No Car? No Problem! BARTable Asian Food Goes East (Bay)

In Part 4 of this #BARTable Asian food series finally heads to my hood, the town of Oakland. Continuing along the Richmond-Millbrae line this guide will take you through West Oakland, 12th Street/City Center, 19th Street, and MacArthur Stations.

West Oakland

To be honest, this is the first station we can skip. The two places in remote walking distance of this BART station that serve Asian food are 2 Chinese American takeout spots, neither that serve food that’s any good.

12th Street/City Center

Downtown Oakland’s BART station is surrounded by Asian food, especially given its proximity to Oakland Chinatown.

Hainanese Chicken Rice at Shooting Star Cafe

Hainanese Chicken Rice at Shooting Star Cafe

In Chinatown one can, of course, find a veritable cornucopia of Chinese food and only blocks away from the station. For Hong Kong style cafe food, I like heading to Shooting Star Cafe (especially good for desserts and Hong Kong style milk tea) and Baby Cafe. For dim sum you can head to Restaurant Peony for arguably some of the best dim sum in the East Bay or Tao Yuen Pastry for some classic Chinatown grab and go dim sum. Gum Kuo and neighboring C&M Bistro are go to spots for Cantonese roast meats, though Gum Kuo also has excellent noodle soups and rice noodle rolls.

Dim Sum at Peony Seafood Restaurant

Dim Sum at Peony Seafood Restaurant

For non-Cantonese food in Chinatown, Spices 3 is the place to go for Sichuanese food and Shandong serves thick noodles and fabulous dumplings if you have a hankering for the heartier fare of Shandong province. And for one of the few Bay Area restaurants with Guilin style noodles, you can go to Classic Guilin Rice Noodles.

Chinatown, however, doesn’t just have Chinese food. For Cambodian food there is Battambang. Vietnamese food can be tastily sampled at one of my downtown favorites, Tay Ho, who’s signature item is the northern Vietnamese dish banh cuon. And for vegetarian Southeast Asian dishes, slightly out of Chinatown on 13th and Franklin is Golden Lotus.

The other side of Broadway in Old Oakland has a few Asian treasures as well. In Swan’s Market is the excellent AS B-Dama that serves great Japanese food. Le Cheval is a spot for decent Vietnamese food closer to the Oakland Convention Center.

19th Street Oakland

Further up in Oakland in Uptown and the northern part of the downtown business district are also a number of Asian restaurants, though they aren’t quite as concentrated as Chinatown. Some of these places below can also be accessed by the 14th Street or Frank Ogawa Plaza exits of the 12th Street/City Center stations but it was easier to delineate each BART station’s offerings at 14th Street.

Clear Dark Ramen at Shiba Ramen

Clear Dark Ramen at Shiba Ramen

Near 14th and Broadway you have some of my favorites for a work lunch break. I go to Shiba Ramen‘s Oakland restaurant every time I want a comforting bowl of ramen. For Afghan food, there’s the newly expanded Kamdesh. On 15th Street there’s Ma Me House for a pared down menu of solid Vietnamese food and Ichiro Sushi for solid sushi and lunch specials that are filling, but reasonably priced.

Further north, closer to my current office are a few more Asian spots centered mostly around 17th Street. There’s Aburaya for some extremely tasty Japanese fried chicken. A couple doors down is Pho 84 where you can eat classic Southern Vietnamese dishes in slightly more refined settings. Around 22nd and Broadway is one of the few Taiwanese restaurants in the East Bay, Taiwan Bento, where you can eat some Beef Noodle Soup and Gua Bao. If you need some fruit tea or boba to wash down your lunch at any of these spots you can saunter down to Yokee on Franklin Street where you can get some delicious boba or very Instagramable fruit teas.

MacArthur

The final Richmond-Millbrae line station in Oakland is MacArthur, conveniently also the closest to my apartment. It’s also the closest station to Temescal, the neighborhood that contains Oakland’s largest concentration of Korean food in Oakland (yet interestingly enough Koreatown is just to the South). 

For Korean food there are a number of options including Daol Tofu House and PyeongChang Tofu House for their namesake, and tasty, versions of soondubu. Hancook is the new restaurant in town that has Korean style hot pot. And further up Telegraph is Bowl’d, which serves a number of Korean dishes but best serves Bibimbap. Want Korean BBQ? I would venture a little further afield to Mosswood to Ohgane, a wonderful place with delicious BBQ that’s only $22 for All You Can Eat 10PM-2AM each day.

KMG at Hawking Bird

KMG at Hawking Bird

Temescal doesn’t only serve Korean food, however. Other Asian places include the oft-lauded Burma Superstar for Burmese. Down the street is Hawking Bird, the fast casual offshoot of James Syhabout’s Hawker Fare serving decent versions of khao man gai (Thai style chicken rice). Across the street from Hawking Bird and Burma Superstar is Marufuku Ramen which serves a pared down menu of excellent ramen. 

So while San Francisco has plenty of Asian food, take a BART train across the Bay to Oakland where your taste buds can expand with all these excellent options. I dare say that some of these restaurants are better than anything San Francisco has to offer on their particular cuisine.

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SinoinSocal’s Asian Food Travel Guide – San Francisco

With the summer travel season having just begun, I figured I should do a limited series combining a few things I love to do: travel, eat Asian food, and help people by giving suggestions. Hopefully by the end of the summer I’ll have guides to places including Hong Kong, Los Angeles, New York, San Diego, Vancouver, and Washington D.C. but I figure I would start with my current adopted hometown of sorts first – San Francisco (and the East Bay cities of Oakland and Berkeley).

