Hawkers Asian Street Fare is undeniably Jacksonville’s hottest new restaurant. Just opened in February Hawkers brings together small dishes traditionally served on the street in various countries all over Asia. Hawkers started with their first location in Orlando. Based on how polished their concept is you’d never suspect that the Jacksonville location is only their second. Located at Five Points in Riverside, Hawkers can simply be described as Asian meets Tapas. As you walk into the restaurant you feel like you’ve been transported to a restaurant in New York, Chicago, or some other hip urban city. The restaurant is always packed and the energy level is electric. They are crazy busy so keep in mind that you might have to wait if you come at peak times. Who am I kidding. You’ll likely have at least a short wait at any time you come. It’s worth the wait though, read on!
Food: Before I found time to finish writing my review of Hawkers I had an opportunity to join a group of friends for a second visit. Since I was able to go twice I’ll be covering a lot of items in this review. Since I’ll be covering so many dishes our format for describing the dishes will be a bit quicker and shorter than normal.
Curry hawker meatballs ($5 Asian beef meatballs tossed in a curry sauce)- These had awesome flavor and an amazing blend of spices. It had just enough kick to it but not so much that those who are sensitive to spice would be bothered. My dining companion and I both remarked that we could have eaten an entire meal of just these meatballs. I’m pretty sure I dreamt about them all night after my first visit.
Roast duck ($6 One of China’s staple dishes roasted to perfection then wok seared with spring onions)- Comes chopped into bite size pieces that were extremely tender. It paired beautifully with the onions and a blend of other vegetables provided with the duck.
Roti canai ($3, $1.50 for each additional. Malaysian flat bread served with a side of signature spicy curry dipping sauce)- This is like a delicious fried pancake. Who doesn’t love pancakes and fried food? It seems to me Roti Canai is Asian version of tasty dinner bread. If you come to Hawkers make sure to kick off the meal with this one. It comes with a spicy sauce that you’ll probably really enjoy. Really I think the sauce is somewhere between curry sauce and gravy. Be careful not to eat too much of it or you might set your mouth on fire like I did on my first bite. Both trips I made to Hawkers I saw nearly every table with a plate of roti at some point in the meal. Maybe it’s America’s obsession with carbs that causes this or maybe Roti Canai is just that tasty.
Korean beef bulgogi skewers- The meat was well seasoned and fairly tender as far as bulgogi goes. It had a wonderful smokey flavor to it.
Kim chi fried rice- It was definitely better than simple fried rice. The Kim chi paired well with the flavor of the steak and onions. This is probably my least favorite dish at Hawkers and still very good.
BBQ pork “Char sou”- ($5.50 Roasted pork tenderloin lightly basted in a traditional Asian BBQ sauce.) The roast pork was flavored perfectly and covered in a wonderful sweet Asian sauce. You could clearly taste the honey in the sauce. If you have a sweet tooth you’ll really enjoy this.
Fried Calimari ($7)- This was decent Calimari. That’s about all. There are better options at Hawkers.
Wok fired lettuce ($4 Delightfully simple wok-fired lettuce stir fried with shitake mushrooms and garnished with red chili’s)- The waiter recommended this one. As far as vegetables go this lettuce was awesome! The mushrooms tossed in with the lettuce were really good as well. The sauce this dish was tossed in was light and tasty. A word of advice though…..Take it from this fool who can’t feel his tongue, be careful not to bite into one of the peppers on this dish because you’ll be sorry you did.
Bulgogi steak bahn mi slider – The sliders were HUGE. Pair this with a vegetable and you’ve got enough food for lunch. The vegetables on the slider matched nicely with the flavor of the steak. The bulgogi steak we tried on the skewer was a lot more flavorful than on the sandwich though.
Curry mashed potatoes (mashed potatoes made from scratch and topped with signature curry sauce) – Well, you can’t love everything you try. This was more like chunks of potato with a ginger gravy over it. We weren’t fans.
Fried green beans ($5.50 Fresh green beans lightly battered and fried then tossed in our signature five spice seasoning)- The first words out of my buddy’s mouth when he tried these were, “oh my God they made green beans edible!” These like nearly every vegetable at Hawkers these were nice and crispy. The five spice seasoning took a fairly bland vegetable and gave it life. The best preparation of green beans I’ve ever tasted.
Cantonese Cod ($6.50 Seasoned filet of cod battered and pan fried then stir-fried with our savory spring onion and ginger sauce) – The cod was good but I didn’t love the sauce. It might just be personal preference because I’ve heard people rave about the cod here.
Mango sticky rice- The mango sticky rice was fairly bland. I wasn’t a fan. However, the mango sorbet on top was TO DIE FOR! Holy cow! I could eat a bowl of that stuff every day for the rest of my life.
Roti Canai with cinnamon and sugar- It was served with what tasted like vanilla ice cream. Decent but didn’t blow us away like most of their dishes.
We told the waiter how much we loved the mango sorbet and while we were waiting on the check he brought us a bowl of mango sorbet. I’m pretty sure this made him my hero!
Service: “Don’t let this huge menu intimidate you. We’re going on a tour of Asia today and I’ll be your tour guide. Don’t worry, we’ll steer clear of the bad parts.” That was our introduction to Hawkers from the waiter. This guy was the coolest waiter I’ve ever had serve me a meal. This guy was funny, friendly, and had tremendous passion for Hawkers. He always made you feel like you were going on a culinary adventure and got visibly pumped up as we discussed dishes we were thinking about with him. He had great menu suggestions and seemed to really know each dish. When we were served the meatballs I bit into one and it was cold in the middle. When the waiter walked by the table again I stopped him and brought it to his attention. He scooped it up and whisked it off in the direction of the kitchen. I’m not exaggerating when I tell you we got a brand new piping hot plate of meatballs in less than 2 minutes. I was impressed. I’m sure part of the reason they were able to pull off that quick fix was Hawkers is so busy they’re cranking out multiple plates of each dish all the time. On my second visit to Hawkers the waitress was good and attentive but not even in the same league as the waiter from the first visit. That guy should have his own tv show.
Hawkers lives up to the hype. They are Jacksonville’s hottest new restaurant for a reason. It’s a great place to take a date or have a get together with friends. Riverside is lucky to have such a killer new hot spot. Their menu has so many delicious items you really can’t go wrong with anything you choose. Check ‘em out and tell us what you think.