New Bar Bites at Hawker Fare

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Hawker Fare is on a short list of maybe three or four restaurants I bring out-of-town guests to if I want to show them what Oakland’s food scene is all about. I love the casual vibe and the way the food perfectly straddles that line between “elevated” and “down-home.” The restaurant’s only flaw was that the short menu never changed — day in, day out, it was always the same set of rice bowls, the same limited selection of snacky appetizers.

So I was excited when I heard that, to go along with its newly-granted full liquor license, Hawker Fare has very quietly done its first significant menu revamp in the two years since it’s been open. Rest assured, all your favorites are still intact, but the “snack aisle” section has four new items — all available in limited quantities after 5 p.m., all designed to pair well with booze.

Dont throw away the heads on the S + P Shrimp.
  • Luke Tsai
  • Don't throw away the heads on the S + P Shrimp.
During a recent visit, I really dug the S + P Shrimp ($8): head-on “soft-shell” shrimp seasoned with salt and pepper and fried until crispy so that you can eat the whole thing — shells, antennae, brains, and all. This was served with a kind of basil-chili dipping sauce.

I also loved the Moo Ping ($5) — charcoal-grilled pork shoulder skewers, a homey dish that reminded me of nothing more than the soy sauce- and garlic-marinated pork chops my parents would stick on the grill during summertime backyard barbecues.

Other new items include a smoked cuttlefish-ball skewer and Goong Prik Thai (also a fried shrimp dish, with tamarind, garlic, and cracked black pepper). And a recent Twitter posting revealed that a Thai-style fried chicken dish is also on the way.

Thai fried chicken (via Twitter)
  • Thai fried chicken (via Twitter)
With the rice bowls, too, there’s been a bit of tweaking — the preserved mustard greens that came with my pork belly had a spicy component that wasn’t there before, plus added crunch from thinly sliced celery. And the sole vegetarian option has been completely revamped. The new Gang Dang bowl featured chunks of pumpkin and Hodo Soy tofu in a coconut-based red curry sauce, similar to the kind of thing you’d get at a traditional Thai restaurant — plenty flavorful, but somewhat unexciting compared to some of the meat offerings.

On the booze front, everything on the new cocktail menu is bargain-priced at $6 or $7. The margarita (featuring jackfruit and fresh lime juice) was one of the smoothest and most refreshing versions I’ve had in quite some time.

Meanwhile, I had a Jell-O shot for the first time in God knows how long. It was pineapple-and-spiced-rum flavored, came with a maraschino cherry skewered on a piece of lemongrass, and went down dangerously easily. For just a buck each, it wasn’t hard to imagine slurping down five or six of these.

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