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Peddle Fast To The Rickshaw Republic

By Melissa Wiley in Food on Apr 9, 2013 7:20PM

You don’t see many rickshaws around Lincoln Park these days. Strollers that could conceivably do double duty, yes, but anything remotely redolent of the antic pace of Indonesian street life emphatically no, making the birth of the Rickshaw Republic on Lincoln Avenue nothing short of a minor geographic miracle, so pedal on over to where they are peddling their street food-inspired fare. It’s a marvel we’re willing to take at face value and not blink too hard lest it disappear. The food is satisfying and the space so very pretty—comely as a bijou puppet or parasol, of which many alluring specimens hang from the ceiling like so many Eastern talismans.

We decamped inside for lunch last weekend, when we ordered the martabak ($7), fried pancakes filled with eggs, ground beef, and onions, as well as the kalasan chicken ($10), marinated with palm sugar and tamarind and served with sambal and steamed rice, and the gado gado ($10), a heaping mound of steamed mixed vegetables and fried tofu tossed with potatoes and eggs, all draped in a rich cashew dressing. Unaccustomed to Indonesian cuisine, we found it considerably less spicy and more filling than other Southeast Asian eats we’ve long made into GrubHub staples. All in all, it’s fare we could consume more often but will likely crave less.

The Setiawan family, whose lush Indonesian lawn was once a resting place for local rickshaw drivers, divides their menu into street food categories: satay stall, side street, main street, sweet street, and Mommy specials—whatever Mrs. Setiawan feels most like cooking that week. Considering how well she fed us on our first visit, we’re more than willing to grant her the indulgence and try one of her whims on our next. Main street portions, we found, were large enough to share when paired with something culled from a side street vendor or smoked on a stick at the satay stall.

As we were smothering our potato and eggs with yet more creamy cashew sauce, Tommy Setiawan paced gently over to our table, asking whether we were enjoying our food. Observing our wonderment at a sunset scene of children leaping off grass-woven coracles into the Indian Ocean, he suggested Bali as a possible place of interest, to which we readily agreed as we plucked yet another crisp piece of martabak off our plate and tossed it happily down the hatch. Somehow, sitting inside a booth carved with dragon-like cloud formations with the taste of sweet onions still on our tongue, it didn’t seem so far away as Google maps might otherwise indicate.

But the Setiawan family has traveled a long way indeed to give Lincoln Parkers perhaps their most exotic eatery, even if the food should appeal to most palates. For our part, we felt more at home there than any new restaurant we've visited in a long while.

The Rickshaw Republic is at 2312 N Lincoln Ave.