Like most conventional travel guides, I’ll group things geographically by neighborhoods of sorts. Unlike them, however, it would be built exclusively on tourist sites and the like because, well, my blog is about Asian food I like and not Asian food I find reasonably edible within walking distance of X. Therefore, as you can see on this guide, there will be less emphasis on the twisty turns of Lombard Street or more on the delicious dumplings of the Richmond. Of course, I’ll still reference some landmarks in the guide but it’ll be more in context of the proximity to food. So without further ado (and the map)…

Chinatown/Embarcadero/Union Square
(or what to eat after riding the cable car)

Among the top tourist attractions in the city by the bay are the cable cars and Fisherman’s Wharf. While most locals turn up their noses at the thought of being caught at either, I can see why a tourist would want to experience them, if only once. The bad news is there aren’t any good Asian bites to eat at Fisherman’s Wharf (you should be getting some clam chowder or cioppino anyway), but the good news is there’s another tourist loving area close by that has an abundance: Chinatown.

Chinatown, of course, can be confusing so here are my recommendations:

Three Treasure Bao Zai Fan at China Live

Three Treasure Bao Zai Fan at China Live

  • Golden Gate Bakery (assuming they are open) for arguably the most delicious egg custard tarts in the Bay Area
  • Golden Gate Fortune Cookie if you want to see how fortune cookies are made AND get some free samples
  • Lai Hong Lounge for good dim sum in a neighborhood filled with mediocre dim sum
  • China Live for yuppie, pricey, but also tasty, Chinese food
  • Mister Jiu’s for pricier Chinese food, but worthy of its one Michelin star

But maybe you’re resting your feet by the Ferry Building and don’t want to take the hike up to Chinatown? No fear, the Slanted Door has some great, if fancy, Vietnamese for you.

Or maybe your hotel is by Union Square and you just want some food after a little r&r at the hotel or retail therapy. Well, you can definitely dip your chopsticks into some hot pot at Little Sheep; get some Michelin Star, reasonably priced Thai at Kin Khao; or get some grade A boba at Boba Guys.

SoMa & South Beach
(or what to eat after SFMOMA)

Maybe you are here for a tech conference like Dreamforce or had a visit to San Francisco’s Museum of Modern Art and need some delicious Asian food to fill your stomach.  No fear, as you are in luck! Here are a few of my recommendations in the neighborhood:

Dim Sum at Yank Sing

Dim Sum at Yank Sing

  • Yank Sing for some spendy, but pretty good, dim sum still delivered on carts
  • Tin for no fuss, but good, Vietnamese food.
  • Sorabal (Korean) and Inay Filipino Kitchen (Filipino) for spot on scrumptiousness in a mall-like food court

Little Saigon & the Tenderloin
(or what to eat for Pride or pre-theatre)

Are you in town for San Francisco Pride or Folsom Street Festival? (If you are, a very warm welcome to you!) Or maybe you’re a local just looking for a little grub before seeing a show at Bill Graham or watch a musical at the Orpheum? Well you are in luck because you are very close to some of San Francisco’s best Vietnamese and Thai food. Here are my selections for this much underappreciated part of San Francisco:

  • Turtle Tower for absolutely delicious northern style Vietnamese food (get the pho and the bun thang)
  • Them Ky for great Vietnamese Chinese food, especially noodle soups like the wonton noodle soup
  • Rose Kitchen, a new restaurant that does solid Vietnamese style Chinese food like the salt and pepper pork chops
  • Sai Jai Thai for a hole-ish in the wall Thai restaurant with all around great food

Perhaps you’re at a theatre closer to Union Square like the Curran and the American Consevatory Theatre. Well, you’re not far from a number of delicious places in the so-called “Tendernob” area:

  • 707 Sutter for some great, non-barbecue, Korean food
  • Kim Thanh for Vietnamese Chinese seafood dishes like salt and pepper shrimp, crab, and even geoduck
  • Joy’s Place for a lovely, cozy Korean owned coffee shop

Castro & the Mission
(or what to eat after an afternoon in Dolores)

Among the taquerias that (weirdly) sell burritos and yuppie brunch places, one wouldn’t think there’s too much Asian food to eat if you’re doing a mural walk or grabbing a bite after a lovely afternoon at Dolores Park, but have no fear as you can munch at these fine establishments:

  • Namu Gaji – Right next to Dolores Park is this Korean fusion place that has a pretty delicious stone pot and gamja fries
  • Ushio Ramen for a solid bowl of ramen, especially the black garlic ramen
  • Yamo for homestyle Burmese food cooked in a tiny kitchen that served Burmese food before it was hip (I recommend the chicken coconut curry noodle soup)
  • Burma Love for more modern/current Burmese food with nicer settings (recommend the tea leaf and rainbow salads)

In the Castro there are less options, but still a few after an afternoon exploring the neighborhood or watching a movie at the Castro Theatre:

  • Mama Jis – a few blocks from the main strip in the Castro is a nice, easily accessible place to get dim sum in the day and Sichuan food at night
  • Me & Tasty – The dinner menu at this place provides solid takes on Thai food
  • Qualitea – Newly opened, delicious place for boba or for some fruit spritzers & slushies

The Richmond
(or where to eat for the best dim sum)

Further afield on the west side of town is where you can find the best Chinese in town. And while the Richmond is a little bit aways from the core tourist areas, there’s enough to also do here like looking at art at the Legion of Honor or soaking in the view of the Pacific at Lands End. Just before to eat at one of these places before or after your adventures:

