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Restaurants/Markets in Oakland Chinatown

I'm aware that I'm a total n00b. This question is going to be super open-ended and I apologize in advance. However, here goes: I've recently moved to Oakland and have become totally transfixed by Chinatown. However, I am a total whitey with very little "authentic" chinese culinary experience. I have an adventurous palate and absolutely love to try new things, however I'm a bit intimidated by the lack of english/sheer amount of restaurants and markets it seems like there are. Short of having a chinese friend show me the ropes, WHERE SHOULD I GO AND WHERE SHOULD I EAT? I'm down to try pretty much anything, as long as it's tasty and not just weird for the sake of weird.

Edit: forgot to mention that I am of course down with Vietnamese stuff too. I'm well aware that Oakland Chinatown has an ever increasing Vietnamese population. Also aware that "weird for the sake of weird" varies by culture, tradition and expectation... I'm ok with anything.

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  1. Some of the places I eat at:
    Chef Lau's
    Gum Wah
    Gold Medal
    BC Deli
    Cam Huong
    Shanghai
    Shan Dong
    Cafe 88
    Gum Kuo
    Peony
    Tay Ho
    Spices
    Chopstick

    Starting point for shopping is usually Orient Market on 7th. They validate parking if you spend $20+

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    Cam Huong Cafe
    920 Webster St, Oakland, CA 94607

    Chef Lau's
    301 8th St, Oakland, CA 94607

    Gum Kuo Restaurant
    388 9th St, Oakland, CA 94607

    Gum Wah
    345 8th St, Oakland, CA 94607

    7 Replies
    1. re: kc72

      Shanghai
      Spices 3

      Before you go to Shan Dong, read some of the discussions here about what to order.

      Ruby King Bakery for buns (sweet and savory) and egg custard tarts

      There's at least one thread on take-out dim sum. I haven't seen any recent discussion on sit-down dim sum (usual suspects are Peony and Legendary Palace for upper range and Joy Luck for cheap).

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      Legendary Palace
      708 Franklin St, Oakland, CA 94607

      Spices 3
      369 12th St, Oakland, CA 94607

      Ruby King Bakery Cafe
      718 Franklin St, Oakland, CA 94607

      Joy Luck
      327 8th St, Oakland, CA 94607

      1. re: kc72

        Didn't Shanghai change hands and go downhill?

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        Shanghai Restaurant
        930 Webster St, Oakland, CA 94607

          1. re: Robert Lauriston

            I don't believe it changed hands. There were some grumblings that it had gone downhill based strictly on the XLB -- but there's more to Shanghainese cuisine than XLB! At any rate, it's the only Shanghainese restaurant in Oakland Chinatown, and the poster was specifically asking about places in Oakland Chinatown.

            1. re: Ruth Lafler

              We discussed it a bit in this thread (actually, a really good reference for the OP - most of the info is up to date) http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/739201

              I haven't been back to Shanghai in over 6 months because my last two meals were so disappointing (red sauce overly sweet, gummy soupless XLB, lower-quality noodles, gummy rice cakes) but I may give it another shot in the near future.

            2. re: Robert Lauriston

              My 7-year old daughter and I lunch here pretty often. Last week, she ordered her favorite dish is a casserole of tofu, tofu dumplings, mung bean noodles, bamboo shoots and broth. Its pretty delicate and pure. I went off the tried and true and had eel with leeks, and that was pretty good, fat matchsticks of eel with similarly sized leeks, stir fried, pretty rich. Its a little cleaner and less cluttered than before. I still think its a great place.

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              Shanghai Restaurant
              930 Webster St, Oakland, CA 94607

            3. re: kc72

              New Gold Medal (I am putting the correct name here to get the link correct).
              I haven't been there in a while but it was a favorite of ours.
              Lately I've been buying roast ducks, stewed pork bits, BBQ duck livers etc and taking them home to eat, rather than dining in restaurants.

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              New Gold Medal
              389 8th St, Oakland, CA 94607

              1. re: Pcass

                Big fan of Shan Dong as well. And they never charge me corkage!

