Category Archives: Bay Area

Nyum Bai, Oakland

Nyum Bai
3340 E 12th St. Ste. 11
Oakland, CA 94601

I visited Nyum Bai when it was briefly at Emeryville Public Market a few years ago. But ever since they moved to their current brick & mortar location in Fruitvale, I had never gone until a friend of mine suggested we go there to eat dinner and catch up a few weeks ago. Naturally, I was excited to go as now I could explore a fuller menu of Cambodian dishes I could not try when they were in a small food hall stall.

We went on a Sunday night and while the restaurant was fairly busy, we didn’t have to wait too long for a table inside their cramped indoor seating area (they also have an outdoor seating area for larger parties). After being seated we perused their entree options, though our server had informed us that dishes that night, including the Amok (catfish) dish I was thinking of trying. Despite that, we ordered the following:

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Pea Tendrils at Nyum Bai

Cha Pea Tendrils – I am a complete sucker for pea tendrils and these were no different. The slightly sweet and umami filled sauce complimented the crunch and nuttiness of the pea tendrils. The fried garlic was an excellent touch as well.

Koh at Nyum Bai

Koh at Nyum Bai

Koh – There weren’t a lot of these pork belly cubes, but they were so succulently tender with fat that melted in my mouth. The sauce was rich with the simmered pork flavor accented with spices like star anise. The sauce made the bamboo shoots and slice of boiled egg really tasty too.

Lok Lah at Nyum Bai

Lok Lah at Nyum Bai

Lok Lak – The cubes of beef were juicy and tender and the fat of the beef was perfectly cut with the tangy citrus vinaigrette. The romaine lettuce and tomatoes provided a touch of freshness as well.

In addition to the noodle soup (Kuy Teav Phnom Penh) I had back when they were at Public Market, I have loved every dish at Nyum Bai. It may not be in the trendiest, most gentrifying neighborhoods in Oakland, but it is certainly worth the detour down to Fruitvale (and a couple blocks away from Fruitvale BART!). I will certainly go again soon so I can taste every dish on the menu.

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Harborview, San Francisco

Harborview
4 Embarcadero Center
San Francisco, CA 94111

Late last year Harborview opened up in the space that housed former Crystal Jade Jian Nan (a branch of the famed Singaporean Crystal Jade chain that opened to harsh reviews). The new restaurant was opened by a former founder of the vaunted R&G Lounge in Chinatown and serves Cantonese food. In a typical Cantonese seafood restaurant fashion, they serve dim sum during lunch hours and higher end seafood specialities in the evening.

Since they serve dim sum, of course I had to try it and so I invited a high school friend of mine a couple weeks ago to see how it is. I made a reservation and we were seated with ease at 1PM on a Sunday. We were given a menu but since carts came around fairly regularly (and, perhaps, a bit aggressively on occasion), we decided to just order off the carts. Over the course of the hour and a half we were there we got the following:

Steamed Kurobuta Pork & Shrimp Dumplings (Siu Mai) at Harborview

Steamed Kurobuta Pork & Shrimp Dumplings (Siu Mai) at Harborview

  • Steamed Kurobuta Pork & Shrimp Dumplings (Siu Mai) – The siu mai were fairly good with a nice snap of the pork and shrimp. They were topped with a little shrimp roe as well. They could have been seasoned a little more or perhaps added with slightly more flavor, however.
Steamed Rice Flour Rolls with Beef at Harborview

Steamed Rice Flour Rolls with Beef at Harborview

  • Steamed Rice Flour Rolls with Beef – The rice noodle rolls were very nice, absorbing the sauce and holding the thin ground beef mixture while keeping its shape. The sweet soy sauce was nice without overpowering and the ground beef mixture had a nice hint of cilantro and scallions.
  • Steamed Shrimp Dumplings (Har Gow) – The shrimp dumplings were solid. The shrimp was plump and just the right amount for the dumpling wrappers. The wrappers were a touch thick but the perfect texture so they were too gummy or delicate. I do wish the shrimp had a little more salt and pepper but overall pretty good.
Chinese Bacon and Sausage Sticky Rice at Harborview

