World Street Kitchen is a playground for the Wadi brothers, owners of the esteemed, James Beard Award-nominated Saffron in the Warehouse District. There the intriguing Mediterranean menu (with emphasis on the swell eats of Palestine, where the bros grew up) is served in sit-down restaurant style. Lovely.
But boys just gotta have fun! So they launched a mega-popular food truck, offering less formal, more grab-and-go fare that drew lines that stopped traffic.
Sooo, why not a brick-and-mortar version? A place to experiment on new dishes, new cross-boundaries combos of street fare. A low-budget but far from low-key hangout without the usual “Hi, I’m….and I’ll be your server” drill. Thus World Street Kitchen—WSK—was born. And there’s no turning back.
The setup is like a McDonald’s done up by a Pop Artist—bright and trendy, full of verve. But the drill couldn’t be more casual: No reservations, natch. Check the menu overhead; line up, place your order and plunk down your moolah, then scope out a table, to which it’ll be delivered pronto. Oh, right: You can’t get wine and beer at McDonald’s, but you bet you can here.
We arrived hungry, and we tried it all. The items defy culinary labeling—that’s the joy driving their creation, and consumption—melding Latin, Asian, Indian and regional American staples—think tacos, kimchee, biscuits, curry—in a delicious mix-and-match frenzy. Here’s our take on the items on the short-order board, from “don’t miss” to “never mind.”
Highest on the “gotta come back” list was the Indian-inspired aloo tikki chat, a gently-fried patty with a trapeze leap of textures going on, melding mashed potatoes with fullbodied lentils given a spicy jump start to sail you through the coming windchill, then topped with crispy, hair-thin noodles under a skim of sauces hinting of cilantro, lime and tamarind.
Then, the lettuce wraps that hark of Thailand—melt-in-your-mouth yummy and hip-enriching short ribs linked with earthy mushrooms that carry a gently sweet hint of hoisin. The lettuce-wrap containing meatballs proved more dry, less addictive, though a splash of potent chili sauce from a “ketchup” squeeze bottle helped pump the dish.
Several taco choices are on offer and they’re—in a word—darling. Double-shelled in petite, paper-slender tortillas, the winner was the veggie version, championing chunky squash and forest-flavored mushrooms under a shower of queso fresco, and served with strands of pickled onions. It doesn’t whomp your tastebuds, it simply seduces them. The lamb belly version, which I yearned to like, fell short, however, thanks to overfried cubes of meat.
A chicken burrito disclosed plenty of juicy white meat embedded in rice with a rich, heartwarming jolt of red curry: Tex-Mex meets Bangkok. Then there’s the best-selling Yum Bowl, blessed with those super-tasty and dangerously juicy short ribs (you know why they’re juicy, don’t you?) mixing it up with rice under a poached egg to stir in and moisten further—comfort food for sure, but not particularly arresting, unless you count the scattering of peanuts and acid breeze of kimchee that liven the rice.
The two Dixie dishes we tried didn’t make the cut—a po’ boy built on a huge, dull bun supporting sweet, bouncy shrimp—good idea, until they hit the deep fryer in an overcoat of batter. Nice celery-root slaw helped out. Then there’s the MFC biscuit sandwich in a version the Colonel never dreamt: crisp fried chicken, aromatic of ginger and cinnamon, given a jolt of chilies—fine so far—but then settled on a doughy, why-bother biscuit, under a sprinkling of carrot threads and feta. Skip the blah biscuit and then we’re talking.
Final verdict: Better short-order food doesn’t exist.