              2. Vien Huong, pho and Cam Huong, bahn mi.

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                Cam Huong Cafe
                920 Webster St, Oakland, CA 94607

                Vien Huong
                712 Franklin St, Oakland, CA 94607

                1. Binh Minh Quan for Vietnamese.

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                  Binh Minh Quan
                  338 12th St, Oakland, CA 94607

                  1. My current go-to restaurants (and my favorite dishes at each place):

                    8th St
                    Phnom Penh –eggplant with shrimp and pork, samlaw machhou (hot and sour seafood soup)
                    Gum Wah – duck noodle soup
                    Chef Lau – salt and pepper fish, salt and pepper pork, salted egg yolk battered pumpkin, potstickers
                    Sun Sing – take out dim sum – rice noodles wrapped around Chinese crullers, taro croquettes, 1000 point shrimp fritters, baked and steamed char siu bao

                    10th St
                    Pho Hoa Lao - pho bo kho (it's a little inconsistent - some days, the beef is tough and stringy, on others, it's nearly pudding-like in tenderness)
                    Shang Dong - pork & veg bun, hand cut noodles (I like it with pork and preserved vegetable), dumplings

                    12th St
                    Spices 3 – fried tofu with 1000 chilis
                    Tay Ho – lunch special #10 (steamed rice noodles wrapped around minced pork and wood ear mushrooms, sweet potato shrimp fritters, banh xeo, bun bo tai (spicy beef soup with rice noodles)

                    Pacific Renaissance Plaza
                    Café 88 – roast pork
                    Peony - sit-down dim sum

                    Franklin St
                    BC Deli for banh mi (I’ve been fixated on the meatball ones lately), bot chien triew chau (rice cakes with scrambled egg and preserved vegetable), cassava cakes, and pandan waffles
                    Napolean Bakery - egg tarts and sponge cake

                    Webster St
                    Fortune Restaurant – lobster noodles, Chinese broccoli with preserved pork and sausage, steamed clams with basil

                    Groceries:
                    Khanh Ponh - Thai and Vietnamese ingredients. You can get some very good frozen Vietnamese spring rolls in their small freezer section.
                    Yuen Hop - fresh noodles and all the different variations of dumpling wrappers (btw, their round, thick wrappers are the only purchased wrappers I've ever used that work really well for ravioli), frozen dumplings, all sorts of tofu
                    T&S Poultry - chicken and super cheap duck legs
                    Surf & Turf at 702 Webster - fresh fish (they'll kill and clean for you)

                    -----
                    Tay Ho Restaurant
                    344 12th St, Oakland, CA 94607

                    Pho Hoa Lao
                    333 10th St, Oakland, CA 94607

                    Spices 3
                    369 12th St, Oakland, CA 94607

                    Chef Lau's
                    301 8th St, Oakland, CA 94607

                    Phnom Penh Restaurant
                    3912 MacArthur Blvd, Oakland, CA 94619

                    Gum Wah
                    345 8th St, Oakland, CA 94607

                    Yuen Hop
                    824 Webster St, Oakland, CA

                    8 Replies
                    1. re: daveena

                      Sun sing has the chinese donut wrapped w/ rice crepe? Is it a special order item? Have seen the donuts and rice crepe w/ shrimp.

                      1. re: kc72

                        They always have a few orders, cut up, in styrofoam take out boxes at the far end of the display counter. They're actually better than you'd expect even cold, but they're really good when hot.

                        1. re: daveena

                          Thanks, will be on the look out next time. I'll look for it at Sum Yee (next to Cam Huong) also -- I think it's the same owners. Just tried their yam and kabocha squash pancakes.

                          -----
                          Cam Huong Cafe
                          920 Webster St, Oakland, CA 94607

                          1. re: kc72

                            Are they really? I haven't re-tried Sum Yee in years, but all of the take out dim sum I tried there was really heavy and greasy.

                            1. re: daveena

                              I thought I had heard that somewhere. Also, they both have some banner mentioning some website for dim sum online, but that could just be some paid advertising also.