Juicy Pork Xiao Long Bao at Dragon Beaux

Juicy Pork Xiao Long Bao at Dragon Beaux

  • Dragon Beaux – for the best dim sum in SF (and arguably still in the US). Must gets include the set of 5 soup dumpling and the rose rice noodles roll. Come for hot pot at dinner as well.
  • Hong Kong Lounge II – the second best dim sum in town also has very solidly executed classic Cantonese dishes for dinner
  • Boiling Hot Pot – for those cold, foggy nights in San Francisco, Boiling Hot Pot’s hot pot will make you filled and warm

The Sunset
(or where to eat with all the Chinese folk)

There are even fewer tourist areas by the Sunset, but a hop, skip, and a jump from most of Golden Gate Park are the Chinese dominated strips of inner and outer Sunsets on Irving Street. So if you’re hangry for a bite after a day at the deYoung or Academy of Sciences, I recommend:

Dry Fried Chicken Wings at San Tung

Dry Fried Chicken Wings at San Tung

  • Lime Tree – for one of the few Malaysian/Indonesian places left in the city or East Bay
  • Kogi Gogi – for delicious Korean BBQ that’s about as good as you can get in the city
  • San Tung – for Chinese food that is geared a little more toward American tastes, but still amazing for their dry fried chicken wings
  • IPOT – for soothing, all you can eat hot pot during a cold summer or winter night in the city.

And further south on Taraval where both Dumpling Kitchen and Kingdom of Dumpling are known for their solid renditions of soup dumplings.

There you have it: Sinoinsocal’s guide to San Francisco. Any tips, suggestions, or feedback can be posted in the comments and hope folks will like these places as much as I do.

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Disney World Asian Food

First, I should note that I was not deliberately seeking out Asian food on my trip to Walt Disney World with my family. I know some of my readers may find it hard to believe, but I would have been perfectly content with Fish and Chips from the UK Pavilion at EPCOT and multiple servings of hash browns at the closest Waffle House (which I, in fact, did do for my first meal).

That said, my siblings were fully invested in tasting this Disney World food bucket list which included a number of Asian items. As I am game for trying any type of food, I happily went along and ended up having enough content for a blog post.

As a caveat, this post is really limited to EPCOT and Animal Kingdom. I personally avoided Magic Kingdom (which is essentially a larger Disneyland) as much as I could and had no time to eat at Hollywood Studios. So with that noted…

EPCOT

My first day at Walt Disney World this trip was spent entirely at EPCOT, which is also my favorite Disney theme park. I could probably just spend a whole day at the World Showcase part of EPCOT and still not be bored. 

As noted above, for lunch I had actually wanted to go eat fish and chips at the United Kingdom pavilion but my sister vehemently disliked the proposal. We found the French options to be fairly pricey so we scooted along to Morocco. Since I wasn’t in the mood for Moroccan food we ended up compromising by eating at Japan pavilion’s Katsura Grill.

Spicy Seafood Ramen at Katsura Grill

Spicy Seafood Ramen at Katsura Grill

Katsura Grill is Japan pavilion’s fast casual eatery with a number of items including bento boxes, ramen, udon, sushi rolls, and appetizers. My sister ordered a bento box while I decided to go with the ramen. I got the Spicy Seafood Ramen which was served with a lightly spicy seafood broth. The shrimp were cooked decently, though I didn’t taste that much garlic while the broth was a bit lighter than I hoped for. The ramen noodles were cooked decently but all in all the dish could be described as solidly average. I did try some of my sister’s Chicken Teriyaki Bento which was pretty decent with chicken that was cooked well and had a good amount of sauce without overpowering the chicken. All in all Katsura Grill was basically a Disney-fied version of mall food court Japanese food.

After lunch we strolled along to the other pavilions, stopping to get our EPCOT passports stamped at the US, Italy, and Germany pavilions before swinging by the China pavilion. We took a small break by the koi ponds at the China pavilion where I took the opportunity to go to Joy of Tea, the drink stand of the pavilion. Over there they had a Lychee Iced Tea that was super refreshing and perfectly sweetened with lychee syrup. I would highly recommend buying a cup of the tea for a nice stroll around EPCOT on a hot, sunny day. Honestly, the tea tasted as good as some of my favorite bubble tea places and I’m glad my sister-in-law found the place.

Animal Kingdom

After our first day of food at EPCOT my sister and sister-in-law texted me that they wanted to try a couple items the next day at Animal Kingdom. After doing some quick research I found out that both of those items could be found at Yak and Yeti, Animal Kingdom’s Asia area full service sit down restaurant. I quickly made a reservation for 5 for 2PM on Disney World’s app, which allowed my sister and I to wait and take a ride at Pandora’s Flight of Passage.