Chinese Bacon and Sausage Sticky Rice at Harborview

  • Chinese Bacon and Sausage Sticky Rice – Harborview’s stir fried sticky rice had liberal amounts of diced lap cheong and salty Chinese bacon, topped off with some thin slices of steamed egg (which I had never seen before). While it was well executed in general, it did feel a bit one note with the salt and umami of the protein. It probably could have used a little more green onions or some more pepper for some brightening for flavor.
  • Steamed Pork Spareribs with Black Bean Sauce – The pork spareribs were pretty meaty and because they spent very little time in the carts, was cooked well but not overcooked. The black bean sauce was pretty light but enough to give that signature savory umami flavor.
  • Deep Fried Glutinous Rice Dumplings with Assorted Meat Filling – This was probably one of the better “ham sui gok” (鹹水角) I have had. The glutinous rice dumpling skin was perfectly fried and the minced meat filling was well seasoned with a good mix of mushrooms and ground meat. Given that I didn’t quite have high expectations for this dish in general, the Harborview version was surprisingly good.

The total bill for these 6 items ended up being around $60 which is fairly steep at $30 a person. However, I would say that the dim sum is well executed, even if a little pricey. If you want good dim sum at a refined setting without going to the Richmond or Koi Palace, Harborview is great and arguably even better than fellow neighborhood swanky dim sum place, Yank Sing.

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Hancook, Oakland

Hancook
4315 Telegraph Ave
Oakland, CA 94609

Hancook has intrigued me over the past year it has opened due to its menu of Korean hot pots. Given the size of the hot stone pots seem to be for at least 2 people, it was hard to connect with other folks and make the timing right to try it out until this past month. Finally, after all the election activity and holidays were over I was able to set some time with a couple of friends in Oakland to finally try the food.

When we sat down, we looked at the menu which, while not that long, had a lot of new items I had never had. It took a few minutes to decide, but we settled down on the three items below after debating which hot pot we wanted. A few weeks later I tried the other hot pot I debated on getting, which is also reviewed below:

Kong Sam at Hancook

Kong Sam at Hancook

  • Kong Sam – This dish was a large, but relatively shallow, pot of spicy broth with slices of beef, small glutinous rice cakes (what some people of European descent would call dumplings), lots of bean sprouts, and slices of scallions. The dish was really flavorful with the beef complimenting the spicy broth very well. The rice cakes were nice as well and a great utensil to soak up the broth. It was a very large portion and definitely feed at least 2 people.
  • Seafood Buchimgae (Korean Pancake) – The pancake was really large and definitely meant as an appetizer for at least 3-4 people. It was very tasty with nice thin layers egg, sliced vegetables, and seafood. This is probably one of the best Korean Pancakes I have had.
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Bossam at Hancook

  • Bossam – The bossam was literally this restaurant’s pièce de résistance with melt in your mouth slices of boiled pork belly with ssamjang (a spicy Korean dipping sauce) and as much of the wrap accoutrements to your hearts content including, but not limited to, garlic, chiles, slices of pickle daikon, perilla leaves, and sliced carrots. In particular, the perilla leaves, daikon, ssamjang, and pork slices together were heavenly as the pork melt in my mouth and was cut very well with the slight sourness of the daikon, minty flavor of the perilla leaf, and spice of the ssamjang. Even writing about this makes me salivate.
  • House Speciality Hot Pot – I got an individual serving of the hot pot a couple weeks later to try it out (as on my first visit the wait staff steered us to the excellent Kong Sam). The hot pot consisted of beef, tofu, and spinach in a beef broth. The hot pot was just alright but the kicker of this dish is when you’re finished with the soup portion they will then go use the remainder to cook a fried rice with the stone pot. The fried rice, which added vegetables and some napa cabbage kimchi, was much better. This dish is okay but I think I’d survey the other excellent dishes here before coming to this.

All in all Hancook is an excellent addition to the numerous great Korean options you can find on Telegraph Ave in Temescal. I would definitely order the Bossam (if you eat pork) and try the many other hot pot dishes they have there. I, myself, am looking forward to try the rest of the menu in the coming year (and more!).

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Bird & Buffalo, Oakland

Bird & Buffalo
4659 Telegraph Ave
Oakland, CA 94609

This year my neighborhood has had not one, but two ,fast casual Thai restaurants open up. Earlier this year I reviewed one of them, Hawking Bird, and loved it but never got around to the other, Bird & Buffalo, until a few weeks ago.

When a friend was in town for some meetings, I figured it was a perfect time to finally try out the place as they was staying just a few blocks away from Bird & Buffalo at another friend’s place. We ate a whole bunch of vegetarian items since they are vegetarian. However, since I am omnivorous (and I believe most readers of this blog are), I decided to wait to blog about it until I ate a meat dish. So earlier today I swung by the restaurant to eat dinner and can finally give you all a complete picture.

