Street food is all the rage in London — with Middle Eastern, Asian, African and European cuisines all vying for attention in an increasingly vibrant outdoor dining environment. But there’s no need to sacrifice comfort to get the best of the city’s buzzy street food scene — lots of restaurants have taken this concept inside. Here’s our guide to where to eat top-class international street food in London.
It’s no exaggeration to say that Wahaca revolutionized the concept of Mexican food in the British capital. The first branch of what is now a sizeable London-only chain of restaurants opened in Covent Garden in 2007. Its concept — Mexican street food dishes made from quality ingredients served in a cool, fun environment — was an instant hit. Tacos, tostadas, taquitos and quesadillas come as small plates that are perfect for a shareable feast. But there are also larger burritos, grilled meat and fish entrées, and hearty salads. Our favorites are the classics: slow-roasted pork pibil tacos, huitlacoche (corn fungus) quesadillas and refried bean tostados.
Tucked just north of the Oxford Street shopping mecca, Roti Chai is a busy Indian eatery serving authentic street food. There’s a more upscale dining room with a different menu that operates in the evening, too, but we’re more concerned with the small plates stacked with surprisingly generous portions. Flavorsome spicy pea and potato samosas come with an unexpected slick of rich channa masala, plus tangy coriander chutney for dipping. The bhel puri — made of puffed rice and vegetables with a tamarind sauce, it’s Indian street food par excellence — is everything you want it to be: sweet, spicy, crunchy and bold.
The bunnychow, a hollowed-out loaf of bread filled with curry, originated in South Africa; it allowed poor Indian workers living in Durban in the 1940s to eat delicious home-cooked curries on the move. It’s long been one of South African cuisine’s best-known dishes, and you can also eat it in London. What began as an entirely moveable street-based operation now also has a permanent location at Boxpark, the cool Shoreditch pop-up mall built from shipping containers. The bunnies on this menu — which are smaller than their South African antecedents — have fillings inspired by a handful of world cuisines, from the South African bobotie to South East Asian-flavored ginger chicken.
Head to Shoreditch, London’s Little Vietnam, for the best street food from the Asian nation. There are a lot of eateries to choose from, but we like the innovative cooking on offer at Cây Tre. Try the rich beef pho (a noodle soup), the wild shrimp summer rolls — so packed with fresh ingredients that you can practically feel yourself getting healthier as you eat it — and the piggy aubergine (grilled eggplant topped with minced pork and spring onion oil), a melt-in-your-mouth dish whose silly name belies its awesomeness. Stripped-back décor and friendly staff — a boon in an area known for its surly waiters — complete this rosy picture.
When Yalla Yalla first opened, it was a tiny Lebanese street food restaurant with just 28 seats, hidden down an alley in Soho. It was the sort of place you kept to yourself — no one likes their favorite eateries getting so crowded they can’t get a table. Fortunately for Londoners, Yalla Yalla soon branched out to a larger site in Fitzrovia. After that came a pop-up in Shoreditch, a move that brought the Arabian delicacies to a wider audience. We love the soujoc (spicy Lebanese sausages), samboussek jibne (cheese-filled pastry parcels) and the fresh tabbouleh salad.
Photos Courtesy of Roti Chai and Bunnychow