A port city whose century and a half as a British colony ended in the late 1990s, Hong Kong is one of the world’s great cultural melting pots.
And when considering Hong Kong Taco Cart, the latest addition to the burgeoning Astoria Station pod at Duane and 13th streets, it’s helpful to remember the history of its namesake as a global trading nexus.
Because at Hong Kong Taco Cart you’ll find a whole lot more than just Chinese favorites — like Peking duck — wrapped in tortillas.
India (another longtime British colony) is equally represented with deep, creamy curries; Korea, with sinewy bulgogi beef; and Vietnam, with slurpy, warming pho.
Like the city, Hong Kong Taco Cart is a cultural mash-up.
And to be sure, dear reader, these regional specialties are rarities in the Columbia-Pacific. I can think of nowhere else doing bulgogi beef (which is marinated in soy sauce with sugar, garlic, sesame and more), and only one (Seaside’s Saigon Deli) doing pho. (Saigon Deli does it pretty well, by the way.)
But it was the curries I think of most fondly after my visits to Hong Kong Taco Cart. The pho left me a little blank.
But before we dive into the details let’s talk about the delivery.
Hong Kong Taco Cart offers three verticals: bulgogi beef, chicken tikka masala and a vegetarian korma curry. Each is available in the following vehicle: as a street-style taco; wrapped in a big flower tortilla as a burrito; or in a bowl with rice. Each has its quirks.
For the price, the tacos ($4 each; two for $7) are on the petite side. The bowls ($9) are pure, but might also leave you wanting. The burritos ($9) will fill you up but with carbs, dulling the flavor.
In other words: Find your sweet spot. For me, it’s probably the tikka masala chicken, served in a bowl.
The yogurt-based tikka masala is deep and milky, rich but still relatively lean. In a bowl it comes on a bed of cabbage with helpings of korma and turmeric rice. It’s an enticingly colorful dish of soft orange (tikka), green (korma) and yellow (rice).
Should you forgo the sour cream, the korma is a vegan delight, rich and fatty with coconut milk. It could, however, use a few more substantial hunks of veggies.
The bulgogi beef’s texture was as satisfying, if not more so, than the marinade, which includes sweet Asian pear. I had the bulgogi tacos. With bean sprouts and cabbage they were crisp, cooling and snack-sized.
The bulgogi beef is also featured in the pho, and it’s the soup’s best feature. The broth is unadorned, underwhelmingly basic. (You can also get the pho as a burrito — the Phorrito — if the rice noodles alone won’t satisfy your starch needs.)
Then there are the Peking Duck Tacos (three for $12), a neat specialty that doesn’t quite squelch my desire for the real thing. Edged by fatty, slightly crisp skin, the thick, supple duck breast medallions are stuffed into pillowy bao buns alongside cucumber, then drizzled with hoisin sauce and sprinkled with green onions. They’re good, not great.
Which is how I felt about most everything I tried at Hong Kong Taco Cart: nifty and worthwhile, if short of sublime. (For something downright irresistible — and way less healthy — try the luscious, gooey pork sandwiches from Hong Kong Taco Cart owners Abbie and Dan Rhoads’ neighboring truck, Hot Box BBQ.)
I have a feeling, however, that a lot of folks are going to find favorable lanes at Hong Kong Taco Cart that they keep coming back to. Again: These worldly flavors are woefully rare in this neck of the woods.
Which makes Hong Kong Taco Cart a constructive addition to an already vibrant food cart pod and patio scene — best enjoyed with a beer from Reach Break or Reveille Ciderworks cider, of course.