We arrived a little bit early for our reservation but nonetheless was seated in about 15-20 minutes. The decor is what I would describe as a fascinating “attempt” at something Nepalese or Bhutanese but with some Southeast Asian motifs. That aside, we settled into our rather large table and ordered the following:

Ahi Tuna Nachos at Yak & Yeti

Ahi Tuna Nachos at Yak & Yeti

  • Ahi Tuna Nachos – My sister-in-law’s pick was a heaping mound of nachos with marinated ahi tuna and some Asian style slaw. While it might have been a shareable “meant for 2” it certainly fed a lot more. I personally don’t like tuna very much but I did enjoy the dish and I found the crunchiness of both the nacho chips and the lettuce greens to work very well with the wasabi aioli. I would definitely order again
  • Dim Sum Basket – The dim sum basket had a couple of each item, some were hit and some were miss. The hits included the cha siu bao and the pork potstickers, both steamed really well with flavorful fillings. The shrimp dumplings and siu mai were a bit of a miss though and didn’t come near decent quality for them, even if I did admire their attempts at a thin dumpling skin.
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Korean BBQ Short Ribs and Dim Sum Basket at Yak & Yeti

  • Korean BBQ Short Ribs – We added an additional half order of the ribs and the regular rib order was definitely large enough for 2 people. The ribs themselves were pretty good, with meat falling off the bone and a sauce that combined traditional barbecue sauce elements with a hint of gochujang (a Korean hot sauce). The shoestring fries were perfect and the slaw helped cut a bit of the richness of the meat. Like the nachos, I would order these again.
  • Chicken Fried Rice – The fried rice wasn’t anything to write home about, but was pretty solid and was a nice filler and way to sop some of the sauce in the nachos and ribs.
  • Garlic Noodles – The garlic noodles were perfectly cooked with a decent amount of sauce, though could have used a little more garlic. We honestly ordered this as a cheaper filler item instead any of the lo mein options and while this was fine, an order of lo mein probably would have been better.

Honestly the portions of food at Yak & Yeti are such that we could have done without one of the side items and still been pretty full. The food here was definitely better than EPCOT and a lot more innovative too. I almost went back to Pandora to take a bite of pineapple lumpia but my stomach was sufficiently stuffed after lunch.

All in all, the Asian food in Disney World is solid, if not spectacular. That said, very few people, including myself, really go to a Disney theme park for the food. But there’s enough quality food items at Disney World to also make some of the meals memorable, in addition to the rides and the overall ambience. That said, Disney could learn a lot from the kitchens at Universal’s Harry Potter worlds in terms of making food that is remarkably tasty but also reasonably priced. Hopefully with Disney’s theme park expansions, even better and more innovative food will be coming to a Star Wars or Toy Story land near you.

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Wu Chow, Austin

Wu Chow
500 W 5th St. #168
Austin, TX 78701

When someone goes to Austin meals are generally filled with breakfast tacos or Texas barbeque, especially beef brisket. While I definitely had plenty of breakfast tacos and BBQ on my recent work trip, of course I had to try what Austin is decidedly not known for: Asian food.

Because the vast majority of my trip was catered, I only had a couple of meals on my own to explore town. Given my access to a car was also fairly limited, I decided to see what options there were around downtown Austin. Fortunately for me, there was a well reviewed place within walking distance of my hotel that also served dim sum (but, sadly, I was not able to make it to dim sum).

So on a Friday night I walked a few blocks from my hotel to Wu Chow. While still busy around 9PM, it wasn’t too long to get a table. While I waited I scanned the decor, which I would describe as some sort of “upscale contemporary Asian motif” with dim lighting and lots of dark wood. It’s the type of decor that would have sent alarm bells on the price tag if I were in San Francisco, Los Angeles, or New York but the prices were comparatively reasonable.

When I sat down I ordered one of their mocktails and browsed the menu, which leaves heavily on Sichuan and Shanghainese flavors. While I would have loved to order more, having a limited stomach meant that I stuck to more “classic” dishes to give a little better judgement and comparison of the food. I ended up settling on the following:

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Shanghai Soup Dumplings at Wuchow

  • Shanghai Soup Dumplings (小籠包) – In reviews, the soup dumplings came up many times as one of the noteworthy dishes. The dumplings did not disappoint, coming out freshly steamed with deliciously rich soup and tender, well seasoned pork meatballs inside. The dumpling skins were a little thick but tore just right so they were perfect to bit into. Would definitely recommend.
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Dry Fried Local Green Beans

  • Dry Fried Local Green Beans (乾煸四季豆) – This version of the classic was simple and the “wok hei” came out very well, giving that perfectly stir fried snap a good version of this dish is known for. It could have used a bit more spice to help flavor the dish but otherwise it was simply delicious.
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Mapo Doufu with Minced Pork

  • Mapo Dofu with Minced Pork (麻婆豆腐) – The interesting part of this dish is that instead of chunks or cubes of tofu, it was like a shallow dish of steamed silken tofu with simmer mapo sauce on top. Once I got used to the different style, the tofu and the sauce blended well. I think it could have used a little more Sichuan peppercorns and bean paste to kick up the spiciness but all in all it was solid.

At about $11-15 per entree item, the food was a bargain too in terms of prices I was used to (albeit I admit this could be considered moderately pricey for an Austin resident). But regardless of the price, the dishes are great and on par with what you can find in a larger coastal city with more Chinese residents. If you’re looking for a culinary detour after eating enough breakfast tacos and BBQ, I would certainly recommend trying a taste of Wu Chow when you’re in Austin.

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No Car, No Problem? #BARTable Asian Food Part 3

Part 3 of this series takes us to admittedly the hardest, and generally most consistently evolving, BARTable area in terms of surveying the Asian food landscape. Why? Because it takes us to the heart of downtown San Francisco where a number of San Francisco Asian retail and culinary districts are located and the landscape of food in the area is ever evolving. Part of my hesitance to finish this part of the series is on how fast everything changes but I just realized that I can’t be paralyzed by the constantly evolving landscape, otherwise I’d never finish this post and move on to the next post, my stomping grounds in Oakland.

