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ISO quality regional Chinese restaurants w/in one hour of Oakland

Our school spends one week each spring offering mini-courses outside of the usual curricular offerings. I've put together courses on chocolate, Hollywood, Minor League Baseball, and artisan food producers of the Bay Area, among other topics. This spring I hope to offer Chinese Food 101. The goal of the course is to help the students avoid ordering sweet and sour pork and chicken chow mein for the rest of their lives. I'd like to introduce the kids (grades 9-12) to a range of Chinese regional cuisines. I have not yet decided if it will be a full day course (allowing us to visit 10 restaurants) or a half day course (which would limit us to 5). Regardless, I'd love your suggestions for the best exemplars of Cantonese, Szechuan, Mandarin, Hakka, Hunan, Shanghainese, Manchurian cooking, etc. to be found locally. Additionally, I'd love guest speakers who could talk to the kids about a given cuisine, perhaps joining us for the relevant meal.

I'm also considering dragging the kids down to LA for a night, but only if it would mean a significant improvement in quality or the possibility of trying something that is simply unavailable in the Bay Area. Feel free to include suggestions like, "There is no food from Macau in the Bay Area. Check the LA board for this option," or "While Little Potato in Union City is good, the food at ? in Monterey Park is more authentic and worth the trip." See this thread on the LA board for offering LA suggestions: http://www.chowhound.com/topics/show/... .

Thanks in advance for your help.

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  1. Consider China Village for Sichuan ..... many posts about this place.

    http://www.chowhound.com/search/std?q...

    5 Replies
    1. re: gordon wing

      Those lunch reports scare me a bit, given that we'd most likely be there between 11:00 AM and 3:00 PM. Anyone have a clue about whether China Village is a no go at lunch, or whether the two scary posts don't represent the usual noontime picture?

      1. re: lexdevil

        I second the recommendation - in fact, I was there just last night. I go there often enough with coworkers for lunch and never have any problems - what were you worried about specifically?

        http://www.chowhound.com/topics/show/...

        1. re: coolbean98

          I was concerned because of the recent posts indicating a not so yummy lunch.

          http://www.chowhound.com/topics/show/...

          1. re: lexdevil

            Well, not everyone is going to love it - my vegetarian buddy hates it. (Than again, he hates most Chinese food.) But more of my friends like it than not - many of us feel it's the best Chinese in the Berkeley area. Since the time of that posting above (March) we have had no problems with our orders, lunch or dinner.

            Some dishes are better than others (I almost never order "Classic" Chinese dishes or dishes off the lunch menu), so it helps to really talk to the owner/manager to get the best authentic dishes that may not be on the menu. I say give them a call and see what they can do for your special outing - they have been great for us the times we have been there for special events.

            1. re: coolbean98

              There are numerous topics here discussing what to order at China Village for a serious Sichuan meal.

    2. For Sichuan food, your kids might also like the trendy youth-oriented hipness of one of the Spicy Sisters. I'm thinking particularly of Spices II in SF, but haven't been in Spices III in Oakland.

      For Shanghainese food on this end of the bay, Shanghai in Oakland Chinatown and Old Shanghai in San Francisco (Richmond dist.) are probably the most hard core, considering the prevalence of Shanghainese-speaking staff and customers as well as the menus. Shanghai in Oakland is a hole-in-the wall better suited for lunch (excellent xiaolong bao, too) while Old Shanghai is a little tonier with a dinner-grade ambience.

      1. Little Potato in Union City for Dong Bei style. I can't vouch for the authenticity, but they definitely have tasty dishes. Plus it's in the same plaza as China Tofu and a new hotpot place, I can't remember the name though.

        1 Reply
        1. re: DezzerSF

          I've been thinking about both! Love the meatballs and pork and leek dumplings at Little Potato. I recall a few comments on this board that they haven't quite captured the flavors correctly.

          http://www.chowhound.com/topics/show/...

          That thread mentions other places, but doesn't comment on their quality.

        2. The Pacific East Mall in Richmond has a range of Chinese restaurants, from dim sum and Cantonese seafood to Taiwanese to Shanghainese to Hong Kong cafe and Macanese (Macau), plus that whole Chinese grocery store thing, that's worth a whole day's tour.

          1. Daimo in Richmond for Hong Kong-style (Cantonese)

            Darda in Milpitas for muslim Chinese

            Old Mandarin Islamic in SF for Peking (Mandarin) hot pot

            Great China in Berkeley for Peking duck and "double skin."

            Spices!3's food isn't like any other Sichuan I've had. I think that's a combination of Taiwanese influence and originality.

            1. im usually on the la boards.

              but i had a great northern style hot pot dinner in the deep sunset. i cant remember the name but it was like old islamic.

              http://www.yelp.com/biz/6Q5aKP44ykyCd...

              i think this may be the place... they had a great crispy niu rou bing (like a beef pastry).

