The team behind Hawkers Asian Street Fare sure have all the buzzwords down. The “from-scratch-only” kitchen will prepare “small plates” served “as they are ready” with “curated craft cocktails” and “local beer” in a dining room with and “open-kitchen” and “high-energy atmosphere.” The Florida-based mini-chain—”on a mission to disrupt the restaurant industry”—already has six locations and is coming to Bethesda in early 2020.
The restaurant was founded in 2011 by four longtime friends from Orlando—Kaleb Harrell, Allen Lo, Wayne Yung, and Kin Ho—who all happened to come from families that ran mom-and-pop restaurants. The four have also traveled together around the world, from Hong Kong to LA, looking for the best local specialties and street foods.
Many of those dishes—along with family recipes stemming from Malaysia, Singapore, China, and Vietnam—are now on the menu at Hawkers Asian Street Fare. The wide array of small plates, soups, salads, noodles, and rice dishes draw from Japan, Korea, Thailand, and beyond. Diners can try Singapore mei fun curry rice noodles alongside Sichuan wontons, miso ramen, and green papaya-shrimp salad.
Some of the dishes are named after family members who shared family recipes for the restaurants. For example, “Po Po Lo’s curry” comes from Lo’s grandma and is also the base for a curry laksa as well as roti canai, a Malaysian flatbread dipped in curry sauce.
“Every since we started doing that, I swear my Facebook Messenger has been blowing up with recipes, because all my family now wants to make it on the menu,” says Lo, who was born in Malaysia.
But one of the top sellers is still pad thai, which includes a sauce that’s simmered for six hours. Lo says his uncle in Thailand gave him the recipe, and the team altered it slightly to include less fish sauce. Another popular dish is the Singapore ‘chilli’ crab, considered one of the country’s national dishes, made with soft-shell crab topped with a house-made tomato-tamarind sauce.
While the food menus are mostly the same across locations, the drink list aims to reflect local tastes and products. Cocktails also draw inspiration from around the world, whether it’s a margarita with mangosteen and bird’s eye chilies, an old-fashioned with five-spice simple syrup, or a kimchi bloody Mary.
The DC-area is the next big step in Hawkers’ grand expansion plans. “We want to get to the point where we can roll out six-to-eight units a year,” Harrell says. As for why Bethesda Row specifically, Harrell says they spent a couple weeks living in the neighborhood to get a feel for it. They liked the demographics, walkability, and the retail neighbors, including Jaleo and “brands we share the same audience with, like an Anthropologie.”
Currently, the restaurant’s locations are mostly in Florida plus one in Charlotte, North Carolina—all of which have different looks (see below). A handful more are coming throughout the southeastern US this year.
“We look at NFL cities, so cities that have the density to support a professional sports team,” Harrell says. “The DC-metro market has always been something that we’ve been really excited about. It’s a big boy market.”
Hawkers Asian Street Fare. 7115 #B, Arlington Road, Bethesda.