It’s never a good sign when a restaurant has a hawker outside the door trying to palm off menus and entice diners inside, but it’s at least appropriate to the concept at Hawkers, the new Southeast Asian street-snack joint off Union Square.
Hawkers is a long, narrow space with crimson walls bedecked with graffiti. (Street, get it?) Rainbow-hued chandeliers hang from the ceiling, and the sound system might give you whiplash by playing “Let the Bodies Hit the Floor” followed by “Hey, Soul Sister.” The place is open until 2 a.m. on weekends and styles itself a late-night spot. Last night around 8, it was only us and one other party, but it was also a dreary August Monday, and the streets were quiet.
The menu offers rice dishes, Asian-fusion-ish burgers, noodles, and snacks. All are priced fairly and portioned generously: Nothing is over $13. The chef is apparently Malaysian, and the dishes skew in that direction, although Thai and Indonesian show up, too. We went with low expectations and left feeling like the place is better than it needs to be, although we did taste one clunker.
The crisp fried bean curd ($4.75) drenched in satay peanut sauce and stuffed with bean sprouts and cucumber has an appealing combination of textures, and the sauce is rich and peanut-y without being too sweet. We also liked roast duck buns ($6.75), which distinguish themselves in a now crowded field of steamed buns by being stuffed with perfectly cooked duck, the skin crisp and smoky.
The five-spiced pork roll ($7.25) turned out to be star-anise-scented pork sausage wrapped in crackly bean curd skin and fried. It’s tasty enough, if playing one fatty note, but the wrapping falls away from the pork.
Basically, if you like peanut satay sauce, you will like the chicken satay burger ($7.75), a well-priced gutbomb of a thing, with two surprisingly moist chicken patties drenched in the sauce. It comes with good-enough fries and delicious sweet-sour homemade cucumber pickle.
Char kway teow ($11.75), the Malaysian dish of stir-fried wide noodles with various add-ins, though, is a mess. It’s so unseasoned it tastes like bad Cantonese, the noodles swamped in an inexplicable, cornstarchy egg gravy.
225 East 14th Street