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Oakland Chinatown--best of, by restaurant

I eat in Oakland Chinatown fairly often, but I eat the same thing at the same restaurants over and over. Thought I'd list where I go and what I like, and encourage others to do the same. Here goes.

Gum Kuo-- this is my go-to.

Any soup, their broth is sensational and their wontons plump, juicy, homemade. Their noodle dishes are good as well--I like Singapore rice noodles and any chow mein.

Best Taste--

special double steamed soup and claypot rice. Have had BBQ while waiting for the claypot and found it undistinguished.

Gum Wah--

Claypot rice. I like it a little better than Best Taste.

Gourmet Delight--

Dim sum. Best in Chinatown that isn't Peony, which is expensive and hit-or-miss, as well as every once in a while it feels like gweilos aren't welcome. Peony that is.

New Gold Medal--

Nothing that distinguished, but the Gold Medal claypot from the 3-fer menu is pretty good.

Every once in a while I go to Shan Dong for Shandong chicken and steamed dumplings and such. That's about it for me. How about you guys?

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  1. Best things at Gum Kuo are the rice congee (jook), especially the congee with shredded pork and thousand year old egg, and the made to order rice noodle rolls (cheung fun) IMO. I also like the dry fried beef ho fun and the salted fish fried rice. A bit of a carb overload.

    2 Replies
    1. re: Mr_Happy

      Forgot about the made to order rice noodle rolls! Really good. I like the chix and salt fish fried rice too. Also the chix and pineapple fried rice.

      1. re: Mr_Happy

        Those are my EXACT favorites there too! Add a crueller with the jook.

      2. Usually find myself at Golden Lotus, where everything is good. Skip getting rice and instead get the rice clay pot. Then get whatever you want.

        Also enjoy Rang Dong. The wonton noodle soup is awesome.

        Shan Dong gets it done for greasy chinese. Westlake soup rocks. Obvi the dumplings. The chicken is OK, but I prefer their shrimp and green beans.

        Really sucks that China Village is still closed, I wish there was something comparable in Oakland Chinatown. I tried Spices 3 but it wasn't as good.

        3 Replies
        1. re: hungree

          hungree...what will you order at China Village when it re-opens?


          1. re: Mission

            oh man, everything!

            I used to really like the boiled beef, fish, spicy cabbage, chong qing chicken, sesame cake, cumin lamb... pretty standard order when we had a big enough crew.

            I'm interested in exploring more of the menu once it reopens since I did a poor job of diversifying back when we all took China Village for granted and thought we could just get something else "next time."

            1. re: Mission

              Fish with black bean sauce eaten with generous amounts of the hot sauce on tables (satay?).

              Any pork belly dish.

          2. Almost always getting food to go and always from Gum Wah.

            Roast pork - from the rib section, but even the shoulder can be good.

            Steamed chicken with ginger sauce

            Roast duck

            1. Man, I was hoping this thread would have more replies. Where is Melanie, Robert, et al. Help a brother out!

              1. Banh Cuon Tay Ho is good in general for vietnamese food. The Banh Cuon is good, the banh xeo, and bun rieu.

                1. Shan Dong: pork and vegetable dumplings, leek pancake

                  1. I like the way you framed this topic-- my Oakland Chinatown explorations have been mediocre, so I largely depend on Chowhound opinions for specific dishes. Even then, it's not been great. I'm not sure much has changed over the past few years in Oakland Chinatown, so you should toy around with a few past threads...

                    Some dishes I return to:

                    Spices 3: calamari in mustard sauce is great, and I've not seen it prepared elsewhere. Ma po tofu is excellent.

                    New Gold Metal : one's standards go down near midnight, but at that hour or earlier, I like their the roast pork and the congee. I'd take the soy sauce chicken over the roast duck, but the duck does well as a component of other dishes

                    Gum Kuo : rice rolls (cheung fun)

                    Shandong : red cooked eggplant. I haven't seen any recent reports on their noodles, but the last few times I've gone they've been overcooked and pasty. Dumplings are typically good, but the buns are more notable for their value than delicacy.

                    1. My current faves (actually haven't changed much over the years, except for a general downhill trend for Shan Dong, and a general uphill trend for Spices 3)

                      Phnom Penh
                      samlaw machhou (hot and sour seafood soup)
                      Eggplant with pork

                      Chef Lau
                      Pumpkin fritters with salted egg
                      Salt and pepper fish

                      Café 88
                      Roast pork and rice

                      Lobster noodles
                      Steamed clams with basil

                      BC Deli
                      bot chien triew chau (rice cakes with scrambled egg and preserved vegetable)
                      Banh mi (I usually order either the pork combo, the meatball, or the fish cake)

                      Tay Ho
                      Combo #11 (steamed rice noodles wrapped around minced pork and wood ear mushrooms, sweet potato fritters, shrimp and mung bean cupcake)
                      Banh xeo

                      Shan Dong
                      Pork and vegetable bun (the knife cut noodles have gone way downhill and are too gummy to eat now)

                      Pho Hoa Lao
                      Pho Bo Kho (beef stew with egg noodles)

                      Spices 3 – order everything “not too salty”, otherwise it can be inedible.
                      Ants on a tree
                      Twice cooked pork
                      Shanghai style rice cake
                      Cold spicy cucumbers

                      First Cake
                      Egg puffs

                      3 Replies
                      1. re: daveena

                        Thanks for your very detailed reply, Daveena. Thanks to all who replied.

