Category Archives: No Car? No Problem

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.

Tagged , , , , , , , ,

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.

Tagged , , , , , , ,

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.

yamo

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. 

No Car? Not a Problem – BART Pt.1

It’s no secret that the best Asian food in the United States, regardless of cuisine, is almost always in suburban areas that are only in reach with an automobile. Westminster, the San Gabriel Valley, Annandale, Milpitas; these are places that do not conjure up plentiful options of reliable and efficient mass transportation, especially be rail, even if they may have some of the best Vietnamese, Chinese, Korean, or Filipino food you’ve ever had. However, that’s not to say that there is no good Asian food within walking distance of mass transit lines. After all, anyone who knows where good Chinese food is in New York City can direct you to take the 7 line all the way down to Main Street, where the sight and smell of food from all regions of China can overwhelm the senses.

Therefore, I challenged myself this Autumn to eat Asian food that is only accessible to mass transportation. In particular, I decided to take an adventure and go to every station along the Richmond-Millbrae Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) line, only eating at Asian food establishments within 15 minutes walking distance. This is part one of my travel-eating challenge, and for those who use BART to travel, I hope this can serve as a guide of where to go and what to eat even when you find yourself stranded in Daly City.

BART Map (Richmond-Millbrae line in Red), courtesy of Bay Area Rapid Transit

BART Map (Richmond-Millbrae line in Red), courtesy of Bay Area Rapid Transit

Peninsula

Part 1 of this series focuses on the cities on the San Francisco Peninsula south of the city and county of San Francisco. There are 5 stations on the Peninsula on the Richmond-Millbrae line: Millbrae, San Bruno, South San Francisco, Colma, and Daly City (San Francisco Airport is another peninsula stop, but on the San Francisco Airport-Pittsburg/Bay Point Line). I chose to start here first because it was the part of the line I was least familiar with and it meant that I could finish the series in the East Bay, where I live.

Millbrae

Dim Sum at Hong Kong Flower Lounge

Dim Sum at Hong Kong Flower Lounge

The start/end of the line in Millbrae brings a plethora of options. Millbrae has been a leading center of Chinese food in the Bay Area for a while, so it’s no surprise that there are dozens of Asian options to walk to from the station. One of the closest Asian restaurants to the station also happens to be one of the oldest: Hong Kong Flower Lounge where they serve good dim sum at lunch. Of the several dim sum/seafood palaces I’ve been to in Millbrae, Hong Kong Flower Lounge is probably my favorite.

Further up north on El Camino Real you can walk to Hot Pot Garden, which does all you can eat Cantonese hot pot, and Ben Tre, which does decent Vietnamese food at reasonably Bay Area prices. For dessert you can head to Honey Berry where you can have a light and fluffy roti bun. To note, all these restaurants are within just a 5 minute walk from the station.

If you want to head a little further out you can go to “downtown Millbrae” along Broadway. There you can find The Third Eye, an Indian and Himalayan restaurant with great reviews and Broadway Bistro, a Hong Kong style cafe that leans more toward Chinese style western cuisine with a number of steak and pork chop dinners to chose from. If for some reason none of these options tickles your fancy you can just walk to Safeway, where they have a dedicated produce section to Chinese vegetables like Chinese Broccoli and mustard greens. The dedicated section for Chinese greens is the surest sign of how Asian Millbrae is, and given the plethora of options you’ll never go hungry around this BART station.

Just 6 of the MANY Asian options around Millbrae!

Just 6 of the MANY Asian options around Millbrae!

San Bruno

Spam Masubi & Loco Moco at Jake's Hawaiian BBQ

Spam Masubi & Loco Moco at Jake’s Hawaiian BBQ

Of course, not all BART stops are created equal, especially in the more suburban areas. The next station up the line brings us to San Bruno, where there is no Asian food in walking distance aside from the options available at the Tanforan Mall, which has an entrance right in front of the BART station.

Now, just because it is a mall doesn’t necessarily mean it has bad Asian food. Yes, the mall has its Panda Express and Sarku Japan, serving all the Orange Chinese and Teriyaki Beef you can order. However, their is also a Jake’s Hawaiian BBQ in the mall, where I had a great spam masubi and a loco moco that made me feel like I was in Hawaii for a split second. At the same mall food court is probably the only BART accessible Jolibee where you can order Filipino fried chicken, sweet spaghetti, or pancit palabok for pennies on the dollar. It’s certainly not the best fast food, but it’s definitely different than all the other options you have there. If you want a more refined, sit down experience, however, you can go up the escalator to Saigon Cuisine which serves decent Vietnamese food.

South San Francisco

Pancit Bihon and Kare Kare at Max's of Manila

Pancit Bihon and Kare Kare at Max’s of Manila

Even though San Bruno may not have the best Asian options by BART, at least it has options. At South San Francisco you only have one: Max’s of Manila, which is a seemingly long 12 minute walk alongside the cars zipping down El Camino Real at 45+ miles per hour.

Max’s may be the only option, but it is a good one in my opinion. While I did not have their popular fried chicken, I did like their pancit bihon and kare kare, which has decently, but not overwhelmingly, fatty oxtail. If I had more money and more stomach room I would have tried the crispy pata or bangus, but I suppose this means I need to take another trip to South San Francisco soon!

Colma

While the sole option in South San Francisco is a good one, I can’t say the same about any of the options I tried in Colma. Disappointment was around every corner, from the Hawaiian Drive in that sold spam masubi with concerningly thick and gelatinous sauce to the OK Pho which served phở and egg rolls that were literally just “okay”. They were both lacking in much flavor or presence. 

However, I will say that I never did try Pampangas, the take out Filipino place near Hawaiian Drive In that unfortunately was only cash only. the food certainly smelled and looked delicious, and was the only Asian restaurant in the area that had something resembling a line.

Daly City

Mohinga and Rainbow Salad at Little Yangon

Mohinga and Rainbow Salad at Little Yangon

Colma may have a dearth of good options, but that certainly is not so for the last stop in the peninsula (and the end of the line during nights and Sundays). Daly City not only has a number of different options, but all of them are reasonably good as well.

My friend and I first stopped for lunch at Little Yangon, a Burmese place with good mohinga, a tasty but different rainbow salad (compared to other Burmese restaurants in the area) that had warm noodles and a nice, tangy sauce, and a refreshing faluda for dessert. Service was a bit slow, however, so be sure to be extra patient in the restaurant.

Given that Daly City has a large Filipino population, naturally you can find good Filipino food around with Maynila probably being the closest place to the station. While it’s bare bones, Maynila does decent lumpiang shanghai and chicken skewers, even if they are not to the level of Fil-Am cuisine (which is further afield and not as accessible).

For a mid-afternoon dessert my friend and I got some shaved snow with delicious “popping boba” at FrosTea. Like other modern boba shops, it had some board games for people to play, which was a nice way to end a round of eating and the first part of my Asian restaurant adventures on BART.

Shaved Snow at FrosTea

Shaved Snow at FrosTea

Tagged