              1 Reply
              1. re: modernist

                That's the place I recommended above, Old Mandarin Islamic. Lots of reports here if you use the search.

              2. There's very good Shanghainese right in Oakland's Chinatown--Shanghai Restaurant at 930 Webster (btw 9th and 10th). Excellent XLB and clay pot dishes, good value (a 3 dishes-for-$15 menu). The proverbial hole in the wall. There have been many Chowhound posts about this place (can't remember whether it's related to the Shanghai Restaurant in the South Bay)over the past 2-3 years.

                3 Replies
                1. re: dordogne

                  It has a sister restaurant on the Peninsula (not South Bay) called Shanghai East, as well as one in Berkeley. As I mentioned in a response above, the Oakland original is about as authentic a family-style Shanghainese Restaurant as it gets, down to the rythmic Shanghainese dialect crackling through the air. My wife and her sister are from Shanghai, I'm headed there myself for the eighth time next month, and we all love the joint.

                  1. re: dordogne

                    Next door to Shanghai Restaurant on Webster in Oakland's Chinatown is Cam Huong, a great place for bahn mi (Vietnamese sandwiches on French rolls with pickled veggies and chili) I think the kids would like them a lot.

                    1. re: oakjoan

                      I get them frequently for school events. They're very popular w/ the kids.

                  2. Is Shanghi in Oakland open for dinner?

                    1. We had a wonderful dinner at Shanghai in Oakland (on Webster between 9th and 10th). They are open every day for dinner and lunch.
                      We paid $68 for dinner for six (plus tip).
                      Mostly we ordered from the 3 - for $15 list, and the cold plates.
                      No charge for us to open our own wine, but they don't have wineglasses.
                      The place was quite full and very noisy.
                      We were the only non-Chinese in the place.

                      1. I've read through the LA thread, before it was trimmed, and so far, no one has recommended any style of regional Chinese cuisine that can't be found locally. My post prodding for some classics not found here received no answers, and I can only assume that they are not available there either. Yes, San Gabriel Valley has more breadth and depth. However, that is only relevant if you are intending to try more than 10 restaurants or are on the hunt for the ultimate salt-baked chicken and need to try 20 examples before picking a winner. While the range to choose from may be smaller, very good examples are available here, and in some cases better, locally than the recs that have been provided in LA to date.

                        1. If you are looking to try 5 to 10 different places, you will need to go to either one of the Chinatowns (SF, Oakland, Richmond) or one of the larger Asian malls in the South Bay (the one in the East Bay doesn't have a large enough selection of restaurants, though a couple of them are good). In Oakland Chinatown, there is the Shan Dong Restaurant for northern noodles, steamed buns and dumplings, the aforementioned Shanghai Restaurant, dim sum houses such as Legendary Palace and the Peony, a branch of Spices for a Szechuan and Taiwanese combo, and any number of decent Cantonese spots, such as New Gold Medal and Gum Kuo. If you went further south to Milpitas or Fremont, you probably will find a mall setting rather than a town feel. It really depends on the type of experience you want to give the kids, given the time and distance constraints.

                          7 Replies
                          1. re: anli

                            What a great class.

                            When I lived in LA, I was given Carl Chu's book "Finding Chinese Food in Los Angeles: A Guide to Regional Chinese Cuisines" and it demystified things considerably with descriptions of ingredients and explanations of regional variation, as well as specific restaurant recommendations.

                            I see that Chu has a Bay Area book, which I haven't read, but might be useful for your class. (Amazon is pairing it with the Chowhound's Guide to SF/Bay Area.) Based on reading Chu's LA book, my guess that the book might probably be a little too simplistic for the knowledgeable hound, but for someone not clear about the difference between Sichuan and Shanghai, it would be pretty handy.

                            http://www.amazon.com/Chinese-Food-Fi...

                            1. re: YSZ

                              I'm definitely planning to steal liberally from a long list of books when I make my handouts. They include the Chu book, as well as:
                              "The Eater's Guide to Chinese Characters" by McCawley
                              "The Food of China" by Anderson
                              "Food and Chinese Culture: Essays on Popular Cuisines" ed. Chen
                              "Swallowing Clouds: A Playful Journey Through Chinese Culture, Language, and Cuisine" by Zee

                              1. re: lexdevil

                                You might consider adding The Chowhounds Guide to the SF Bay Area to that list which indexes local Chinese restaurants by cuisine and has pointers to some of the better dishes.

                                I'd add a fun snack shop serving different snacks and drinks.

                                This is a wonderful idea to have students looking beyond sweet and sour but as far as traveling far and wide ... isn't another great lesson that deliciousness is in your own backyard? You don't need to go to Oz when everything you really need is in Kansas.

                                This just comes from my own experience in the last year of checking out local nothing businesses near my home and finding amazing and interesting deliciousness.