                        1. re: daveena

                          December 2013 update

                          Additional Tay Ho favorites -
                          Mekong Poor Boy noodle (rice noodles with coconut milk, shredded pork and pork skin, herbs, bean sprouts, scallion oil)
                          Saigon Noodle (noodles with grilled pork kebabs, scallion oil, fried shallots)

                          Tian Jin Dumplings - pork and leek dumplings, crepe with Chinese donut

                          Guilin Rice Noodle - noodle soup with ground beef topping, noodle with salty beef and crispy pork.

                          I would not recommend anything from First Cake anymore. Everything's gone way downhill.

                          1. re: daveena

                            I am really enjoying Tianjin's pork buns. They are smaller than Shan Dong's but the bread is much better.

                          2. stinky tofu at spices 3
                            they have about half a dozen different preparations.

                            1. Great thread here! For clay pot rice at Best Taste and Gum Wah, don't forget to ask them to add an egg. At Gum Wah, request sticky rice for a nominal additional charge (<$1). Dim sum at Gourmet Delight is OK but is probably still the best in Oakland Chinatown with the decline in Legendary Palace. There are a few real stars in New Gold Medal: beef stew and tendon (you can ask for more or less of the tendon, plus it reheats well in the microwave), French style seared beef cubes not in printed menu (ask them for medium-rare or simply not to cook for too long), and their unique fish porridge made with sturgeon instead of frozen sole like all the other places.

                              3 Replies
                              1. re: vincentlo

                                Does anybody know Gum Kuo's hours of operations? Can't find it online and it was closed around 9-10 when we tried to go. Ended up at new gold medal and had pretty decent wonton noodle soup with duck.

                                1. re: hungree

                                  Went for lunch so it was a non-issue. The Gum Kuo wonton noodle soup with duck was miles better than at New Gold Medal. Excellent dish. Will be back to try the rice rolls.

                                  1. re: hungree

                                    Gum Kuo has an excellent rice roll with barbecued pork and cilantro. The rice wrapper is a little on the thick side and on different occasions the texture can vary from sublime to gummy, but when it's sublime it's perfection.

                              2. What a great thread - I completely missed it until it showed up in Chow News - thanks Chow News! I have a few things to add:

                                Shanghai Restaurant - I eat here more often than any other Chinatown restaurant. Their food is less salty and oily than most places (ahem, Spices). We have fine-tuned our standard order here from the 3-fer menu: shredded pork with bamboo, string beans, and salt and pepper prawns. The shredded pork with bamboo is a dish from my childhood, so I don't know that everyone will like it as much as I do. The salt and pepper prawns must be eaten with their shell on, so I wouldn't recommend this dish if you're not willing to eat the crispy fried shrimp shell. I also buy a lot of food from their frozen case - they have dumplings, wontons, and tang yuen (the little dessert balls with black sesame paste in the center).

                                Tay Ho - in addition to the other excellent dishes already mentioned, I also love their Hue style baby clams, bun cha Ha Noi, and their seafood gravy over crispy fried noodles. I can't seem to find the seafood/crispy fried noodles on their online menu at the moment, but it is very similar to the Cantonese dish, but with thinner noodles. I liked New Gold Medal's version of this dish but stopped eating there when I found a fly in my gravy. Tay Ho's version is fresh with a good amount of seafood. Tay Ho's broths for their noodle soups are generally outstanding, and I second nicedragonboy's bun rieu recommendation below.

                                Spices 3 - My two favorite dishes are the bacon in garlic sauce (a cold appetizer) and also the dry braised pork intestine, which is perfectly crunchy on the outside and chewy/soft on the inside.

                                Kim Huong - I usually order their pho or their bun bo hue, both of which are delicious to the last drop. Their menu is more limited than Tay Ho, but these two soup noodle dishes are excellent.

                                BC Deli - shrimp spring rolls - they put a green chive in each roll.

                                12 Replies
                                1. re: felice

                                  Thanks for the update on Shanghai Restaurant-- it's not mentioned a lot here as of late. Any other suggestions there?

                                  1. re: hyperbowler

                                    My nine-year old and I eat there with some regularity. The male waiter looks at us and says what we normally get. We always get the double skin soup (mild chicken broth, long rice noodles, skinny halved bamboo shoots, two kinds of tofu dumplings, bok choy), the XLB, Shanghai noodles and something else. Last week we had a black sesame seed flecked pan fried bao. Solidly good.

                                    If my dining companion were more adventurous I'd know more about the menu. The staff are nice to us and let my daughter watch the cook do his magic. Its worth going.

                                    1. re: Ericruo

                                      I'll have to try the double skin soup, it sounds really good.