                              1. re: daveena

                                some of the staff work in both of the places, but like you we always buy from Sun Sing. they had the sheet noodle wrapped around the cruller in the open boxes today, just as you described.

                                the 'Delicious Food Co' on the corner of Webster and 8th has been remodeled under new owners with a new sign, 'First Cake'. it had been the sole source in C-town for 'egg puffs', the beignets made from choux pastry. we checked today if the new proprietors were continuing to make the egg puffs, and they are as good as ever, perhaps a bit larger and puffier than before.

                                1. re: moto

                                  Interesting. We sampled one of the cakes from that shop shortly after they opened - in the Asian style, more cream than cake. I think maybe it was supposed to be Black Forest. The lady who was working the counter was proud that they make everything on-site, supposedly, but the cake wasn't very good at all.

                                  1. re: moto

                                    I was really disappointed a couple weeks ago when I realized the adorable Delicious Food Co sign had been replaced by a generic printout for First Cake. I wanted to update my bad picture--it was always a bakery, but I noticed the focus on Chinese-style Western cakes, which I'm even less a fan of then Safeway cakes, so I assumed I wouldn't like the new offerings. It's good to know they still have good egg puffs.

                                    -----
                                    First Cake
                                    5901 Geary Blvd, San Francisco, CA

                                     
                        2. Anywhere to get a sticky rice roll now that Szechwan has closed?

                          1. If you are wiling to go to the other asian area on 14 st and 2nd Ave, you can have the best PHO in Oakland at Pho Ao Sen.

                            -----
                            Pho Ao Sen
                            1139 E 12th St, Oakland, CA

                            1. I find that many restaurants in Oakland Chinatown are pretty blah, but there are a few gems in there that are okay. The issue for you in my estimation, is not so much of where to eat, but WHAT to eat at these places. Every time I go to a Chinese restaurant down in Chinatown, there always seems to be a pretty big difference between what a Chinese person would order and what a non-Chinese person would. A lot of these restaurants specialize in different dishes, have chefs with particular regional culinary experience, and have different cooking traditions and styles. It makes no sense to order broccoli and beef from a Szechuanese restaurant (which happened last night at Spices!3), while chicken chow mein is definitely a very vanilla option if you're going to the 8th Street Cafe for dinner. If you're going to eat Cantonese, eat Cantonese stuff. If you're going to eat Hong Kong-style food, go for the modern cha chaan teng-style of food. If you're going to get Szechuanese, go for Szechuanese. Further, what you eat should reflect when you're eating. If you want to get into the spirit of "authentic" Chinese eating, most times at dinner, people will just order a bowl of white rice each and then share several main dishes. They don't order a fried rice or noodles to supplement the meal - it's just straight up cooked dishes. You pick stuff up and then put it in your bowl and then you eat it. None of this eating rice off the plate either.

                              Okay, having been totally obnoxious about eating Chinese food, these are my favourite places in Oakland Chinatown to eat at:

                              1. Spices! 3 - Taiwanese pork chop rice, spicy fish fillet bowl w/ flaming red oil (ask for extra "fa jeew"). Main waitress speaks Cantonese, Mandarin and English. Try the hot pots.

                              2. Kim Huong - the Bun Bo Hue here is great. Old man working there is also super friendly yet will mock you if you add herbs to his soup noodles without drinking the broth first.

                              3. 8th Street Cafe - more for the fact that it's absurdly cheap, the freshly squeezed watermelon juice is both delicious AND a steal, and I like their HK-style tea. Waitresses totally have attitude, it's kind of hilarious. Their baked dishes (Portuguese style chicken on rice) and afternoon tea time (3-6PM I think, 7 days/week?) are decent.

                              4. Angel's Cafe - pretty decent minced beef with raw egg over rice. Also comes with a soup and a drink (it's a special written in Chinese on one of those sidewalk blackboards), just ask for the "wau dan meen jee ngau yook fan" special. It's like $5.55?

