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Jun 21, 2006 10:02 AM

Champa Garden Report.

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Went there last evening around 6 with my sweetie and perennial dining companion, Tappy. Place was very clean and cheery, in a non-descript kind of way. They are obviously trying to make the place a step above.

Tappy wasn't all that hungry, so we just ordered three things. Nam Kaow, which is the rice ball with pork,lime,etc. When it comes out, it basically looks like a plate full of broken rice with bits of preserved veggies and pork and scallions. It comes with a huge plate of lettuce leaves, and cilantro and mint leaves. Take a lettuce leaf and scoop up some of the Nam Kaow and throw some herbs on top. It was really,really good.

Tappy wanted Tod Mun, but we were told it was out of season (?????). Never heard that one before, but she ordered the fried sweet potato instead. Little bits of deep fried yam. Very lightly deep fried (oxymoron). Non-greasy and sweet, very delicious.

Main course we had one of the specials on the board, Fried Catfish with panang curry. This was really special. Crunchy pieces of fried catfish with a really complex, spicy panang curry. Panang curry usually isn't one of my favorites, but this one was super good.

All these were washed down with plenty of 2 dollar Singha's and Beer Lao's. The Beer Lao was a new one on me and I actually preferred it over Singha. Very light and crisp and went very well with the spicy food.

They had tons of Lao and Thai and Lue favorites on the menu, and our waiter said they were fine tuning the menu, adding new things and taking away things people didn't care for.

It was a little pricey, I thought, for what it was. We spent 40 bucks for two with tip for the 2 apps, curry, and three beers.

The waiter (one of the owners??) was super friendly and helpful and overall the place had a really good feel to it. Interesting mix of people,too. At one point a couple of local toughs walked in and I liked to think of them hanging around the corner and saying to each other "Damn, I gotta get some of that Pla Panang Curry from Champa right now!"

Give it a try. Very interesting food.

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  1. Sounds great! Where is Champa Garden? they have a Garden. My guess would be yes since Tappy along.

    2 Replies
    1. re: China
      Robert Lauriston

      8th Ave. and 21st St. in Oakland.

      1. re: China
        Will the Thrill

        No garden. But kick ass Lao food and some Lue style food, which we didn't try.

      2. I also really like Champa Garden but at lunch on Monday the Nam Kaow suffered from too much chopped green onion and the serving portion seemed to have shrunk. That said, I love their food and the fact that dishes are not Westernized. Those who like strong flavors should try the Lao-style green papaya salad, extremely fishy but delicious!

        4 Replies
        1. re: Maya S

          I think it's only fishy if you order it Laotian style (then they add fish sauce). Otherwise, it's not fishy, just spicy.

          1. re: Ace

            Yes, Champa Garden offers both Lao-style and Thai-style papaya salads. The Thai-style is what most people around here are used to, made with regular fish sauce. Lao-style has fermented fish paste added and a much more intense flavor and darker color. Definitely not for everyone and only "for me" once in a while...

            1. re: Maya S
              Robert Lauriston

              What are their hours?

              1. re: Robert Lauriston

                According to the Chronicle review, 10-10 Fri/Sat and 10-9 other days. The Lao noodle soup with viscous broth and thick chewy noodles is also very good and not quite like anything I've had. For some reason, cops were eating there on each of my visits (at lunch time)... I guess there are chowhounds at the OPD.


        2. Just wanted to add to the Champa Gardens dialog. We went the first time today and had a fantastic meal. The rice ball salad was as good as I imagined given all the favorable reviews. At wife's request, we ordered a shrimp with mango in red curry. I'm not generally a fan of mango in entrees but this was incredible. Fried rice noodles with chicken and soy sauce were also very well prepared -- basically Chinese but with a bit of fish sauce and fried shallots... very comforting.

          Everything at surrounding tables looked great as well. I've read the chowdown review (and forgot to order the sausage -- next time!), but it would be great to hear reports on other dishes

          1. I love Champa Gardens. We've gone there a lot (since we're in the neighborhood). I have to second the Lao noodle soup dish. Its delicious, and exactly what you'd want to eat when you're sick or you're allergies are really acting up! Comfort food.

            I Also think the fried rice ball salad is excellent. I can't get enough of it.

            In general, I tend to order the dishes a tad milder than what I sually order since they are quite spicy!!

            The panang and the pad see eiuw noodle dish is yummy too. the Larb is also excellent.

            1. Finally got around to trying this place.

              #1 fried spring rolls with dipping sauce, noodles, lettuce, and herbs were very good. Best version I've had of this is at Bodega Bistro. Next time I'll tell them to give me the straight hot dipping sauce rather than half-and-half.

              #3 rice ball salad was great as promised, surpassed my expectations. Anyplace else around here make this? I've never had it before.

              Penang curry catfish special, good but not exciting compared with some penang dishes I've had at Malaysian places. Probably wouldn't order again. I saw a whole fried fish go by and will definitely try that sometime.

              #37 pad seew with shrimp, very good, nice balance of textures. Looking forward to trying some of their other fried noodles.

              #17 papaya salad Laotian style: very good, again not quite up there with Bodega Bistro's.

              I ordered the papaya salad spicy, would have liked it a bit more so and told the waiter. He said the kitchen goes on a scale of 1 to 5 and we'd had the 4, so having passed that test next time I can have the 5, or even 5+ if I want.

              Really friendly staff, great Oakland atmosphere. I'll be going back a lot.

              2102 8th Ave. at 21st, Oakland
              (510) 238-8819

              4 Replies
              1. re: Robert Lauriston

                I thought Bodega Bistro was they have Laotian or Thai spring rolls or Papaya salad? ... or are you saying that you just prefer the Vietnamese version.

                1. re: ChowFun_derek

                  Champa Garden has a mix of Thai, Vietnamese, and Lao dishes. The fried spring rolls are so far as I know a Vietnamese dish.

                  There are also dishes such as papaya salad that are common (with minor variations) to all three cuisines. I think the variations depend more on the cook than the nationality.

                2. re: Robert Lauriston

                  Thanks for the report -- the 1-5 scale is useful info.

                  1. re: Robert Lauriston

                    The rice salad is nam kao. I liked Champa's version, but liked Vientian Cafe's even better, as the sour sausage is only half-cooked and the pungency and tartness shows off much better. That's how it was made at an Issan restaurant in OC that I loved. Here's a thread on Vientian and linking to my original post -

                    Hope Vientian's still good, you'll probably get back there before I will.