic” taquerias all over Atlanta. Rey’s portion is small but its guajillo-chile broth is among the most flavorful I’ve ever encountered. The soup swims with hominy and smoked chicken. You add jalapenos, cabbage, cilantro, and onions in the quantity you want. The other stunner was the sandwich (torta) that features a brioche bun, a fried chicken breast, guacamole, a spicy cabbage slaw, and Jalapenos. Interestingly, the sandwich’s chicken is not smoked. Thanks to places like Hattie B’s, we’re seeing fried chicken sandwiches everywhere these days. This is the best I’ve had in a long time.
661 Auburn Ave. NE • Suite 180
Atlanta, GA 30312