                                If your students have to go out of their area to find the treasure, maybe they won't look at what is on their own street.

                                Maybe Oakland Chinatown is the best bet. That would allow easier repeat visits. Or look at those joints nearest the school and see what they have to offer.

                                Even on a site like Chowhound where restaurants under the usual radar get reported, there are tons of great local neighborhood joints we never hear of because people don't frequent those areas.

                                That being said, usually asking about an otherwise unreported joint usually gets a response. So if there's a Chinese joint down the block from the school, ask on the board if there's anything good there.

                                One of the other things I've learned is to read menus closely to find the unusual which is usually the interesting and delicious.

                                So maybe to have your students look beyond sweet and sour ... collect take-out menus from local Chinese restaurants. Pass copies out and then ask to identify regional cuisine by the dishes. Ask if there is a unique dish on the menu that others don't have.

                                Doing that expanded my eating world. One of these days I'll get over my own fear of Chinese food tackle that cuisine. It is just so vast though.

                                Interesting things to me in my limited knowledge are the restaurants with live fish tanks where you can select your fish live. I had a boss who was into exotic fish and talked about some outrageous prices he paid. The $2000 fish still sticks in my mind.

                                Along the same line are the Chinese supermarkets where they will fry a fish plucked from the tank for pennies on the dollar. There is another book about the items in Chinese markets, but the name escapes me right now.

                                Anyway, lucky kids to have experiences like this wherever they wind up.

                              2. re: YSZ

                                I've commented before that Carl Chu spent many years eating his way around Chinese restaurants in the Los Angeles area, but after the success of his LA book he came out with one for New York and then one for San Francisco within about a year's time. While I would probably use his book on the LA area, I have to doubt the thoroughness and/or the originality of his research in the Bay Area.

                                1. re: Gary Soup

                                  Yeah, that's why I tried to make a qualified recommendation for the Bay Area book (especially because I haven't read it, ahem). If, however, Chu cut and pasted the basic information on regional styles and ingredients from his first book, then that would be useful information for a novice.

                                  1. re: Gary Soup

                                    Chu spent every weekend here for several months, and was in some cases traveling with local hardcores. The main problem I'd expect would be that the book's out of date--chefs move around, restaurants change hands, the Chinese restaurant scene's very dynamic.

                                    http://search.eastbayexpress.com/Issu...
                                    http://www.a-r-n.net/content.asp-cati...

                                2. re: anli

                                  Speaking of malls, I think it'd be a kick for them to see 99 Ranch Market (El Cerrito or Milpitas -don't know where any others are) and its giant selection of everything, including live fish tanks and clam water cascades.

                                3. This sounds like a great class. I used to take my middle school students on a tour of San Francisco Chinatown and ended with dim sum lunch. I don't know how far you have to travel but that took much of our day so consider travel time in your schedule. I think the idea of hitting an area dense in Chinese restaurants as several of the posters suggested may be your best bet. Good luck with your class!

                                  4 Replies
                                  1. re: dimsumgirl

                                    We've got one week and a couple of vans, so the greatest limit we face is the size of our stomachs. I'm actually a little concerned about doing places that are too close together because I expect we'll need time to digest. I'm even thinking that we should, perhaps, do Little Potato and China Tofu in Union City on different days because I don't think that the 30 foot walk will provide the needed respite.

                                    1. re: lexdevil

                                      Yeah, to the list of types of cuisine you should add dim sum and also HK/Taiwanese cafe/dessert places. There are a couple of the latter in Oakland Chinatown, including Yummy Guide on 11th near Webster and Shooting Star Cafe on Webster near 11th. You could also do a comparison of what is traditionally called dim sum (basically Cantonese) to Northern and Shanghai style dumplings (China Village has some good dumpling dishes, as does Shanghai and Shandong in Oakland).

                                      Did anyone mention Ton Kiang for Hakka? I don't recommend it for dim sum, but the reports on their regular fare are much more consistently positive. Are there any other Hakka places in the area?

                                      1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                        Mon Kiang, in Ton Kiang's old Broadway location.

                                        1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                          Mon Kiang has converted to mainly a to-go dim sum and roast meat counter.

                                          Golden Mountain in Hayward for Hakka, which I've been wanting to try forever.

                                  2. Since it sounds like you have time to explore, here are a couple of other spots:

                                    Northern Chinese - The Ark in Alameda on Park St. (you can see a menu online). They have a number of homestyle dishes - ganpeng (dry fried) chicken wings, fried dumplings (northern style), shrimp on skewers just like the ones you get in Beijing, and great soupy noodles.

                                    Shanghainese - Lily's House in Lafayette. Call ahead to preorder the xiaolongbao, tipang (pork shoulder)and the Shanghai smoked fish. Also try the stir fried shrimp.