So here we go, a BART station by station guide to downtown San Francisco as of March 2018.

Civic Center Station

Civic Center and the Tenderloin is home to San Francisco’s Little Saigon, a community of Vietnamese immigrants that started springing up in the 1970s and 1980s as refugees from the Vietnam War and its aftermath immigrated here. Over the past few decades the strip of Larkin Street in the Tenderloin has been a center of Vietnamese businesses in the city. As such, you’ll find wonderful places to taste Vietnamese cuisine such as the Vietnamese Chinese style wonton noodle soup at Hai Ky Mi Gia and neighboring Them Ky. You can get Southern Vietnamese style pho at Pho 2000 and Northern Vietnamese pho and other items at Turtle Tower. Banh Mi chain Lee’s Sandwiches also has a location on this stretch of Larkin between Eddy and O’Farrell.

While Vietnamese cuisine has been in the Tenderloin for decades, that last ten years has seen a wave of Thai cuisine in the neighborhood. This includes an outpost of the swanky-ish Ler Ros and the more mom and pop San Jai Thai. If you want Northern style Thai with some fantastic Lao specialities, there’s Tycoon Thai.

Powell Station

Pad Kee Mao at Kin Khao

Pad Kee Mao at Kin Khao

Powell Street Station is the stop for Union Square, the central shopping hub of the city and the area with an endless array of hotels catering to the millions of (mostly well to do) tourists that travel to the city. As such, I generally don’t recommend any Asian restaurant around Union Square and the parts of SoMa near Powell.

However, there are a few bright spots. Northeast of the station, slightly removed from the tourist and shopping hubbub, are a few solid choices. Among them include Chinese hot pot chain Little Sheep, delicious ramen shop Mensho Tokyo, Korean restaurant 707 Sutter, hole in the wall Filipino diner Tselogs, and Vietnamese Chinese seafood restaurant Kim Thanh.

Right by the BART station in the heart of the hustle and bustle are some good options, especially if your wallet is a little more hefty. Michelin starred Kin Khao serves terrific Thai food (their tasting menu, though pricy, is absolutely worth it) and Hakkasan serves solidly refined Cantonese cuisine. And not to be remiss is Tin, a good Vietnamese restaurant in SoMa.

Montgomery Station

Three Treasure Bao Zai Fan at China Live

Three Treasure Bao Zai Fan at China Live

Montgomery Station drops you off in San Francisco’s Financial District. While there are are a few gems during the lunchtime rush like Señor Sisig‘s regular food truck locations on 2nd Street and Pine Street, it’s a rather barren place as a whole for quality Asian food.

However, Montgomery Street is the closest BART station to San Francisco Chinatown. While the hike to Chinatown is generally uphill and requires at least a 10-15 minute walk from the BART station, most places in the neighborhood aren’t too far to be considered unwalkable. Closer to the BART station on the flatter Kearny Street you can find such restaurants as vaunted Cantonese seafood place R&G Lounge, Taiwanese tea and food experts Hanlin Tea Room, and Sichuanese noodle specialist Chong Qing Xiao Mian. 

Further up the hill include upscale Eataly styled restaurant/food emporium China Live and a number of longstanding Cantonese places. These include Kam Po, a delicious purveyor of Cantonese BBQ, and Lai Hong Lounge, a dim sum and Chinese seafood restaurant.

Embarcadero Station

Wood Oven Roasted Branzino at the Slanted Door

Wood Oven Roasted Branzino at the Slanted Door

And finally at the eastern end of San Francisco before BART heads through the Transbay Tube is Embarcadero Station. Like Montgomery Station there isn’t a plethora of Asian food around it, as expense account new American and European influenced restaurants are generally the norm. A couple bright spots do exist though (and both are also fairly pricey): Yank Sing, a solid purveyor of dim sum with 2 locations, and The Slanted Door, a Vietnamese restaurant that may not live to its previous heights but still serves well executed food.

Downtown San Francisco, overall, has a great volume of Asian restaurants though finding a good one can be like finding a needle in a haystack.  Hopefully this guide can help cut across the clutter and won’t be dated too soon. 

I can’t wait until the next part of this series though, as I head across the bay to my hometown of Oakland.

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Sheng Hui Dim Sum, West Covina

Sheng Hui Dim Sum
2889 E. Valley Blvd Ste J
West Covina, CA 91752

West Covina is probably most known as the setting for the acclaimed (and hilarious) TV show Crazy Ex-Girlfriend or ,to many San Gabriel Valley locals, as the town with the mall. While it is a fairly diverse city, one thing it isn’t known for is dim sum. Dim sum lovers in LA can rattle off a number of beloved dim sum seafood palaces in Monterey Park, Alhambra, Rosemead, Rowland Heights, San Gabriel, and even Temple City but West Covina, sandwiched in between the Chinese enclaves in the West San Gabriel Valley (i.e. Monterey Park) and the East San Gabriel Valley (i.e. Walnut), is conspicuously left out of the mix.

But now West Covina may have a legitimate dim sum contender amongst the fiercely competitive scene in the San Gabriel Valley. Sheng Hui Dim Sum opened in December and this West Covina dim sum joint already has garnered favorable reviews in foodie forums and by “celebrity diner” David Chan. Though to be fair, the part of West Covina it’s in is on a part of Valley Boulevard that’s practically Walnut or nearby Rowland Heights. In fact, the closest freeway exit is Nogales Road off state route 60, the same exit you would take to shop at the Rowland Heights 99 Ranch Market.