So here it goes with all the dishes I’ve had at Bird & Buffalo so far:

Larb Hed at Bird & Buffalo

Larb Hed at Bird & Buffalo

  • Larb Hed – The mushrooms and tofu were stir fried really well with the onions, garlic, cilantro, salt, and pepper. It was plated with some lettuce so you could eat it like a lettuce wrap. With a drizzle of lime juice, this was probably the best dish we had for the meal.
  • Bamee Tom Yum – We ordered the Bamee Tom Yum with tofu. The vegetable broth was delicious with just enough spiciness to give it a kick but not overpowering. The spice played really well with the slight sourness of the soup and the vegetables and tofu were pretty filling. The noodles were a bit limp and overcooked, which is the only complaint I could muster for a dish that will be pretty satisfying on any cold winter’s day.
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Fried Cauliflower at Bird & Buffalo

  • Fried Cauliflower – Unfortunately this dish was more of a miss. While the cauliflower had a nice snap, sadly they were deep fried with a bit too much breading. The breading itself was fairly soft so it became more of a soft doughy coated cauliflower than the crunchy, slightly spiced fried cauliflower it could have been.
  • Blistered Garlic Green Beans – I ordered these green beans both times and they were even better the second time. The green beans were perfectly stir fried with just a hint of garlic. With a little minced pork, it could have been like my mom’s very delicious green bean recipe!
Gai Yaang at Bird & Buffalo

Gai Yaang at Bird & Buffalo

  • Gai Yaang – The chicken was roasted perfectly with moist meat and skin with just enough crisp. The chicken seemed to have been seasoned and brined with a few spices before hand giving a nice kick. The slaw has a really nice balance of sweet and sour flavor (probably with a little fish sauce) that cut the fat and the spice of the chicken very well.

Overall, Bird & Buffalo is an excellent addition to the neighborhood and most dishes were very flavorful and well made. It’s fairly affordable for the Bay Area as well. You can definitely get a filling meal for two under $20 a person before any beverages. Best of all, it’s a place that has a number of vegetarian options as well. I would highly recommend Bird & Buffalo, and it’s just another reason why I love living by Temescal.

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Grocery Cafe, Oakland

Grocery Cafe
90 Franklin St
Oakland, CA 94607

The Bay Area has a plethora of Burmese food and it seems like nearly all Bay Area cities with a downtown strip have at least one Burmese restaurant. While many of them are tasty, truth be told I find some of them more “entry level” Burmese introducing the cuisine to American palates. I like Burma Superstar enough, but until now I never really felt the restaurants had quite the depth of flavor as some of the homecooked Burmese food of the family friends I grew up in church with.

But one restaurant had always intrigued me: Grocery Cafe. I had initially wanted to go to Grocery Cafe in their previous East Oakland location but never made it. However, more recently they moved to a location by Jack London Square so a couple weeks ago I took advantage of the opportunity by having dinner with my friends there to debrief Crazy Rich Asians.

The restaurant is a little cozy, but elegantly decorated and we sat at a table by the street facing window. We took a look at the menu and decided to eat family style and ordered the following:

Tea Leaf Salad at Grocery Cafe

Tea Leaf Salad at Grocery Cafe

  • Tea Leaf Salad – I loved this rendition of tea leaf salad. The tea leaf was a lot more noticeable and front of center than the cabbage and tomato heavy creations in other Bay Area Burmese restaurants. This really gave the salad that kick of fermented tea leaf and nutty flavor that was absolutely delicious
  • Mohinga – This was probably the closest version of the homemade mohinga I had as a kid by far. Presented in a large tureen there was an abundance of noodles and the fish chowder soup was flavorful without being too thick. I loved that they presented the fritter and condiments on the side to keep them crunchy instead of other places that just put them in and where they can be soggy when it hits the table
Sauteed and Simmered Catfish at Grocery Cafe

Sauteed and Simmered Catfish at Grocery Cafe

  • Sauteed and Simmered Catfish – The catfish were lightly fried and simmered in a very flavorful tomato-rich sauce. The basil gave an herbal freshness that paired well with the fattiness of the catfish.
Mango and Chutney Pork at Grocery Cafe

Mango and Chutney Pork at Grocery Cafe

  • Mango Chutney Pork Stew – The pork was slightly chewy but the mango chutney had a very good balance of sweet and savory. Not only was it a good marinade for the pork, but very nice to flavor the rice as well!
  • Coconut Rice – The coconut rice was satisfyingly delicious. I honestly would have been just fine with plain jasmine rice but it was a nice indulgence I can generally only find in Burmese restaurants in the Bay.

