I work close to Hawker Fare’s original Oakland location in Uptown (it now has a second location in San Francisco’s Mission District), so I’ve been there often for lunch since it opened more than four years ago.
As it’s evolved over the years, the restaurant has tinkered with its menu, especially at dinner. When I’d go for lunch, I’d always be tempted by the dinner menu. (For awhile, they included happy hour items on the lunch menu but only served them after 5 p.m., so I always felt like it was such a tease.) When Chef/Owner James Syhabout opened the San Francisco location, it seemed the dinner menu became more fully developed, with some items making appearances at lunch.
Recently when my brother was visiting, I took him to Hawker Fare for dinner, my first time dining in the evening for quite some time. The vibe is definitely more family-oriented from the lunch crowd as more people with young children came for dinner.
A key difference between lunch and dinner is cocktails! Hawker Fare serves eight or nine specialty cocktails, along with Jello shots (for $1.50 each), beer (including a Thai and Laotian beer), and house red and white wine. Since I’m in my current coffee-discovery kick, I had to try the “Thai Coffee Gone Hard” ($10), which is what it sounds like, Thai iced coffee with cream and bourbon.
The sweetness of the sweetened condensed milk mixing with the Thai coffee was balanced by the bourbon, which kept the condensed milk for being cloying. It was a nice upgrade from my typical Thai iced tea I’d get during lunch.
The dinner menu has a lot more offerings in the starter sides, such as more salad options or snacks, such as the laab gai ($12), which isn’t served during the day. It’s a minced chicken version of the traditional larb salad that is often just the beef version at lunch. There are also nightly specials on the blackboard, so be sure to check that. We tried the yum pla meuk or grilled squid salad ($11).
Ironically, the laab gai and squid salad were my least favorite dishes of our dinner, mostly because they were both on the salty side, or in the case of the grilled squid had a bit too much tang in the sauce.
Many of the lunch rice plates are on the dinner menu, except not all of them comes automatically with rice during dinner (you’ll have to order them as sides). I had to have my brother try the classic khao mun gai (my go-to lunch order), which is Hawker Fare’s popular and tradition dish of poached chicken breast, served with cucumber slices and chicken fat rice ($13.50). The purity of the dish is its attraction, something for anyone starving for a home-cooked feel to a meal. The clean chicken slices are pumped up when you dip it in the accompanying ginger and fermented bean sauce.
The seen ping ($13.50), a Lao specialty of beef brisket cooked medium rare had a nice char flavor to them but I’m not a fan of the chewy texture.
Another dish I rarely get at lunch, the Mussels Dtom Kha ($14), is a lovely bowl of fresh and amazingly plumped mussels in a broth of coconut milk, galangal, lemongrass, lime leaves and prik pao charred chili jam. This light dish was supplemented by the phat pak ga naa ($8) or Chinese broccoli, a simple dish of this everyday Asian green sautéed with crushed garlic and oyster sauce. The greens were perfectly cooked, still crisp and green on the outside but tender inside, and thankfully not overpowering in the salt level.
For vegans, I could make a whole meal of a plate of the phat pak ga naa and a side of jasmine or sticky rice. (But you can also supplement with the often-recommended blistered green beans or spicy papaya salad.)
I like the added options during dinner (and the booze), and while not every dish tastes balanced, many of them are well done and make for a fun and enjoyable family meal.
The deets: Hawker Fare, 2300 Webster St. (at 23rd), Oakland. PH: 510.832.8896. Open weekday lunch, 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.; dinner, Tuesday through Saturday, 5:30 to 9:30 p.m. (till 10 p.m. on Friday and Saturday). Reservations accepted for dinner only (but walk-ins available). Major credit cards accepted. www.hawkerfare.com
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