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Jan 12, 2010 12:26 PM

Help us (veggie folks) navigate Oakland Chinatown and Fruitvale Asian spots...

My husband and I both love great Asian food, and are always thrilled to find a new hole-in-the-wall place to add to our regular dinner spots. We live so close to wonderful Chinese, Thai, Vietnamese, and Cambodian food. The one catch: we're vegetarians. (For us, that means no chicken stock in a broth, no fish sauce, etc.)

We LONG to explore the Asian restaurant scene around Oakland, but with the veggie thing, and without speaking Chinese etc., we are hesitant to plunge in. I know there are Buddhist veggie places, but some of them aren't always chowhound-worthy.

I've done some searches (I've TRIED to be a good hound) and I've learned that Shen Dong might be a good place for vegetarian dumplings.

Any help would be greatly appreciated. Suggestions for other spots in the Bay area are okay too, if they fit the criteria.

Thank you so much.
Ms. Veg

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    1. I really like the fried tofu with 1000 chilis at Spices 3, and the numbing cucumber is usually good (Spices 3 has a tendency toward oversalting).

      Cam Huong's curried tofu banh mi has a lot of fans.

      I haven't had Shanghai's vegetarian goose in a while, but I remember it being good... I also really like their loofah with soybeans, but I think the sauce might have chicken broth in it.

      I had a fantastic dish with wheat gluten puffs and greens at a banquet at Peony, but don't know if it's on the regular menu.

      Battambang is a great option for vegetarians - they have an entire section of the menu that's veg - I vaguely reading something a while back questioning how strictly vegetarian they were (I think there might have been the possibility of some fermented fish products in the dishes), so I'd make sure your preferences are clear when you order.

      That's all I can think of off the top of my head, but when I get back to the office, I'll check through my takeout menus to see if I can come up with any others :)

      1 Reply
      1. re: daveena

        Daveena, this is exactly what we're looking for...hidden veggie gems at regular restaurants. We do eat at some vegetarian restaurants, but more often than not, I feel like it's food I could cook at home. Thanks again!

      2. As I recall, Chai Thai Noodle and Champa Garden have vegetarian sections on their menus.

        Champa Garden
        2102 8th Ave, Oakland, CA 94606

        Chai Thai Noodles
        545 B International Blvd, Oakland, CA 94606

        1. OK, I have menus.

          Your three best bets in Oakland Chinatown are probably Spices 3, Battambang, and Shandong, all of which have explicitly vegetarian sections on the menu. Shanghai has some great dishes that don't use meat, but I'm not sure about chicken broth.

          Spices 3 has an especially extensive selection, with numerous vegetarian options clearly marked throughout the menu. I haven't tried most of them, but ones that sound good to me are the silky tofu bowl with flaming red oil (usually translated in Sichuan restaurants as "water cooked tofu"), stir-fried ong choy, tofu pockets sauteed with bean chili sauce, cold shredded bean curd with sesame oil, and thick bean paste salad noodle. Oh, the fried tofu dish I was talking about before is actually called "fried tofu with explosive chili pepper" on the menu. Don't forget to specify "not too salty". Try the stir-fried vegetables with preserved tofu (*not* stinky tofu, which they also have) - it adds a strong hit of umami you think you'd only be able to get with fermented fish.

          I haven't tried any of Battambang's veg dishes - they're really more meatless counterparts to the regular dishes, rather than authentic dishes that happen to be meatless, I think. My last few experiences with Battambang have not been great - I think they tend not to balance flavors very well, and with the fermented fish component taken out, I think it might be even more unbalanced. Still, they might be interesting to try, for variety.

          The best bets under Shan Dong's vegetarian section are probably the Szechuan-style dishes - the dry braised green beans, the hot spicy eggplant, and the szechuan bean curd. But Shan Dong is best for its noodles and dumplings, so I think it would definitely be worth trying the veg dumplings, special ordering the vegetarian steamed bun (their pork and veggie one is fantastic, so I bet the veggie one is pretty good too), and asking for the vegetable chow mein with their hand made noodles. The Sesame Paste Noodles might be vegetarian too (their clientele always appears more non-Asian than Asian, so I think their servers are generally fluent in English - you should have no problem asking).

          I think Shanghai actually has some of the most interesting tofu and mung bean dishes - there's a section labeled "Vegetables", but it's not clear to me that it's vegetarian. Some of the servers speak English well and some don't, so hopefully you'll get someone you can communicate with. I can try asking the next time I'm there, too. Aside from the loofah with soy bean, there's "starch sheet with potherb mustard", and "soy bean, beancurd sheet with vegetable" (I think the last two could easily be made vegetarian). Oh, and the double tofu skin and mung bean noodles clay pot is really good, but I'm pretty sure that uses chicken stock (these dishes are all off their main, folded menu. You'll get used to the multi-menu system quickly). Off the check-off dim sum menu, there's a simple oil and onion noodle that's cheap and filling.

          Unfortunately, I think Vietnamese will be more difficult - aside from tofu banh mi, the only thing I can think of off the top of my head are the tofu spring rolls (which are reasonably tasty) sold in packages at BC Deli, Ba Le, etc. Different places seem to do their tofu differently, though (BC Deli's looks deeply browned, maybe flavored with Szechuan peppercorn) so it could be worthwhile to try them from different places.

          Cam Huong Cafe
          920 Webster St, Oakland, CA 94607

          B C Deli Sandwiches
          818 Franklin St, Oakland, CA 94607

          Shanghai Restaurant
          930 Webster St, Oakland, CA 94607

          850 Broadway, Oakland, CA 94607

          Spices 3
          369 12th St, Oakland, CA 94607

          Shan Dong Mandarin Restaurant
          328 10th St, Oakland, CA 94607

          1 Reply
          1. re: daveena

            I'll give a second for both Shan Dong's dry braised string beans and their vegetarian steamed buns. The string beans are one of the dishes I order every time I go there (unless I'm just picking up frozen dumplings).

          2. Shan Dong is fantastic for vegetarian dumplings, or the vegetarian steam buns earlier in the day. A couple of the noodle dishes are/ can be vegetarian, and definitely upgrade to the knife-cut noodles - my favorite is the spicy sesame noodles with spinach.

            Ba Le has a fried egg banh mi that is better than any of the other veggie option I've had. I prefer BC deli's vegetarian sandwich over Cam Huong's.

            We've gone for dim sum at Legendary Palace. There are always some vegetarian dishes, but the quality of the vegetarian food has been inconsistent.

            Second on Champa Garden - very easy for a vegetarian, and sooo good.