All in all, I loved Grocery Cafe and thought it was the best Burmese I have had in the Bay Area so far. Best of all, I don’t even have to wait in line as I would have to at the Burma Superstar within walking distance of my house. I would happily take a longer diversion to Grocery Cafe and would love to try their Ohno Khao Swe (Coconut Chicken Curry Noodle Soup) next time. And for my vegetarian friends, they have a Vegetarian Hinga Soup too!

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The Temple Club, Oakland

The Temple Club
2307 International Boulevard
Oakland, CA 94601

Originally I was going to write a post about China Chilcano, the fabulous Jose Andres helmed restaurant serving chifa (Peruvian Chinese) cuisine in DC. However, with the passing of beloved LA Times food critic, Jonathan Gold, this week, I decided to reach into my long backlog and discuss a newer place in Oakland that I think Jonathan Gold would love if he strolled on by Oakland’s International Blvd.

I went to the Temple Club about a month and a half ago with two good friends of mine who also love to eat and explore good food in the East Bay. Originally we had wanted to go to Filipino/Soul Food fusion restaurant Flipnsoul, but they were closed so we went to nearby Temple club instead.

The Temple Club is located on a relatively unassuming part of International Blvd, around the area where the boulevard transitions between the stretch that serves Vietnamese food and predominantly Vietnamese clientele to Latinx food and predominantly Latinx clientele. Walking in, I found the place to be very open and airy, with largely vaulted ceilings, and service staff that were warm and welcoming. We sat down and browsed the number of ever evolving options available today (the chef, who spent a couple decades in Vietnam, rotates the menu on daily or near daily basis). On that day, we decided to order the following which were available:

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Goi Sua at the Temple Club

  • Goi Sua – This jellyfish, chicken, and green papaya salad with shrimp chips was a refreshing and amazing way to start the meal. I love the interplay of the jellyfish and the fish sauce that I have never tasted before in any Chinese preparation of jellyfish
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Rau Muong Xao Toi at the Temple Club

  • Rau Muong Xao Toi – I’m biased because I basically love all versions of water spinach/morning glory, but this was one of the most tasty versions I have had so I am not saying this lightly! The shoots and leaves were stir fried to perfection with enough garlic and black pepper to give a great garlicky taste without being too overpowering. A case of simple being very delicious.
  • Hieu Tieu Nam Vang – While I loved the Hieu Tieu in theory with all the ingredients listed in the noodle soup – ground pork, pork liver, quail eggs, prawns, etc – the reality was that all of it was too much. Thus, the dish was heavy and the flavors were a bit muddled to get any true good taste of any ingredient.
Ga Nuong La Chanh at the Temple Club

Ga Nuong La Chanh at the Temple Club

  • Ga Nuong La Chanh – The highly recommended bone-in BBQ chicken, however, was solid but nothing super special. The salt & pepper rub with the fish sauce was nice, though the chicken was grilled a little too long where the meat became a bit dry and tough. I would have gladly sacrificed crispy skin for moister meat.
  • Mi Quang Phu Chiem – As a person who’s not especially fond of shrimp, this shrimp heavy dish didn’t really do too much for me, especially with the tomato peanut butter sauce of sorts. The flavor was decent, but it could not overcome my particular bias of the food (though I remember my friends liking it).
  • Pho Nam Chay – The last dish was arguably one of the best. The vegetarian pho was rich in mushroom flavor and had several different types of mushrooms in it. It was so rich and flavorful that it felt as hearty as a meat broth. I seriously could have ordered a big bowl of this and eaten it on my own.

I loved the meal, all in all, and would definitely come back. Oakland isn’t exactly the epicenter of Vietnamese food like San Jose, Houston, or Orange County, but I am delighted to have a restaurant that is interested in serving a range of rotating, innovative flavors of Vietnam to accent the main single dish specialists (especially for pho) that you can find on International Blvd. And while I never knew Jonathan Gold, I suspect this might be the type of restaurant he would like – a restaurant pushing flavors rarely seen in restaurants in Oakland done by a husband and wife team that take pride in trying to push the culinary envelope. 

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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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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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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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