Category Archives: Japanese

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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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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Shiba Ramen’s Ramen, Ranked

Shiba Ramen
1438 Broadway
Oakland, CA 94612

As I mentioned previously, I generally try to avoid reviewing another location of a restaurant I have previously reviewed. The two exceptions have been Din Tai Fung (to blog about the original Din Tai Fung versus the one in Glendale) and Tim Ho Wan (to blog about how its first US location in New York City compares to Hong Kong). I do this because chains, in general, vary little location to location. For instance, while the Alhambra location of Tasty Garden might be the best location, the Monterey Park, Westminster, and Irvine locations aren’t too far off in general.

That said, I felt compelled to write a blog post about Shiba Ramen’s second location in downtown Oakland, just across the street from my office. I felt compelled because of two reasons: 1) my review in Emeryville was of one item and felt a bit incomplete and 2) Shiba Ramen has become my favorite ramen place in Oakland. There is also one key difference between their two locations, the use of ceramic bowls in Oakland as opposed to melamine bowls in Emeryville. Ceramic bowls retain heat a little better, addressing the temperature issues I had in Emeryville.

But instead of a traditional review, I’ll do a countdown of all the bowls of ramen they sell, from least favorite to “best”. Of course, this is a highly subjective ranking so your mileage may very based on your taste. So without further ado…

8) Spicy Ramen – It’s not that the spicy ramen is a bad ramen, but I’m generally not a fan of ground pork in noodle soups and I don’t find the broth that spicy. I much prefer the original Sichuanese dan dan mian instead.

7) White Bird – The thickest and fattiest ramen broth of the group, the White Bird adds another level of rich flavor akin to the tonkotsu ramen that many Americans are used to seeing. That said, the rich fattiness quickly cools off, coagulating a little too quickly and not landing well after the first few slurps.

6) Summer Ramen (seasonal special) – The yuzu dressing is light and refreshing and the noodles are great. Unfortunately, I’m not quite a fan of the cold slices of cooked chashu and I’ve never really been a fan of raw tomatoes. That said, it is a great alternative to ramen broths on a hot summer day.

5) Miso – Less thick than the White Bird but still almost as rich, the miso is a very well rounded ramen broth. I love that there’s a lot of vegetables in the ramen as well. I’m just sad that the time consuming nature of the dish means that its generally only available during the evening service (after I leave work).

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Soymilk Ramen at Shiba Ramen

4) Soymilk – This is, without a doubt, the best vegetarian ramen broth I have ever had. The broth is rich and thick with flavor with a soymilk base wile being light enough to balance the various vegetables in the broth. In the summer the ramen is topped off with a grilled romanesco (during the winter they used kabocha squash) which provides something a little crunchy and hearty in place of a meat protein.

3) Clear – Shiba’s shio ramen is perfect in its simplicity. It’s clear and light which allows the pork, noodles, and menma to shine. While the lighter broth is great for when you are feeling less well, it’s lack of a little more umph means it doesn’t quite hit my number 1.

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Dry Ramen at Shiba Ramen

2) Dry – The tender chunks of pork with a little bit of the marinade and dressing mixes so well with ramen cooked perfectly. Honestly, it was almost my number one ramen from Shiba, but it’s definitely one of my go to ramens in Oakland

Clear Dark Ramen at Shiba Ramen

Clear Dark Ramen at Shiba Ramen

1) Clear Dark – The soy sauce base combines with the clear broth to make a shoyu ramen that is rich with umami but still light enough not to feel heavy. It is a perfectly balanced broth and Shiba adds to that with a few leaves of bok choy to complement to the chashu. The Clear Dark is absolutely wonderful and my top recommendation.

Regardless of what you order, however, it is unlikely you’ll be disappointed by your meal at Shiba Ramen. As a bonus, they have a bunch of appetizer items to whet your appetite include delicious chicken wings and lotus chips. If you’ve ever eaten at the Shiba Ramen in downtown Oakland, it’ll be easy to see why I enjoy it as an easy lunch spot.

