Our Gourmet: World street food, with a side of hip

September 27. 2016 11:00PM

801 Islington St., Portsmouth; 436-0860; streetfood360.com

Monday-Saturday, 11:30 a.m.-9 p.m.; Sunday brunch 10 a.m.-3 p.m., regular menu 4-9 p.m.

Cuisine: International “street food”.

Pricing: Appetizers $6-$10; sandwiches $8-$13; salads & bowls $10-$17; desserts $6.

The scores for Street
Atmosphere: 18/20
Menu: 17/20
Food: 18/20
Service: 17/20
Value: 18/20
TOTAL: 88/100

This may come as a surprise to you, but Mrs. Gourmet and I aren’t exactly forerunners on the wave of popular culture.

I make this confession because up until a couple of weeks ago, I had never heard of Street, the funky, hip eatery tucked in the back of a retail plaza just a few blocks from downtown Portsmouth.

But we happened to be watching the Food Network’s “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives” on a recent Friday night (what did I tell you?) when the bleach-blond host, Guy Fieri, did a full segment on this small but hopping restaurant and bar that specializes in the kind of food you might find in street markets or food trucks in places around the world.

As we watched, our typical indecision about where to go for our next review vaporized, and we made plans to go to Street the very next day.

The restaurant itself is a U-shaped space surrounding the bar and kitchen area. Seating is a combination of booths and low- and high-top tables. The walls are orange, the table tops are made of multi-colored butcher block, and the chairs are painted green. There’s half a giant fiberglass hamburger over the kitchen (the other half is several feet away). Christmas lights and an assortment of quirky decorations are strung up seemingly at random around the space. There’s also patio seating, but we chose to sit indoors, on the off chance that we might absorb some of the hipness. (Whether that strategy worked will be up to others to judge.)

The menu isn’t extensive, but it’s as offbeat and fun as the place itself. Playing off the international theme, the menu includes a handy pronunciation guide to each dish. How else might you know that Pho Tai Bo Vien, a Vietnamese soup, is pronounced “Fuh Tie Bow Vee Yen”? Or that Fried Chicken is pronounced “Fry-d Chick-en”?

We arrived early, around 5 on a Saturday afternoon, and were quickly seated at one of the tables near the front windows. (We were just ahead of the rush.) We took our time with the menu, placing our appetizer order before deciding on our main dishes.

For starters, Mrs. G ordered the Empanadas ($7.50), two crisp but flaky half-moon meat pies were filled with a Chilean-style mix of spiced ground beef and onion. The filling was moist and very tasty, with a hint of a spice that we couldn’t agree on, but was somewhere on the nutmeg-cinnamon spectrum. What was described as a Peruvian lime dipping sauce made for a nice counter.

I started with a fish taco ($6). A good sized fillet (billed as a “white fish,” but it was spiced and browned on the outside, making it hard to tell what kind of fish it actually was) was perched atop a pile of slaw and green onions on a soft corn tortilla. I found no way to fold it and eat it out of hand, but it was just as good using knife and fork with the lemon caper tartar sauce spooned over the top.

Mrs. G moved on to the “Exotics” portion of the menu for the Cemita ($9.50), a Mexican-themed sandwich with your choice of fried chicken thigh, a burger or veggie burger topped. Whichever you pick, it’s topped with avocado, Mexican fried cheese, pickled onion, cilantro and a slightly spicy chipotle mayonnaise. She opted for the chicken, and though the crunchy thigh, big sesame-seed bun and mayo made for a messy combination, she loved the combination of textures, spices and flavors.

I turned to the “Big Meaty” section and chose the Lamb Shawarma ($10). This big, pita-wrapped pile of spiced lamb, tomato, lettuce, onion and tzatziki sauce was comparable to a gyro, except that the meat appeared to be sliced from a whole piece of lamb, rather than from the spiced, formed ground lamb found in most gyros.

We both upgraded from the standard fries. I picked Yuca Fries — the first time I’ve ever tried the South American tuber that I’ve seen in the supermarket produce section for years. These were cut like typical steak fries, golden brown, and alternated between fluffy and slightly starchy inside. Good, but I’m not sure I’m a convert. Mrs. G chose Curry Fries — regular potato fries drizzled with curried mayo and served with curried ketchup on the side. She now wants curried ketchup as a regular condiment.

(Be forewarned, we had an upcharge of $4.50 each for the fancy fries. That’s less than for a full order of either from the appetizer menu, but more than we were expecting for a change of starch.)

By this time we were getting full (though not stuffed), so we ordered our desserts to go. There are two on the menu (both $6), and we ordered one of each.

The Key Lime Tartlette filling was perfect key lime — pale green/yellow, slightly tart, slightly sweet, in a light pastry crust and topped with whipped cream and shaved coconut.

I can’t describe what the Chocolate Caramel Bark looked like, because we ate it later in the car in the dark on the way home. So this word picture will have to suffice: dark chocolate, caramel, salted peanuts and smoked almonds. Sticky, crunchy, salty, sweet, and really, really good.

Service was friendly and prompt, prices are very reasonable, the food is unusual and very good, and the whole experience was a lot of fun.

If you’re in Portsmouth for lunch or a light dinner, check out Street. You’ll enjoy it just as much as we hip people do.

Our GourmetPortsmouth

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