World Street Kitchen is a tasty winner

Fast-casual menu packs in lots of bold flavors without hurting your wallet

World Street Kitchen is a tasty winner
EU Photography

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I have a confession. Well, three confessions, to be exact, and I'm going to list them in order of the increasing level of embarrassment they cause me, especially considering my chosen profession. Deep breath, here goes. Once when I was in elementary school and insulated bags had just replaced the old thermos-and-lunch-box sets, I packed a popsicle in my lunch and really believed it would still be frozen by the time I got to it in the early afternoon. Much to my dismay, it instead compromised my sandwich and damaged a library book. In another dessert-related mishap, the first time I went to a fingerbowl-fancy restaurant, it had fresh butter sculpted into perfect spheres displayed in decorative dishes on each table. The scoops were so smooth and white I thought they were vanilla ice cream, and I immediately downed a huge spoonful before I realized my mistake. And finally, even though I've spent a fair amount of time walking around Mears Park and Nicollet Mall in search of the latest and greatest street eats, until last week I had never eaten anything from Sameh Wadi's World Street Kitchen food truck.

I know, I know. I should be a more responsible citizen, but the important thing is that I have now been several times to the new brick-and-mortar location in Uptown, and my eyes have been opened. At first glance, it might be easy to write off this place as another fast-casual empire extender (Wadi also owns the fine-dining Middle Eastern restaurant Saffron in downtown Minneapolis), but for food that's served so humbly in a paper tray, every dish still gets the royal treatment when it comes to flavor. The result is a menu filled with confident mash-ups of various cuisines: Thai with Mexican, Indian with Mediterranean, Middle Eastern with American. And because of the relaxed atmosphere and attitude, you don't feel forced to refer to it as "fusion" food. It's just really good, really bold, and it seamlessly pulls off that innovative-yet-approachable thing that modern diners really go for. If WSK's food was someone you went to high school with, it would be the popular girl you wanted to be jealous of but couldn't because once you got to know her you realized she was really nice and had actual depth.

WSK serves global cuisine mash-ups like the Falafel Burger
EU Photography
WSK serves global cuisine mash-ups like the Falafel Burger

Though WSK's menu is not huge, you should still go in with a plan of attack, because you'll want everything and you'll get full fast. An ideal experience for two or three hungry diners is to share two of the larger mains and two smaller sides or tacos.

There was widespread love for the red curry chicken Bangkok burrito, a dish that several employees identified as their favorite thing on the menu. It's a massive tortilla roll-up stuffed with all the rich, spicy, saucy, comforting qualities of a good bowl of Thai curry with rice. "It has everything, and it all works," commented one of my dining companions after his first bite. "I'm even tolerating the cilantro." And he hates cilantro.

Next on the list of triumphs was the MFC biscuit sandwich, a Moroccan take on the Colonel's secret recipe. Made with a big hunk of crisp fried chicken doused in ginger, various peppers, coriander, chiles, and cinnamon, on a buttery, perfectly lumpy cheddar biscuit, it is topped with a few well-placed pinches of carrot and preserved lemon relish and a schmear of feta cheese. It's as indulgent as it sounds, but if you're going to tuck into a bunch of calories, they might as well be in a dish that manages to be bright and interesting through and through. Let's face it, no matter how good a plate of biscuits and gravy or chicken and mashed potatoes is, you do start to look for that little acid kick that helps give a rich dish life and stave off palate fatigue. Well, it's here in this sandwich.

See more photos from World Street Kitchen.

It's also in the flavor-packed but still light-eating lemongrass meatball lettuce wraps with tasty homemade pickles, and in the awesomely complex aloo tikki chat, an Indian potato and lentil patty that's crispy on the outside, soft and satisfying on the inside, and painted with three complementary sauces: one sweet (date-tamarind), one savory (cilantro chutney), and one cooling (lime yogurt). To keep it all from being mushy, it's finished off with some crispy fried noodles. It's unexpected and shows a commitment to creating thoughtful balance to each dish, no matter how small.

That's evident too in the two-to-a-serving corn tortilla tacos. Though the lamb belly and jerk taco versions were tempting, the overall favorite was the squash-and-mushroom one, with salty yet mild queso fresco, a robust pumpkin-seed salsa, and a scattering of piquant pickled onions. The veggies get a touch oily on the grill, but all the heat and earthiness come together beautifully in the end, even if much of it gets all over your hands. What do you want? They're tacos.

If there were any misses, they could only be called such in comparison to those really strong dishes. Even then it's splitting hairs, especially when you consider the moderate price tag. Though the falafel burger was anything but dull, I still prefer my chickpea balls with their traditional serving vehicle. The chewiness of pita just works better than a big, glossy hamburger bun when you're eating it with a large, soft-textured patty and a thick layer of hummus. There was a lot going on in the short rib rice bowl — crunchiness and funkiness from the kimchee, texture from the peanuts, richness from the short ribs — but once the components mixed with the rice and the poached egg was broken, the dish became overly saucy as the yolk blended with a heavy helping of WSK's "secret sauce." The first several bites were still great, and I am sure many will disagree, since these Yum Yum bowls have a cult following, but there are more interesting things to try here.

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1 comments
hooligan2
hooligan2

Sorry, kind of a letdown. The dishes we had were so so, but the roasted chick pea ap. was pretty bad. Seriously so dry as if pouring seasoning directly into your mouth, with not much taste. I give it about a year.

 
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