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Food Alley at Westfield Santa Anita, Arcadia

For a couple of years now I have heard about the growth of exciting, quality Asian dining establishments in Westfield’s Santa Anita Mall. First, it was Hai Di Lao, the first American branch of the pricey Sichuanese hot pot chain. Then it was the development of Meizhou Dongpo’s second US location and Din Tai Fung’s new larger 3rd Arcadia location. 

All this development has not been limited to big Chinese or Taiwanese chain restaurants. Late last year Westfield Santa Anita opened “Food Alley”, a food court of sorts between the Nordstrom and Din Tai Fung that doesn’t have your typical Panda Express or Sbarro mall food court options. To be clear, there still is a regular food court at Westfield Santa Anita on the first floor near JC Penney’s for all your McDonald’s and Sarku Japan cravings. However, Food Alley contains some out of the box, Asian oriented stores with food that I have never seen in any American mall.

Thus, I had to try out these eateries and see how they matched to all the great restaurants that dot the strip malls elsewhere in the San Gabriel Valley. Since it would be very difficult to try them all by myself, I asked a friend if she would be interested in joining me and she thankfully said yes. These are the dishes and places we tried:

Hainanese Chicken Rice at Side Chick

Hainanese Chicken Rice at Side Chick

  • Hainanese Chicken Rice at Side Chick – Our first stop was at Side Chick, where the star dish is the Hainanese Chicken Rice. The chicken was moist and flavorful while the rice was a little dryer than I like (though saved a little by the church of the fried garlic). I loved the ginger scallion, sambal, and vinegary soy sauces that accompanied the chicken. While the rice is not as good as Savoy, the vaunted Hainanese Chicken Rice slinger in Alhambra, I think Side Chick has the edge as my favorite Southern Californian chicken rice spot for the chicken.
Spicy Niku Udon at Tsurumaru Udon Honpo

Spicy Niku Udon at Tsurumaru Udon Honpo

  • Spicy Niku Udon at Tsurumaru Udon Honpo – While I would have wanted to try more bowls of udon, we were starting to get full from the Hainanese Chicken Rice. We settled on the spicy niku udon. I liked the chewy udon and tender beef slices, but wasn’t really feeling the thicker, kimchi laden broth. While I wouldn’t get the spicy niku udon, the udon and beef were definitely good enough that I am eager to try other bowls of udon the next time I am there.
Pork Soup Dumplings at Din Tai Fung in Westfield Santa Anita

Pork Soup Dumplings at Din Tai Fung in Westfield Santa Anita

  • Pork Soup Dumplings at Din Tai Fung – Since the new Din Tai Fung was around the corner, I just had to try some soup dumplings. I ordered a half order of 5 soup dumplings. While none of them broke (making them better than the Glendale and South Coast locations), there were a couple with dumpling skin tops that were a little thick and chewy. They were certainly good but not up to the standard of the original Din Tai Fung in Taiwan.
Japanese cheesecake at Uncle Tetsu

Japanese cheesecake at Uncle Tetsu

  • Japanese Cheesecake at Uncle Tetsu – For dessert we had the Japanese cheesecake at Uncle Tetsu. The several slices were, in a word, sublime. It was like a creamier sponge cake that was light and fluffy and just a touch sweet. Honestly, if I didn’t have as much self control that night, I might have eaten an entire cake.

All in all, Food Alley blew away my expectations and definitely was the tastiest mall food court I have eaten at this side of the Pacific. And yet, I didn’t even try any ramen or skewers at the Backhouse nor any drinks at Matcha Matcha. If this is what new, modern mall food courts will be like from now on, I guess I’ll be spending more money shopping at Nordstrom and slurping noodles across the country.