                                      I also like their Shanghai rice cakes but sometimes need to add a little soy sauce. I am still working on trying out more items on their menu even though I've had their food at least 20-30 times. It's hard for me to do because I generally order take out over the phone and have my husband pick it up - it's not conducive to asking questions about various dishes. The next item I am planning on trying is their braised pork belly with preserved vegetables (may tsai kuo ruo). Last week I figured out this dish was on their menu. The cold dishes they have in the back of the restaurant are good too - I like the bean curd noodles.

                                      I haven't had anything there that I thought was cooked poorly or tasted bad, but I've had one or two experiences where I thought I was ordering a certain dish based on the english description, and ended up with something very different from what I had expected. Since their food is pretty authentic, I've accidentally ordered dishes that would be more enjoyable to someone who has acquired a taste for the dish.

                                      1. re: Ericruo

                                        The black sesame seed flecked buns are the pan fried pork buns and they are a new favorite. I had this dish for the first time in years at Yank Sing. Then I found it at Peony during dim sum, and more recently I found it on the Shanghai Restaurant dim sum menu. I am a big fan of the dish itself, especially the white bread that encases the pork. I think Shanghai's version is excellent, and highly refined even in comparison to Yank Sing's version. Shanghai's is the least bready of the three and consequently the smallest. However there are 6 to an order vs 3 to an order at the other places. The small details, such as their brushing the bun with oil and sprinkling sesame seed and sautéed green onion on top are some of the reasons this dish stands out. The bread quality is also very high although perhaps not as "made this morning" fresh as Yank Sing's version.

                                        By the way, I also tried the pork belly with preserved vegetables and their version is truly excellent. Of the five or six versions I have had in the Bay Area, by far the best. Their version is clean and delicate, and for me it blows away many of the preparations of pork belly on menus these days.

                                        I just figured out this week that mapo tofu is on their menu, so I will have to try it soon. Too bad I didn't figure this out sooner when it was dish of the month.

                                        1. re: felice

                                          Sounds like it's time for me to go back to Shanghai restaurant again. I had a bad run of visits a few years ago but everything you described sounds great.

                                          1. re: felice

                                            Thanks for all the tips. I haven't been to Shanghai in a long time. I used to like the shepherd's purse wonton soup, the lion's head meatballs and the red-cooked pork knuckle (which makes great take-out, since like most braises it's actually better the following day(s) -- nothing like having a big hunk of pork to pick at in the fridge, either!).

                                            1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                              You can buy the shepherd's purse wontons frozen from their freezer case and cook them up at home. I usually keep a bag around for nights when I want a quick meal.

                                          2. re: Ericruo

                                            I went for brunch yesterday, and was really impressed with their wonton soup in clay pot. It is just totally different than Cantonese style wonton soup, which I regularly have for lunch at Gum Kuo. Theirs is delicate, with a small amount of filling, and a light broth containing shredded egg.

                                            There was a nearby table of Shanghainese people, so I asked what they had ordered. Peking style shredded pork, and the salted pork and bamboo casserole are next on my list to try.

                                            Also, their ground pork and vermicelli noodles clay pot on the dinner menu is excellent, it reminds me of the ground pork my mom used to make but better. =o

                                        2. re: felice

                                          Forgot about Shanghai. Don't go that often. I always want their rice cakes, a dish I love, to be better than they are. No wok hay most of the time. But their cold dishes are superb. I love love love that crunchy green vegetable dish, never know what the vegetable is. And the soy beans too. Yummy stuff.

                                            1. re: essvee

                                              "Chow news" is probably referring to the Chow blog http://www.chow.com/food-news/san-fra...

                                              Some previous threads about what to get at Shanghai Restaurant in Oakland:

                                              1. re: hyperbowler

                                                More than a blog, Chow News is a free newsletter. The SF Bay Area edition is delivered to your in box on Mondays. It's an easy way to stay abreast of the site when you don't have time to check in regularly.

                                          1. Tian Jin Dumplings is way better than Shang Dong for dumplings and steamed savory pork buns. It's not a restaurant, but rather a food stand. However, they have delicious pork buns.

                                            Their Jian Bing which is a Chinese savory crepe with beaten egg on the top, with chopped Chinese pickles, fried crullers in the middle, and sweet bean paste or spicy bean paste is really good too. Only wish they would use the crispy friend egg roll skin rather than the crullers because the crullers got a little soggy.

                                            Give it a try, you will like it. BTW, there are like two Ikea tables with six chairs outside the food stall. Don't expect a sit down restaurant or you will be sorely disappointed. Oh yea -- Cash Only, but that's okay BofA is across the street.

                                            1. A more recent discovery for me is Tao Yuen. I was always puzzled by the really long lines. Looking in the window, the rice wrappers on the steamed dumplings look very thick, and dim sum doesn't look very fresh.

                                              But I did figure out, without too much much painful trial and error, what to order here: the thin rice noodles (mifun). They are not too greasy and not too salty. A small takeout box costs only $2.40 and is pretty filling.

                                              I tried a few of the dim sum items and they were not good. The other noodle dishes seem or are greasier. The long line is probably because this place is dirt cheap. Since I eat out for lunch almost daily, I need a few places for the days where I need to work through lunch and eat in front of the computer. The noodles at Tao Yuen are perfect for this purpose, and balances out the nicer/longer more expensive lunches.