                              -----
                              Kim Huong
                              304 10th Street, Oakland, CA

                              2 Replies
                              1. re: timeo

                                8th Street Cafe is cheap, but it's also where I had one of the worst (probably THE worst) meals I've had in Oakland. There were three of us, and we shared a bunch of things - some kind of fish dish, a mango pudding for dessert (the only edible dish), I don't remember what else. But it was all spectacularly bad.

                                We may have ordered the wrong things, but I normally do like HK cafe style food -- Mac's Wok is our go-to place for baked chicken on rice/spaghetti. Anyway, I definitely wouldn't send a Chinese food "noob" to the 8th St. Cafe. Most places in Chinatown are pretty cheap by any reasonable standard -- no need to go scraping the bottom of the barrel.

                                1. re: abstractpoet

                                  Yeah, as I was including the place on my list, I was trying to figure out what I've actually enjoyed at the place - and I realised that I haven't actually particularly liked any of the food, it was just drinks that were okay. That and the atmosphere and the snarky ladies. And let's not forget the fact that everything is a steal there (two rules about Chinese places: if you see lots of Chinese people at a restaurant, it's either really good, or really cheap, this is the latter). I think the wonton rice noodles may be the least blah thing on their menu though for what it's worth.

                                  For baked stuff, as I was a Cal student for a while, I've kind of gotten accustomed to going to Lotus House at Durant/Telegraph in Berkeley. Though their Baked Portuguese Chicken tastes a little different than the traditional dish, I kind of like how it's less overwhelmingly saucy and how the rice is also baked along with it too.

                              2. Some of these have already been mentioned:

                                Gum Kuo for congee (I like the thousand year old egg and shredded pork) and cheung fun, ja leurng. Their fried rice and dry fried beef chow fun is pretty good too.
                                The Sweet Booth for boba drinks and smoothies.
                                Peony for cheap peking duck on Thursdays if they are still having that special. Haven't been there for a while but it was $12 for a whole duck. Also I remember their Yi Mein being pretty good.
                                Shanghai Restaurant
                                Shan Dong
                                Legendary Palace for dim sum
                                Vien Huong for chiu chow noodle soup, beef stew noodle soup, other noodle soups. Gets kind of crowded at lunch.
                                Cam Huong for cheap banh mi

                                not in chinatown but pretty close:
                                Pho Ao Sen for pho

                                -----
                                Cam Huong Cafe
                                920 Webster St, Oakland, CA 94607

                                Legendary Palace
                                708 Franklin St, Oakland, CA 94607

                                Gum Kuo Restaurant
                                388 9th St, Oakland, CA 94607

                                Vien Huong
                                712 Franklin St, Oakland, CA 94607

                                Sweet Booth
                                388 9th St, Oakland, CA 94607

                                Pho Ao Sen
                                1139 E 12th St, Oakland, CA

                                2 Replies
                                1. re: Mr_Happy

                                  Yes, Peony is still doing their weekday specials

                                  Thurs - duck
                                  Fri - soy sauce chicken
                                  Crab and Lobster on other days.

                                  1. re: kc72

                                    Thats good to hear, it's a good deal.

                                2. Great thread, it's inspiring me to go beyond my handful of usual-suspect Chinatown destinations. But I'm curious: no love for Tao Yuen?

                                  4 Replies
                                  1. re: fatty_mouthfeel

                                    I like TY, one of the better dim sum bakeries in Oakland. The high turn over makes a huge, huge difference.

                                    1. re: fatty_mouthfeel

                                      If you like thick wrappers and really large dimsum this is the place for you. I can't get past the wrappers.

                                      1. re: fatty_mouthfeel

                                        after a couple of visits years ago, gave up on tao yuen because of their abrupt, close to surly service from people who seemed quite discontented with their situation in life. not a fanatico for dim sum to the extent that one place does this thing best, go to another for that, so the consistency and selection at Sun Sing from the friendly employees suits me fine. a couple of the items have better versions in SF, like dahn taat, but for me that's not a semi-regular snack.

                                        1. re: fatty_mouthfeel

                                          Tao Yuen calls itself a "Pastry" place, but lately I've been going there for the noodles.