 

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Shiba Ramen, Emeryville

Shiba Ramen
Emeryville Public Market
5959 Shellmound St., Suite 10
Emeryville, CA 94608

About a year ago I was roaming around Emeryville Public Market to see what eateries were there, now that they remodeled to be more of a trendy yuppie food court than an old school public market. During that time I spotted Shiba Ramen. At the time they were operating during their soft opening phase, so the owners had just shut down the stall when I had arrived. However, I still was able to chat with them and got really excited at the possibility of more authentic ramen in the East Bay after eating a number of disappointing bowls in other places in the area.

That said, given that the Emeryville Public Market was just slightly out of the way from where I run errands, I never came back for 10 months. What sparked my desire to come back was when, a couple of months ago, I found out that Shiba Ramen was going to open a brick and mortar location on the ground floor of my office building. When I mentioned that they were opening open a 2nd location there, a Japanese coworker of mine beamed with excitement as she felt that the ramen there was up to her standards. Naturally, I had to go to the Emeryville Public Market again, so I made two trips in the last month to finally taste their ramen.

Each time I arrived, there was only a short line before I placed my order. The menu is fortunately very simple at Shiba, with only about 10-11 menu items on any given day. While they have 7 ramen options so far, I have only tried two and here are my verdicts:

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Spicy Ramen at Shiba Ramen

  • Spicy Ramen – My first visit on a chilly day in late November inspired me to choose the Spicy Ramen. This is their version of the classic Sichuanese dish, dan dan mian. The ramen noodles were very nice and springy, keeping its toothsome bite even after absorbing some liquid. The broth itself was flavorful, but not overly spicy. The ground pork was juicy as well. Overall, I liked the dish.
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Clear Ramen at Shiba Ramen

  • Clear Ramen with Pork Chashu – The second time I went with the classic clear broth, which I think is their Kitakata style of ramen (that is similar, but not as rich as tonkotsu ramen). The broth was definitely lighter than the spicy ramen, but still flavorful, with a bit of pork fat on the top. It was nice at first, but perhaps a little too rich in the end. The eggs were medium boiled and nice to eat while the chashu was a little too dry. The noodles, however, were very nice and toothsome as they were in the spicy ramen. Overall it was good, though with only 1 piece of dry pork, it could have been better.

Overall, I love Shiba Ramen for its good flavors and reasonable price points. I do wish the portions were slightly bigger, however, so I would recommend splurging the extra dollar or two for the add-ons. But that’s a slight quibble when they are, at this point, the best ramen I have had in the East Bay.

No Car? Not a Problem! – #BARTable Asian Food Pt. 2

A year ago I started a project to find Asian restaurants within walking distance of BART stations. I started Part 1 of the series visiting the southernmost stops on the Richmond-Millbrae “Red” Line from Millbrae to Daly City. Unfortunately, a combination of things delayed my ability to write part 2 for the last year, not the least of which was the large amount of Asian restaurants in San Francisco within close proximity to a BART stop. My original plan to include ALL San Francisco BART stops was scrapped because of that.

So below you’ll find BARTable Asian food near the Balboa Park, Glen Park, 24th Street Mission, and 16th Street Mission stations. I’ll note that since there are more Asian restaurants closer to downtown San Francisco, this post will be relatively light.

Balboa Park

As we move north into the city of San Francisco, we first reach Balboa Park station. While Balboa Park is a transit hub for both BART and MUNI, there isn’t a lot of commercial development near the station. However, across the street from the station there are two Asian restaurants.

AJ’s BBQ and Cafe is slightly upscale “turo turo” (or “point point”) Filipino eatery where you can get a range of standard Filipino fare including pancit bihon, kare kare, lumpiang shanghai, and bbq chicken skewers. Like most turo turo places, AJ’s combines value with reasonably tasty food making this a decent stop for Filipino food, especially if you are on the run to somewhere else or picking up something on the way home in the Excelsior (where there are a number of other Filipino restaurants).

