It’s rare we get an exciting new restaurant in my neighborhood, but Kai Asian Street Fare (http://www.kaistreetfare.com/) started out strong when it opened earlier this year in a small, nondescript shopping strip on Semoran, just south of Howell Branch, and it has been improving exponentially since then.
My first trip was back in early April, and my wife and I ordered and shared several of Kai’s eclectic dishes:
The “Dude Where’s My Ca” fish taco was very different from my favorite Asian fusion fried cod taco at Tako Cheena, but it was nice and crispy, not greasy at all, and had a good blend of flavors going on.
They had three different varieties of Korean fried chicken wings, but since my wife doesn’t like spicy, we went with a safe soy-garlic flavor:
I appreciate clever names, especially puns, so “I’m in Love with the Pho Pho” earned bonus points from me right away. It wasn’t my favorite bowl of pho I’ve ever had, but it the broth was rich and fragrant, and it came with tender slices of beef and chewy meatballs. I just have a TENDON-cy to want beef tendon in my pho, and that wasn’t an option at Kai.
The “Legendary” garlic noodles with shrimp were one of the best noodle dishes I have ever tasted, and will surely make my list of favorite dishes of 2018.
Finally, the “On Fleek” pork and shrimp wontons were as tasty as they were pretty, especially rolled around in the leftover garlic noodle drippings:
Well, life gets in the way, and I had a few really hectic and stressful months since then, so I didn’t make it back to Kai for a while, all while positive reviews kept rolling in. Two weeks ago, I finally returned on a weekend, just intending to get some takeout for lunch, when I ran into a friend from the Orlando Foodie Forum, who was there meeting another friend for lunch. They graciously allowed me to join them, so that was super-fun, and of course we ordered and shared even more wonderful food. Everything I tried on this second visit in October was even better than my first trip. Plus, they had some interesting weekend-only specials which we took advantage of, so I’m so glad I went.
Since my first visit, they have added a few more wing flavors, so each of us ordered a different one. One friend ordered mango habanero wings, which were succulently sticky, sweet, and spicy. I love mangoes in any shape and form, and I’m cool with spicy food, but habanero peppers are usually a little much for me, and I tend to avoid them. Not these — they had such a great flavor, instead of just doubling down on ass-kicking heat like a lot of lesser wings at terrible sports bars and other awful wing chains.
Another friend ordered the Szechuan dry-rub wings. I’m developing a palate for Szechuan cuisine, which has a different kind of heat, a tingling and numbing heat that can be weirdly addictive (and sometimes has a slight metallic aftertaste). These wings weren’t as strongly numbing as some Szechuan seasonings I’ve had at Orlando’s Chuan Lu Garden, and they seemed to be balanced by some sugar in the dry rub that cut the heat. Since I was on my way to work after this lunch, I wisely avoided the peppers themselves.
Those were both weekend specials, but I ordered the spicy tang wings off the regular menu, which I didn’t get to try on my first visit. They were the most like the Korean fried chicken wings at Hawkers, which have been my favorite and gold standard so far:
All of Kai’s wings are absolutely huge, meaty, and tender, with nice crispy breading that stays on, and never soaking in puddles of oil or grease. I don’t know how they do it! I am definitely a convert. Not to take away from Hawkers’ wonderful wings, but these are easily as good — just different, and well worth trying if you already like Hawkers (or anyone else’s, really).
That day, they also had two varieties of freshly-made ho fun noodles, which are wide, flat, chewy noodles that I love. I ordered the dan dan noodles with spicy ground chicken in chili oil, and my friend ordered the seafood ho fun noodles with shrimp, squid, beef, and rich XO sauce, a luxurious thick sauce from Hong Kong traditionally made with dried scallops, shrimp, ham, chilies, and spices. Well, I’m here to tell you that the only way Kai could have beaten its own Legendary garlic noodles was with these two ho fun noodle dishes. Wow. Two weeks later and I still smile and salivate, thinking about them. I don’t know if I’ve ever ordered other Asian noodle dishes this good. I implore my readers to try them on a weekend, but with any luck, Kai will add them to the regular daily menu.
This is my spicy chicken dan dan noodle bowl. It was outstanding, folks. It had an interesting visual flourish: the flakes on top are dehydrated bonito (fish) flakes, and when added to a steaming hot dish, they appear to dance or move! We were all a little surprised by that, but it was a cool effect. IT’S ALIVE! (Not really, though.) I didn’t get a picture of my friend’s seafood ho fun, but trust me, it looked almost as good as it tasted, which was really good.
We were all fanboying and fangirling out, chatting up the chef and our cool server throughout the meal, and the chef brought us one more thing to try, on the house: dry pho noodles, served with farm-raised chicken, crunchy chicharrones, and broth on the side. The chicken was chewier than most chicken I’m used to, I guess from the bird actually being able to walk around freely and build up muscles. The chicharrones weren’t like styrofoamy store-bought pork rinds, but actual crispy, crunchy chunks of rich, fatty pork. The noodles (which were probably also house-made) stood on their own when we mixed a good sauce into them, and then we only drizzled on as much broth as we wanted for our own portions. I love pho, but I have to be in the mood for it, and this was a nice alternative to wanting the flavors and textures but not sitting down to a steaming bowl of soup on a hot, humid day. It was definitely better than the traditional pho I tried back in April. I apologize for not having a photo of that either (although some patient, bleary-eyed Saboscrivner readers may be relieved!)
Well, I’m shocked and saddened it took me so many months to return to Kai Asian Street Fare and even longer to write a proper review, but I give it my highest recommendation. If you follow the Orlando Foodie Forum on Facebook, you will see it has emerged as a popular local favorite for good reason, and a godsend for those of us who don’t feel like schlepping down to Mills 50 for the city’s best Asian restaurants. Kai definitely belongs in that rarified group, so don’t hold its suburban location against it. I wish them the best of luck and all the success in the world, although they are already achieving it. I just beg them to make those ho fun noodles a daily thing! Also, as a music nerd, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention they were playing an incredible selection of ’90s hip hop and R&B the entire time, taking me right back to some of the more tolerable parts of high school. Mad props to our server, who took credit for the bangin’ playlist.