Nonetheless, I took my Chinese New Year trip down to SoCal as an opportunity to taste how Sheng Hui stacks up to the more famous places in the more established communities of the 626. I came around 1PM on Presidents’ Day and there was a small line. Sheng Hui is in a very small space and, thus, ordering can be a bit confusing. There is seating, but only about four 2-top and one 4-top tables and you’ll have to wait until they are clear. Otherwise you can order to go, as most people do. If you do wait for a seat you can either fill out the order tick sheet beforehand and wait or wait to sit down and then fill it out. I opted to do the former to save myself time once I sat. I ordered the following, though by the time I sat down around 1:30PM a couple items I wanted were sold out.

Steamed Shrimp Dumplings at Sheng Hui

Steamed Shrimp Dumplings at Sheng Hui

  • Steamed Shrimp Dumpling 鮮味蝦餃皇 – These were pretty good with wrappers that were dextrous and not too thick. The shrimp filling was decent as well with chunks of shrimp mixed with bamboo shoots for texture and a dash of salt and pepper. I’d say a solid 8 out of 10 for a shrimp dumpling.
Roe Shrimp Shui Mai at Sheng Hui

Roe Shrimp Shui Mai at Sheng Hui

  • Roe Shrimp Shui Mai 魚子蝦燒賣 – Honestly these were some of the best shui mai I have had outside of Hong Kong (and heck, better than some I’ve had in Hong Kong). The pork and shrimp were moist and tender with perfect amounts of seasoning. What’s most significant though is that they put fresh roe on top on the shui mai after they’ve steamed to perfection. Honestly that is what makes the difference. Most dim sum places cook it with the roe, practically destroying the flavor of the roe, but over here you can taste both the succulent meat filling and the delicate flavors of the fish roe on top, all for $3.18.
  • Sticky Rice Chicken Wrapped 荷香糯米雞– They were actually sold out of what I wanted, the steamed spareribs rice, but this was a solid consolation. There were two jumbo sized packets of chicken in sticky rice. I like how the flavor of the sticky rice wasn’t too overpowered from the juices of the meat and sauces. However the meat was only so so and the dish was decent but not anything wow-ing.
  • Choy Sum Fried with Garlic 蒜香炒菜心 – This was a hearty plate of choy sum that was well worth the $5.99 paid for it. The choy sum was fresh and the garlic gave the dish a simple, yet flavorful, aroma. I wish there was slightly less oil but that’s just quibbling.
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Coconut Little White Rabbit at Sheng Hui

  • Coconut Little White Rabbit 椰絲小白兔 – Dessert was basically these cute little marshmallow shaped rabbits with dusting of coconut shavings. While they seem rather incongruous with dim sum, they tasted pretty good! If only there were some chocolate and graham crackers to go with it for some s’mores.

The verdict? Sheng Hui is pretty good with some of the best classic dim sum dishes in the San Gabriel Valley (and therefore the entire nation). I love that the dishes are steamed very fresh and there’s high turnover which means little to no items are oversteamed. I do like that they also have some creative items too in addition to the classics. But above all, I love that they do the classics right. I hope these small mom and pop business puts West Covina on the map as another San Gabriel Valley dim sum destination.

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Boba/Milk Tea Trends

(Lunar) New Year, new me, I suppose. On Friday, the first day of the lunar new year for Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese, and other Asian communities, I decided to take my first sip of the trend that swept through China and landed on our American shores in the past year or two: salted cheese cream.

Yes, I know what you might think. Salted cheese foam/cream on tea, even bubble tea? What is going on? That just sounds downright nasty. And honestly, I get it. For about a year I was skeptical and to bring myself to combine cheese with milk tea or even regular green tea sounded as distant a possibility as Adam Rippon going back into the straight and narrow closet. However, for the sake of this blog and for my desire to try most Asian related food items, it was time to give it a go just once.

So on Friday I drove to the Gardena location of Happy Lemon, a Chinese milk tea chain that has rapidly expanded in North America and helped driven the popularity of salted cheese foam drinks in American communities with many Chinese residents. Locations of the chain can be found in Chinese American enclaves like Flushing, Monterey Park, Cupertino, and Berkeley. (Of course there are many other locations that serve salted cheese tea, including in places with less concentrations of Chinese folk)

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Salted Cheese Tea Drinks at Happy Lemon

When I stepped to the counter I asked the friendly cashier what would be the best drink for my first time. She suggested the salted cheese green tea, which I ordered. I was also intrigued by the milk tea with tiramisu cream cheese so I ordered that as well. Within minutes I got my drinks and promptly did a little taste testing:

  • Salted Cheese Green Tea – This “classic” salted cheese drink (which is generally one of the simplest versions too) combines a moderate layer of salted cheese foam on top with sweetened ice green tea below. In general you should tilt the drink at an angle of at least 45 degrees to allow some of the tea and the cheese foam to mix and enter your mouth. The cheese foam was actually not bad. In it’s defense, it’s kind of a misnomer because it’s basically whipped/foamy cream cheese with a little salt in it. It blended reasonably well with the green tea, allowing the saltiness and the umami flavor of the foam to accent the sweetness of the tea. Not bad, but not really my favorite.
  • Milk Tea with Oreo and Tiramisu Salted Cheese – Next I tried a drink with tiramisu salted cheese. I liked the tiramisu salted cheese better mainly because I also like the tiramisu flavor with gives a bit of sweetness and slight coffee taste to the salted cheese foam. With the milk tea, it was nice if a tad sweet. The Oreo topping did add a nice amount of crunch but added to the sweetness overload. Though given that I was in a sweet dessert/Starbucks-like drink kind of mode, it was definitely perfect for the moment.