Cumin Lamb at Crazy Pepper

Cumin Lamb at Crazy Pepper

Around the corner from AJ’s is Crazy Pepper, a standard Bay Area neighborhood Americanized Chinese food restaurant that mostly does takeout business, but has a number of tables for a nice sit down meal. I got the cumin lamb, which was cooked with a lot of cumin. While tasty, the cumin was a little bit overpowering. The menu also included other standards in a Bay Area Americanized Chinese restaurant including basil chicken and a limited number of dim sum items. I also got the siu mai, which seemed to be resteamed from a frozen or refrigerated item. While the pork flavor was decent, the wonton skin wrapping was a little gummy. All in all, Crazy Pepper does try to differentiate itself with some Dongbei items, but food is average at best.

Glen Park

After Balboa Park station you reach Glen Park station. Glen Park station is near a small commercial and retail area that is the center of the Glen Park neighborhood. Unfortunately, there’s only 2 Asian restaurants in the area.

Basil Chicken Lunch Special at Win Garden

Basil Chicken Lunch Special at Win Garden

The first is Win Garden, another neighborhood Americanized Chinese restaurant. When I asked what lunch special I should get, the server guided me toward their basil chicken. The dish itself was pretty decent, with a flavorful, but not overpowering, amount of Thai basil. However, I did find it a little strange that the plate included a mesclun with Italian dressing. I also ordered some har gow, which were decent, if nothing to write home about. The shrimp was alright but the skin was a bit thick.

The second Asian restaurant is Tataki Canyon. Unfortunately, I didn’t have enough stomach space to go in, but it seems to be a nice neighborhood Japanese restaurant that mainly focuses on sushi and ramen.

24th Street Mission

As you get closer to downtown San Francisco you reach 24th Street Mission station. It is one of two BART stations in the Mission district, a historically working class Latinx neighborhood that has gentrified in the last few decades with young, mostly white, people (first with  artists and hipsters and lately with those who work in tech). Given the community’s demographics, there aren’t a lot of Asian restaurants around 24th Street Mission. However, there are a few.

A 10 minute walk to the 23rd and Bryant intersection will get you to Spice Jar, an eclectic Asian fusion restaurant that has a number of Asian style noodle soups including pho and laksa. Slightly closer to BART is Sugoi Sushi, a neighborhood Japanese restaurant that obviously focuses on sushi. Slightly further afield is Dosa, which has very tasty, if pricey and small, South Asian food. Of course, their specialty is dosa, which are done very well from my limited knowledge of South Asian food.

16th Street Mission

The final stop before the core downtown San Francisco neighborhoods takes you to the northern end of the Mission District. The waves of gentrification in the Mission is more visually apparent closer to this station. Accordingly, there are more trendier Asian restaurants near this station to cater to the number of young urban professionals that now live and/or spend money in the area.

Valencia Street, a street that parallels Mission street just one block west, is where the gentrification is most visible. The original Slanted Door (before its eventual move to the Ferry Building) opened on Valencia Street and since then there have been a number of other Asian restaurants that haven opened up. This includes the San Francisco’s location of James Syhabout’s Hawker Fare serving northern Thai and Lao dishes (more on Hawker Fare as this series heads to Oakland). You can also find Thai up the block at Bangkok Bistro as well. Valencia Street also houses Mau, a hip modern Vietnamese places that serves decent pho and other items. 

Mapo Tofu at Mission Chinese Food

Mapo Tofu at Mission Chinese Food

Moving closer to Mission Street you can drink some of San Francisco’s best boba (and sip on decent Hong Kong milk tea) at Boba Guys. On 18th Street, around the corner from Mission Street, is Yamo, a tiny hole in the wall that served Burmese food before Burma Superstar started Bay Area’s craze for cuisine And around the corner from Yamo is Mission Chinese Food, the much celebrated former Chinese fusion pop-up turned cross-country restaurant chain. While the food is not a good as it once was, I do recommend the Mongolian Long Beans and Salt Cod Fried Rice at Mission Chinese.

