Kaya toast and build your own bowls at Kaya Street Kitchen, the Asian Chipotle


Name of restaurant: Kaya Street Kitchen.

Concept: Build your own tacos or bowls using ingredients inspired by the flavors of Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore. Like at Chipotle, you stand on one side of a glass partition, and your taco/bowl maestro for the evening stands on the other.

First decide your vessel. Do you want roti tacos, lettuce tacos or a bowl? Are you feeling like jasmine rice made with coconut milk and lime; brown rice scented with Thai basil, garlic and lime; or shreds of baby kale and green leaf lettuce? Then choose between grilled chicken satay, coconut lemongrass steak, shrimp and pork meatballs or sambal tofu. If you want to then add slivers of tart pickled cucumber and red onion, kale rubbed with garlic and ginger oil and sambal corn relish, you can do that, at no extra charge.

What dish represents the restaurant and why? The idea is to build your perfect culinary symphony in a bowl or on a taco, so anything on the menu is fair game.


The shrimp and pork meatballs are tender, but hold their own next to any of the condiments, including the green papaya, carrots and mint in a sweet tamarind dressing; an Asian salsa made with tropical fruit, cucumber, jicama, bell peppers, cilantro and honey; and a peanut slaw with shredded cabbage, carrots and peanut sauce. And if you want it all, topped with bits of fried garlic, green onion and diced Fresno chiles, go for it.

Runners up: The restaurant’s namesake dish, the kaya toast, a popular snack in Malaysia and Singapore. Thick pieces of white bread are toasted, then served like a sandwich — filled with scrambled eggs and coconut jam.

What’s on the table? Southeast Asia’s finest condiments. A glass bottle of sambal asli provides a sharp, bright heat; there’s kecap manis, a sweet soy sauce; and of course, a bottle of Sriracha on every table.

What are you drinking? Lychee mint tea or sweet jasmine tea. Both are on the sweet side.

Who is at the next table? A pair of athletic men, both wearing wire-rimmed glasses, are discussing politics over bowls of garlic kale. A young couple juggles their bouncing young daughter, a Sriracha squeeze bottle and their roti tacos. And an out-of-breath young woman in yoga pants tells the guy behind the cash register she’s been craving a lychee tea all day.

Info: 109 N. Fairfax Ave., (323) 879-9288;

I don’t do bland. Follow me on Twiter @Jenn_Harris_