It's cloudy with a chance of Manchurian meatballs in Hicksville.
At least that's the weather report when you step into HAKA, a snazzy new Indochinese restaurant with colorful murals and a cloudy egg drop soup. Gurtej Dhall is serving up Hakka Chinese favorites like Manchurian meatballs and chili chicken in a playfully chic setting. His family owns several restaurants outside of Mumbai, and he's introducing some variety to Hicksville's increasingly competitive Indian food scene.
Dhall isn't the first to bring these dishes to Long Island, but judging by the fierce weeknight crowd, he may start a trend. Especially popular in cities like Toronto and Montreal, Hakka restaurants are an interesting web of food cultures. The name Hakka translates in Cantonese to "guest families," and the group's traditional cuisine draws from multiple regions of China. A couple centuries ago, Hakka immigrants moved to the bustling metropolis of Kolkata, India and began to adapt their foods to an Indian palate.
That is the iconic style you'll find here. Think Cantonese-American classics, but with headier flavors of Indian spices and chile powders. HAKA's sizable menu also includes biryanis and Indian recipes like palak paneer, lamb vindaloo and Chettinad-spiced goat. And in a true Long Island fusion form, there's also Thai food and sushi.
As a starter, the Manchow soup ($7.95) will satisfy fans of both egg drop and hot and sour. The vegetarian soup gets its texture from the cloudy egg whites, and its flavor from soy sauce and a handmade paste of ginger, garlic and chiles. It's pure comfort.
Hakka noodles are the superstar of Indian Chinese cuisine, a popular street food of thin wheat noodles stir-fried with julienned veggies. The version here looks and tastes very similar to a Chinese American chow mein. But it's often paired with Manchurian meatballs ($17.95), letting the oyster sauce gravy seep onto the noodles for some extra flavor.
That's how it is here, as the meatballs had so much sauce you could barely see them poking out. (Maybe it was the dim lighting.) The ground chicken had an herbaceous flavor, as it was mixed with green chiles and cilantro.
The restaurant is known for its chili chicken, mounds of crispy chicken bits stir fried with peppers and onions and doused in chile pepper sauce. But since you're getting chicken meatballs, you might opt for the chili fish ($28.95). The white fish was flaky on the fork, but the crispy texture was a bit muted by the thick ginger garlic gravy poured over the top. These dishes do not skimp on sauce. Spoon the gravies over white rice and doll it up with the chile oils and vinegars from the table. If you dare, ask your server to dial up the spice level.
HAKA, 620 S. Oyster Bay Road, Hicksville. Open noon to 3 p.m. and 5-10 p.m. Monday, Wednesday and Thursday; noon to 3 p.m. and 5-11 p.m. Friday through Sunday, closed Tuesday; 516-390-9824.