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Fish Chowder Noodle Soup at Yamo

And rounding out the 16th Street Mission station are Ken Ken Ramen, which dishes out decent ramen and Japanese style curry, if a bit small on the portion sizes, and Namu Gaji, a Korean fusion place on the corner of 18th and Dolores that serves dishes ranging from dolsot bibimbap (labeled as “stonepot”) to “Korean tacos”. Both places are on the pricier side of things, but nonetheless still have some good and interesting flavors.

So even though you might not be in downtown San Francisco, the stops south of Civic Center still give you a number of options to fill someone’s desire for East or Southeast Asian food. 

Ramen in Portland

If I was skeptical that Thai food in Portland would be good, even with a world renown restaurant, then I certainly did not have high expectations for ramen in Portland. However, I am always up to try different types of Asian food wherever I travel so I ignored any reservations I had and dug right into my food adventures.

Mirakutei
536 E Burnside St
Portland, OR 97214

Tonkotsu Ramen at Mirakutei

Tonkotsu Ramen at Mirakutei

My first Portland ramen stop was Mirakutei, conveniently located a few blocks from the hotel I was staying. I went with my coworkers on a Monday afternoon who also wanted to grab lunch close by.

We sat down and looked at a very simple, one page lunch menu which had a few ramen options and a few bento box options. Most of us opted for the several ramen options that they had. I chose the tonkotsu ramen option, which came out fairly quickly. The broth was nice with a salty, rich pork stock that was filling but not too overpowering with fat. The noodles were good, if slightly more cooked than I liked. The pieces of pork were fabulous, however, with perfectly moist and tender meat and the eggs were perfectly soft boiled. At only $9.50, it is definitely a bargain lunch and well worth it.

Boxer Ramen
2309 NW Kearney Street
Portland, OR 97210

Boxer Ramen

Tonkotsu Shio at Boxer Ramen

A few days later my friend and I were on our way to Salt and Straw from the International Test Rose Garden and decided that we needed to eat some dinner first. While Northwest Portland has plenty of decent dining options, we spotted Boxer Ramen and decided to go in.

Boxer Ramen is pretty casual with a few picnic like tables set inside with a really simple menu of about 10 items plus a few seasonal side items on a separate sheet of paper. We both decided to get different types of ramen and share the Greens and Sesame. The Greens and Sesame came first and was very refreshing. The cabbage lightly flavored the chard as well and there was just enough oyster sauce to get a hint of saltiness. Then the Tonkotsu Shio came to the table. I wish the broth could have used a little more fat, but the noodles were cooked perfectly. The pork tender, if a little chewy, but I liked that there were a few more pieces than usual. The only true disappoint of the dish were the 2 soft poached eggs I had, which were very runny and, dare I say, bordering on raw. Overall, however, I liked my bowl of ramen and still found it pretty good.

All in all, the ramen in Portland I had certainly surpassed my expectations. In fact, despite the little imperfections here and there, I thought the ramen was still better overall compared to ramen shops in the East Bay. It goes to show that while mid-sized cities that don’t have a relatively large Asian population may not have restaurants that rise to the level of Los Angeles or New York, they certainly can have Asian food that can be competitive and above any expectations. I certainly won’t be bashful in trying out more ramen and Thai spots in Portland when I’m back again.

Toronto & Markham

Last week I spent some quality vacation time in Montreal and Toronto for the 4th of July Canada Day weekend. It was a fun filled few days that included some exciting food adventures. While I did eat one Chinese meal in Montreal, it was decidedly mediocre. So if you’re planning a trip to Montreal, I would stick to classic French fare and local specialties like bagels and poutine than going on an Asian food adventure (Vietnamese food possible excepted).

The hub of fantastic Asian food is, instead, located west in Anglophone Canada. In the 2011 census Toronto was 49.1% ‘visible minority’, the Canadian term equivalent to ‘people of color’ excepting First Nations folk. And of the nearly half of Toronto that are people of color, nearly two-thirds of those are either of South Asian, East Asian, or Southeast Asian descent. These numbers increase when you go out to a number of Toronto suburbs, like Brampton, Richmond Hill, and Markham.

