The fragrances coming from the carry-out containers had me racing to get home and dig into a bowl of Chicken Curry. Or Hoisin Pork. Actually, almost any dish from Charlie Hong Kong has me salivating with anticipation. I’ve loved this place from the first moment it opened, thanks to chef and former local food entrepreneur Charlie Deal (who now has three restaurants in North Carolina). Deal was the chef at Oswald, too, back in the day.
That’s been quite a few years ago now. But under the nurturing of Carolyn Rudolph, Charlie Hong Kong—inspired by the street food of an ethnically complex and colorful Asian city-state—has continued to flourish. The reason is simple: cheap, fast and tasty—the trifecta of accessible food. Add to that a well-honed menu with lots of dishes for vegans and gluten-free foodies, as well. Take it home, as we did last week, or scarf it down under the al fresco patio tent. If I lived in midtown I’d be there at least once a week.
We lunched on two classic CHK items, the green curry chicken rice bowl ($8.95), and the Szechuan mushroom medley rice bowl ($8.25), to which I added an aromatic side of Hoisin Pork ($4.75). I substituted the house brown rice—definitive brown rice—for the excellent jasmine white rice for an extra seventy-five cents. It was a feast, in both size (major!) and flavors. The cilantro-mint green curry sauce wrapped deliciously around plenty of succulent chicken, atop a mountain of jasmine rice. While I could have used more firepower in the curry, I tuned it up with a few sprinkles of tamari and sriracha. The mushrooms were incredible, a blend of crimini, portobello and white mushrooms marinated in black bean, tomato and chili garlic sauce. Nice and zippy! I moved back and forth from the mushrooms to the succulent braised pork, sweet and tart in homemade Hoisin sauce. There were some pickled veggies on the side that added crunch to this array of multi-dimensional flavors. The Charlie Hong Kong menu offers further temptation in the form of fresh salads, noodle dishes and classic Thai and Vietnamese soups (pho ga), in addition to the signature rice bowls. You can add sides and toppings, from wheat noodles and spicy gado gado sauce, to sweet tofu and teriyaki salmon. Intriguing beverages include black cherry pop, ginger lemonade and various craft beers. There are Pacific Cookie Company cookies and chocolate pudding, if you want something sweet. Open daily 11am-10pm, 1141 Soquel Ave & Seabright. charliehongkong.com.
Warrior/winemaker Nicole Walsh just announced a new line of canned wine from Ser Winery in collaboration with Maker, a woman-owned and operated group that works with winemakers all over California canning their wines. The new Ser wines in cans include 2021 Sparkling Riesling and 2020 Cabernet Pfeffer. Look for canned 2021 Rosé of Grenache, Mourvedre and Cinsault later this month. The labels are beautiful! Meanwhile, stop by Ser’s spiffy tasting room in Aptos Village at 10 Parade St., Suite B, Thurs-Fri 3-7pm, Sat 2-7pm, Sun 1-6pm and discover your new favorite wine.
Dish of the Week
We’re loving the red wine braised chicken with creamy polenta and bitter greens ($26) from Avanti Restaurant on Mission Street. So succulent, with enough wonderful sauce to cover every bite of chicken and the polenta, too. It’s become one of our go-to weeknight dinners, along with the house Dinosaur kale salad with almonds, ricotta salata and citrus nuggets ($13) that is somehow addictive even though it’s … kale. Business is booming at this very reliable dinner house with a welcoming bar scene.