All in all, despite the English name, the salted cheese tea drinks really aren’t bad. Are they good and word trying I guess really depends if you like creamy, slightly salted foam to go with your drinks. They certainly pair well with certain drinks (I hear the pairing with black tea is actually pretty good), but it’s not something I would necessarily crave. I would definitely try it out and taste for yourself. If you don’t like it, you never have to taste it again and there are plenty of non-salted drinks at these places that you’ll have options even if your friends are obsessed with it.

 

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Kenny’s Noodle House, Portland

Kenny’s Noodle House
8305 SE Powell Street
Portland, OR 97266

Portland gets critical raves for its food, beer, and coffee, and rightfully so. From a plate of Hainanese chicken rice at Nong’s Khao Man Gai to sipping a nitro coffee at Stumptown, there’s a lot of food and drink to please the palate. However, while Portland wins rave reviews for its Thai food, including the aforementioned Nong’s and Pok Pok, its other Asian cuisine restaurants are a bit under the radar, including its Chinese cuisine.

One of those places flying under the radar of all the blogs and travel guides is Kenny’s Noodle House, a small restaurant in Portland’s Jade District centered on SE 82nd Avenue. The specialty at this quasi hole-in-the-wall restaurant is Cantonese style noodle soups and congee. While it has been open since 2008, it wasn’t until a year or two ago that it was featured in an article in Portland’s alternative weekly, the Willamette Weekly. And with a 4 star rating with 351 reviews on Yelp, I was compelled to finally try it out this past weekend in Portland (though I had attempted to eat there last summer while it was closed for vacation).

My friends and I arrived at 6:30PM on a Sunday night, finding ample parking and a table for 3. While it was nice not to be in painfully long lines as many of Portland’s more famous restaurants, I soon realized the downside of coming here for dinner. They were sold out of congee, a breakfast staple in Cantonese cuisine. I couldn’t begrudge them too much given that I clearly should have gone here earlier for breakfast or lunch, but it was a little disappointing. Nonetheless, there were noodle soups to be eaten and after careful consideration we ordered the following:

Wonton Noodle Soup at Kenny's Noodle House

Wonton Noodle Soup at Kenny’s Noodle House

  • Wonton Noodle Soup 鮮蝦雲吞麵 – The soup was pretty good with a lighter seafood aroma accented by pieces of yellow chives. The wontons were on point too, being almost entirely shrimp that was seasoned well with salt and pepper. Sadly the noodles were a little overcooked but not enough that I didn’t find this one of the best bowls of wonton noodle soup I’ve had in the US.
  • Beef Brisket Noodle Soup 柱侯牛腩麵 – The soup was a little milder than I’m used to but otherwise it was fairly good and the beef brisket was tender and well marinated. Like the wonton noodle soup, the noodles were a bit softer than I liked, but otherwise a solid version of this classic dish.
Sliced Beef with Ginger & Green Onion in Oyster Sauce

Sliced Beef with Ginger & Green Onion in Oyster Sauce at Kenny’s Noodle House

  • Sliced Beef with Ginger & Green Onion in Oyster Sauce 薑蔥牛肉撈麵 – In a different turn I ordered an authentic style lo mein (as opposed to the ones you find at an Americanized Chinese restaurant). The noodles were a bit better here and I liked the beef slices. However, there could have been slightly less oyster sauce as it was a little overpowering at times.
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Bok Choy with Oyster Sauce at Kenny’s Noodle House

  • Bok Choy with Oyster Sauce 蠔油小白菜 – I really wanted to get the Ung Choy but sadly they were sold out. However, this was fairly tasty as the bok choy was blanched perfectly with just enough oyster sauce on the side to flavor but not overpower. Would certainly order again.

All in all, Kenny’s Noodle House is still somewhat of a “hidden” (to the non-Cantonese) gem that serves absolutely delicious noodle soups. I only wish I was able to try out the congee, but that just means I need to return to Portland again!

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Longo Seafood, Rosemead

Longo Seafood
7540 Garvey Ave, Suite A
Rosemead, CA 91770

As David Chan wrote in his latest Menuism article, Los Angeles (and mainly the San Gabriel Valley) is on the uptick on good, innovative dim sum again. After plateauing for a good decade where Sea Harbour, Elite, King Hua, and Lunasia dominated the top tier, the last year or so have seen an uptick again on innovative and solidly executed dim sum. And now, a few months after Xiang Yuan Gourmet hit the scene, we now have Longo Seafood in Rosemead trying to make its mark.

I went last Friday during my most recent trip to SoCal for the holidays hoping to see how Longo Seafood stacks up and to taste for myself on whether a new wave of innovation is, in fact, coming to the Cantonese seafood palaces of the San Gabriel Valley. Arriving around 11, I was seated quite quickly as a party of one. Like other top places in California, you order off a menu. The restaurant has a ton of interesting and innovative items so it took me a while to figure out what exactly I wanted to order. In the end I got the following:

Kaya (Coconut Jam) Pastry at Longo Seafood

Kaya (Coconut Jam) Pastry at Longo Seafood

  • Kaya (Coconut Jam) Pastry 傳統雞印包 – These little buns instantaneously look me to heaven. The outside is a superbly baked “pineapple” bun while the inside is filled with luscious kaya jam. Not quite as good as jam found in Singapore, but delicious all the same and I devoured every last one. This was a very unique and wonderfully delicious dish.
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BBQ Supreme and Golden Red Rice Rolls at Longo Seafood