Needless to say, my Asian eating adventures dramatically improved when I hit Canada’s largest city. Below are just three of the limited samples of Asian food I was able to try on my brief 2 day stay in Toronto.

Sansotei Ramen
650 Yonge Street
Toronto, ON M4Y 2A6

Toronto 1

Tonkotsu Black at Sansotei Ramen

A friend from high school lives in Toronto and we decided to meet up and grab a bite at the Church and Wellesley (Toronto’s gayborhood) adjacent location of this well regarded local ramen chain.

With only 5-6 options, the menu was pretty simple. My friend and I both went with the Tonkotsu Black, which is a Tonkotsu broth with roasted garlic oil. The broth was fatty with a nice hint of garlic oil, but also managed not to be too heavy or overwhelming. I also got the thin ramen noodles which still had a nice bite even after being the the broth for a while. The eggs were perhaps slightly overcooked over soft boiled, but nonetheless still had good texture and flavor. And finally, the pork was thinly sliced, nice, and tender.

Overall, this was my best bowl of ramen in a while, after consistently disappointing bowls in the Bay Area.

Yang’s Chinese Cuisine
8432 Leslie St., Unit 110
Markham, ON L3T 7M6

Toronto’s suburbs of Markham and Richmond Hill are lined with suburban Chinese strip malls similar to LA’s San Gabriel Valley and Vancouver’s Richmond. It’s no surprise then that these are the places to go to get great Chinese food. In fact, suburban Toronto’s Chinese food is so good, it is considered 2nd best in North America, even better than the San Gabriel Valley.

To test how good the scene was, I decided to go to one of the newer restaurants reputed to have some of the best dim sum in the area: Yang’s Chinese Cuisine. After renting a car in downtown Toronto at 1PM, I made the mad dash to get to the restaurant before dim sum hours closed. Despite the later hour, the restaurant was still pretty busy and they managed to squeeze me at a small table in the side VIP room. I sat down, ordered my tea, and ticked off the menu for the following items:

  • Steamed Dumpling in Homestyle (家鄉蒸粉粿) – Given the rather vague name of the dish, I decided to take my chances with this only knowing that the menu said it contained peanuts. What ended up at my table was a very nicely made Cantonese style ‘sticky rice tamale’ that had some pork, Chinese sausage, and peanuts. It was pretty well executed but I was disappointed that it wasn’t quite a dumpling.
Steamed House Special Shrimp Dumpling at Yang's Chinese Cuisine

Steamed House Special Shrimp Dumpling at Yang’s Chinese Cuisine

  • Steamed House Special Shrimp Dumpling (順峰蝦餃皇) – These shrimp dumplings were pretty good with a wrapper that was thinner but pulled well. The filling was also nice, with fresh shrimp added by just a little salt and pepper.
  • Steamed Beef Stomach and Turnip with Chu Hau Sauce (柱候蘿蔔金錢肚) – On the flip side, this dish was just okay. Because this dish generally relies on the strength of the sauce to infuse into the otherwise bland-ish tasting honeycomb tripe and daikon, the flavors were a bit mild and lacked a little heat and spice.
Steamed Rice Roll with Egg Tofu and Pea Sprout Leaves at Yang's Chinese Cuisine

Steamed Rice Roll with Egg Tofu and Pea Sprout Leaves at Yang’s Chinese Cuisine

  • Steamed Rice Roll with Egg Tofu and Pea Sprout Leaves (鹽酥子豆苗腸) – The last item to come to the table also happened to be my favorite. I was fascinated on this take of the rice noodle roll and it didn’t disappoint. The delecate but well made rice noodle rolls held up perfectly bite sized morsels of fried bean curd and pea sprouts. The sweet soy sauce balanced the fresh, savory taste of the pea sprouts making every one of these bites really heavenly.

All in all the food was really good and on par with some of the best places in LA, even if it fell short of Vancouver. I was definitely very impressed by my first Chinese meal in metro Toronto.

