Local Food Truck Sensation Hailift Li Has Won Hearts (And Stomachs) With Her Friendly Smile And Authentic Asian Food
Chef’s Spotlight • By Karla Wall
Unless you’ve been under a rock, as the saying goes, for the last couple of years, you’ve heard of Hailift Li’s food truck, Hi-licious. Li has become known in the Lake Area not only for her authentic Asian food, but for her warm smile, friendly nature and love of her community.
Li came to the U.S. in 2006 from the Shandong Province in China to study English as a Second Language at Michigan State University.
She made her way to Austin, Texas. Then six and a half years ago, she relocated to Lake Charles, where she discovered a lack of “real Asian food.” She emphasizes that there is a distinct difference between the Americanized Asian cuisine served here and the food you’ll find in her native China.
“Authentic Chinese food is healthy,” she says. “It’s fresh, with little or no sauce and no sugar,” she says. “Americanized Chinese food has lots of sauces, it’s often fried, and it has lots of sugar.”
Li grew up cooking with her mother and friends in Shandong, China.
“We would have potluck meals, where everyone would bring a dish, and we’d meet and talk,” she says.
Li’s truck is one of the most popular lunch spots in the area. In fact, according to Lagniappe readers, it is now the most popular truck; Hi-licious was named Best Food Truck in Lagniappe’s Best of SWLA voting.
Li serves dishes from a variety of Asian cuisines, including Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese and Thai. And though, as Li admits, she’s not a trained chef, her food is much sought after. Area foodies line up for her dumplings, Vietnamese spring rolls, crab Rangoon, Indian butter chicken, wanton soup, spicy ramen soup and Thai basil chicken, among her many other offerings. And Hi-Licious is the only place in the area where you can get the Boba milk tea everyone’s raving about.
Li says most of the recipes she makes for her truck she learned growing up in China. And for her, food is about memories.
“Food creates memories,” she says. “There are dishes that, when I taste them, bring me back to my childhood in China. I want to share that with people.”
Indeed, what Li says she enjoys most about her work is when a customer is excited about not only her food, but her culture.
“I like to share culture through food,” she says. “When I learn to make a dish to serve on the truck, I research not only the food but the culture behind it, so that I can tell people about it.”
One customer, Li says proudly, was inspired by her food to visit Shanghai, China, and sent her a photo taken during the visit.
Why a food truck, though, and not a restaurant? At the time Li opened her truck, food trucks were rare in Lake Charles (though that’s now changing).
“In China, street-side food is very popular,” she says. “It’s convenient, and everything is hot and fresh. I wondered why they didn’t have that here in Lake Charles.”
She also enjoys being able to visit different parts of the area and getting to know the community.
“I like to make friends, to talk to the community,” she says.
She opened Hi-licious about two and a half years ago, shortly after hearing about the shooting of several policemen in Dallas. In China, she says, law enforcement is very much honored, and she felt she needed to do something in response to the event, even if only on a local level. She got the truck, and put out the notice that she would be serving free food to area law enforcement officers.
“I was so nervous,” she says. “I worried that no one would come, or that they wouldn’t like the food.”
She needn’t have worried on either score. Not only did her initial customers like the food; they raved about it on social media, and Li was swamped within only a few hours of opening.
Though her truck has become a local legend since that first opening, Li continues to honor area law enforcement. She serves free food to security personnel at any event of which Hi-licious is a part.
And there are many such events on Li’s busy schedule. She’s taken part in Chuck Fest, Live at the Lakefront, Light up the Lake, Downtown at Sundown and Rouge et Blanc, among other events. She was awarded Best Crab Dish at Arts and Crabs Fest in 2016 for her crab Rangoon, and won in 2017 for her crab egg rolls.
On a regular basis, though, Li has her truck at a few different spots in Lake Charles throughout the week, including in the parking lot of Skate City on Nelson St. and at St. Patrick Hospital, across the street from Drew Park. She also brings the truck to Iowa, Sulphur and Moss Bluff. She gets requests to come to different areas all the time and she thinks about expanding her itinerary.
“I’d like to go to DeRidder,” she says.
Li says she’s grateful for the support the community has given her.
“I love doing something that makes the community happy,” she says. “That makes me happy.”
For more information on locations and menu items, follow Hi-Licious Street Kitchen on Facebook.