  • BBQ Supreme Rice Rolls 燒味手拉腸 – The bbq in these rice rolls were nice, succulent morsels of roast suckling pig. The rice rolls were lightly and freshly pulled, making for a nice balance between the fatty pork, the delicate, yet dextrous, rice rolls, and the slightly sweet soy sauce. A little expensive, but would definitely ordering again.
  • Golden Red Rice Rolls 金絲紅米腸 – The “golden” part of these golden rice rolls are lightly fried dried scallop. The slight savoriness of the dried scallop balances out the light sweetness of the red rice rolls for a nice, fairly simple dish. Unfortunately I had 2 rice noodle dishes so I couldn’t really finish these all.
  • Longo Shrimp Dumpling 鴻德蝦餃皇 – These shrimp dumplings had a nice, not too big, filling of diced shrimp with just enough salt and pepper to enhance the shrimp’s natural flavor. While the dumpling skins were decent, these were just a tad too thick so it was a little more difficult in tearing.
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Mushroom Bun at Longo Seafood

  • Mushroom Bun 鮮奶油蘑菇包 – In another case of “I should have read the Chinese description first”, I found these to be disappointing. It wasn’t because the restaurant didn’t properly label in Chinese, but because I had hoped these mushroom buns were filled with, well, mushrooms instead of just looking like one. Unfortunately, instead of being a savory treat they were filled with cream. So as a cream bun in the shape of a mushroom, it was nice if a little less sweet than I’d like, but as a person who wanted a savory mushroom filling it wasn’t that great.

All in all I do think Longo Seafood is another spot raising the standard and innovation for dim sum in the San Gabriel Valley. Do I think it’s quite up to the level of Dragon Beaux in San Francisco in terms of execution yet? No. However given the sheer number of high quality, innovative items, it could be soon before Longo Seafood and other LA spots takes the crown again for best dim sum in the US.

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Hawking Bird, Oakland

Hawking Bird
4901 Telegraph Ave
Oakland, CA 94609

A lot of Oaklanders were disheartened when James Syhabout’s acclaimed Hawker Fare in Oakland’s uptown area closed earlier this year to make way for more luxury condos and apartments. While you could go to his 2 Michelin star restaurant, Commis, on Piedmont Ave or venture to San Francisco’s Mission District to the remaining outpost of Hawker Fare, East Bay residents yearning for Syhabout’s taste for Northern Thai were waiting for a huge hole to be filled. Fortunately, Syhabout decided to create a fast casual concept called Hawking Bird focusing on Thai style poached and fried chicken.

Hawking Bird opened on Thursday, when, coincidentally enough, I was doing some research to see where my friends should eat for lunch on Saturday. Given the rave reviews of the Khao Mun Gai (Thai version of Hainanese Chinese Rice) at Hawker Fare, I was excited to try it out and it happened to be a short-ish walk from my house.

We met up a little after 12:30PM. There were still a good number of seats and tables available so I sat down and reserved a table for us. When my friends came over, we took a look at the menu quickly and stood in line to order. A few minutes later, our buzzers rang and we picked up our food at the pick up counter near the kitchen. We ordered the following:

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KMG at Hawking Bird

  • KMG – Hawking Bird’s version of khao mun gai is flavorful with chicken poached just to doneness (though a friend of mine who also ordered the dish feared it may have not been quite cooked through). The meat was tender and the subtle flavor helped the sauce shine through and meld perfectly. The rice itself had the flavor of the poached chicken broth that allowed it to be aromatic without being too rich and fatty. Overall, a pretty good rendition of the dish.
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The Hawking Bird with Garlic Noodles

  • The Hawking Bird, Boxed – 2 of my friends got the hawking bird, one with the rice cooked with chicken fat and the other with the garlic noodles. The difference between the hawking bird and the KMG, as you can see in the pictures, is that the hawking bird itself is fried with a spicy jam-like sauce on top. The chicken was fried perfectly and the jam gave it a slightly sweet and perfectly spicy kick to it. It melded well with the rice but the garlic noodles were even better. The garlic noodles were made with perfectly cooked wheat noodles that had a nice kick of garlic and a very savory soy-based sauce. My one slight quibble with it was that when I ate part of my friend’s leftovers, the sauce of the garlic noodles and the jam of the hawking bird could meld into a concoction that’s a tad bit salty. But otherwise, you can’t go wrong with either dish.
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Tum Style Spicy Picked Vegetables at Hawking Bird

  • Tum Style Spicy Vegetable Pickles – The vegetables included in the pickles were carrots, onions, and green beans. I liked the pickles in that it provided a nice slightly sour kick that helped cut the richness in the other bites of food I was eating. While there was a nice amount of fish sauce, unfortunately I didn’t feel it was very spicy so those who are excited about the “spicy” part of the name are warned before getting disappointed.
  • Fried Tater Tots – The tater tots were pretty good, though I think they could have been fried just a slight bit longer. The seasoning was nice and light and my friends and I surmised that the seasoning is a mixture of seaweed powder, salt, and pepper. It was definitely a hit amongst the table.

All in all I really loved the Hawking Bird and think it’s a good addition to Temescal, providing good food at reasonable prices in a fast casual style. They are still open for limited hours until they get a liquor license for the bar and everything else up and running. However, if you manage to be in the Temescal area for lunch, I definitely recommend taking a bite at Hawking Bird.

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