Pacific Mall
4300 Steeles Ave E.
Markham, ON L3R 0Y5

My last stop on my Asian tour of Toronto was the locally famous Pacific Mall. The Pacific Mall is a mall about the size of a Costco with 2 floors and 100+ shops. Given the number of different shops and food stalls at the mall, I am fairly confident that this is the most Hong Kong style mall in all of North America.

Given the number of vendors, it was impossible to try them all so I went to a couple, one for lunch and one for dinner.

For lunch I settled on Kam Hing and got a deep fried chicken noodle soup. Originally I wanted the roast duck noodle soup, but they were already sold out. The chicken was okay, though in the broth the skin predictably became far too soggy. The noodles were nice however and the broth was decent and not too salty. Overall it was a satisfying, if not exactly sensational, lunch.

Afterward I headed straight over the the egg waffle vendor to get a fresh 鷄蛋仔 with the rest of my Canadian cash. The 鷄蛋仔 vendor had a steady stream of customers, which meant that the 鷄蛋仔 came out fresh and hot, but unfortunately a little undercooked as they rushed to get them out rather than waiting slightly longer to get the outside crispier.

All in all, my Toronto Asian food adventures were fantastic. Unfortunately, it was just not enough time. I didn’t even really make a dent at all in Markham, with its other big Chinese strip malls, and I never even made it to Brampton, Richmond Hill, or Scarborough. However that just means one thing: I’ll need to book another Canadian vacation soon.

 

Skewers, LAX

Skewers by Morimoto
380 World Way
Los Angeles, CA 90045

When most people I know think of LAX, the immediate reaction is to groan. A litany of complaints usually surface including, but not limited to: constant traffic on the 405 to/from the airport, poor mass transit to the airport, lack of efficient transportation between terminals, and dingy terminals once you are at the airport. While the first three are still immensely true, the latter complaint is slowly going away as LAX is going through renovations of its terminals.

That welcome surprise came to me during my recent visit to LAX during a layover from Albuquerque to San Francisco. I was pretty impressed by the newer facilities at American Airlines’ terminal 4. However, none of the food options really appealed to me (in part because there were no Asian options). As I was hungry for a late lunch I decided to walk to Delta’s terminal 5 instead, as LAX’s terminals 4, 5, and 6 have a convenient-ish underground walkway to transport people back and forth without needing to exit security.

Upon entering Delta’s terminal 5 I saw an even more impressive, more newly renovated terminal with higher ceilings and, more importantly, an Asian food stall, Skewers by Morimoto. Now, I’ve always wanted to dine at some celebrity chef establishment in LA but I did not realize my first would be one at an airport. Of course, I knew this dining experience wouldn’t be remotely like one I would have if I was dining at his eponymous restaurant in Philadelphia, but I happy stood in line and ordered the following:

Skewers LAX

Ramen and Chicken Kushiyaki at Skewers by Morimoto

  • Pork Ramen – The pork ramen had decently cooked noodles with thinly sliced pork that was chewy but tender. I did wish I had more pork and that the broth was a little richer. All in all though, it’s still better than most airport food.
  • Chicken Kushiyaki – I just got one of the skewers, as you can see, and while there was a perfect amount of sauce, the chicken was more on the drier side. The glazed sauce enveloping the chicken helped to deflect from the dryness of the chicken.

At $16+tax ($12.50 for the ramen and $3.50 for the individual skewer), it certainly wasn’t cheap but in line for the rates of airport food, especially if you aren’t ordering from a chain like McDonald’s or Panda Express. The portion of the ramen was a little bit small, but it was perfect for a light lunch.

Either way, I am immensely grateful that LAX passengers have a much better array of dining options to choose from than the typical chains, including Skewers. Is it comparable to what I would find at a ramen joint on Sawtelle or at Morimoto’s eponymous restaurants around the world? No. At the same time, you can’t beat having a decent ramen option if you’re waiting a few hours for your plane.

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