Television host, author, cooking show judge, jiu-jitsu aficionado, and all-around Renaissance man Anthony Bourdain recently released the preliminary sketches for his upcoming New York City food hall Bourdain Market. The food hall will be located in New York City’s Pier 57 along the Hudson River, and Bourdain has been quite public about his conglomerate wish list of global food stalls and hawkers curated from his travels that he’d like see in his project.
Here in Raleigh, the tentacles of Hibernian Pub’s Niall Hanley may not have such a peripatetic reach for his proposed food hall in Raleigh’s Warehouse District (Morgan Street Food Hall and Market was also recently announced to open in Raleigh for 2017). But one hungry gal in Raleigh can still have her own fantasies of what she’d like in her version of a food hall.
A la Bourdain, my own list, if given a chance to fill a fantasy food hall, here are the food stalls that I’d love to see:
Hand-pulled noodles from Xi’an Famous Foods: Like Bourdain, when I first visited Xi’an Famous Foods, I fell in love. And fell hard. Xi’an’s is nothing special and not fancy (after all, everything is served on Styrofoam plates), but it does crank out some tasty and simple hand-pulled noodles with great toppings like cumin lamb and spicy stewed oxtail. Hand-pulled noodles are virtually non-existent in the Triangle area, so when I’m in New York City, I make a beeline straight towards Xi’an’s for a taste of the hand-ripped noodles. Best of all, Xi’an is even cheap by North Carolina standards. I’ve never spent more than $10 for a hearty portion of really, really good food there.
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Xiao long bao from Din Tai Fung: Xiao long bao. Chinese soup dumplings, the little coin purses of seasoned meat and fragrant broth hidden inside almost-translucent dumpling skin, have won international acclaim from places like Taiwan’s Din Tai Fung. In the Triangle area, one of the only places to get xiao long bao is Raleigh’s Golden Palace off Capital Boulevard. However, in downtown Raleigh, an area sadly bereft of authentic “ethnic” eats, I could see a food stall that specializes in only Chinese soup dumplings doing exceptionally well.
Hot fried chicken from Prince’s Hot Chicken: Even the Colonel has gotten wise to the gastronomical wonder of Nashville’s spicy chicken and has capitalized on its appeal to those that like it hot (some chefs will say KFC has bastardized the provencal Nashville food). Prince’s Hot Chicken is an iconic institution in Nashville known for its fiery hot, crispy fried chicken served on slices of Colonial white bread. The gospel of hot chicken is spreading nationally and now crept into the Triangle with the upcoming opening of Durham’s Mama’s Hot Chicken on April 15. Whether in Durham or Raleigh, I think hot chicken could light it up around here in an area that already has a penchant for fried chicken.
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A Mission Street-style burrito from La Taqueria: Los Angeles Times’ restaurant critic Jonathan Gold may have called San Francisco burritos “overstuffed pillowcases”, but that’s no matter to me. I still want some of SF’s famous La Taqueria Mission Street burritos in the City of Oaks. Tender, juicy marinated meat and seasoned beans, slathered with pico de gallo and sour cream all swaddled inside a warm and soft tortilla, then toasted “dorado” style from La Taqueria (named checked as ‘America’s Best Burrito’ by the blog FiveThirtyEight) is hard to come by around these parts. It’s probably high time that Chipotle got some tougher competition from the likes of a super carne asada burrito in Raleigh.
A cuban sandwich from Versailles: Now that Cuba is open game for travelers, it may be different now, but getting a legit Cuban sandwich used to come from one place: South Florida. Namely places like Miami’s Versailles, where sandwiches lovers can get their hands on the cubano, the famous ham, cheese and roast pork amalgamation served on white Cuban bread. I had my first taste of the cubano down in South Florida and I’ll never forget the unctuous flavors of the tender and juicy roast pork that I washed down with a cortado. In the Triangle, there are a few places to get cuban sandwiches, but Raleigh could definitely use an addition.
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Churros con chocolate from Xoco: Ever since I visited Rick Bayless’s Xoco in Chicago, I’ve had bad cravings for churros and chocolate. That was nearly seven years ago. Part of what makes Xoco’s churros so good is that they churn and fry them in-house and use house-ground cocoa beans to make the fresh chocolate (also used for their decadent hot chocolate). I could definitely see a solid churro con chocolate stand in the food hall doing really well.
Taiwanese breakfast: Taiwan is known for its plethora of breakfast foods sold by street vendors. You’ll seldom find any places serving a proper Taiwanese breakfast here and I think it would do well in a food hall concept with unique foods like you tiao (cruellers), shao bing (hot wheat cakes), scallion pancakes and hot soymilk. Biscuits are good and all, but sometimes you just need something different, especially as palates are becoming more and more internationally curious and insatiable.
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Yakitori from Birdland: Skewered chunks of chicken are rarely paid more reverence than at a yakitori chicken at places like Tokyo’s Birdland. Almost every part of the chicken is used and cut up into parts, skewered and then grilled over charcoal carefully by the yakitori chef. Methods of how to cook, like cooking with fire, seems to be gaining more attention so it makes sense that cooking with charcoal, like chefs do with yakitori, could become more appealing to a mass audience.