5 Bites: Chow Down in Oakland’s Chinatown

| July 18, 2013 | 9 Comments
  • 9 Comments
Shrimp Wonton Soup at Best Taste Restaurant

Shrimp Wonton Soup at Best Taste Restaurant

Navigating the crowded corridors of any metropolitan Chinatown can be daunting, and Oakland is no exception. It can be overwhelming to try and find the best places to eat, especially since the small, unassuming restaurants sandwiched between busy produce vendors are usually the real culinary gems of the neighborhood. I keep a running tally of places that remain perennial favorites of my friends who’ve grown up in the Bay Area, and here are five restaurants that consistently receive thumbs up from locals. And luckily, they’re all within easy walking distance of each other near Webster, Franklin and Harrison Streets.

Shan Dong
328 10th St., Ste 101 (between Webster St & Harrison St) [map]
Ph:(510) 839-2299
Hours: Tue-Thu, Sun 10 am – 9:30 pm; Fri-Sat 10 am – 10 pm

A region in northeastern China whose name translates to “mountain” and “east,” the cuisine from the coastal province of Shandong belongs to the exalted “Eight Culinary Traditions” of China. Two delicious eponymous dishes — Shan Dong beef ($10.95) and Shan Dong dumplings with pork and vegetables ($8.50) — are generously portioned platters large enough to feed four hungry diners. The wonton noodle soup ($8.75) has a richly flavored broth chock-full of vegetables, chicken, beef and shrimp. For a dollar extra, you can substitute in their plump, homemade noodles — which I recommend if you’re ordering their spicy sesame paste noodles ($8.75).

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New Gold Medal
389 8th St. (between Webster St & Franklin St) [map]
Ph:(510) 465-1940
Hours: Mon, Wed 12 pm – 1 pm; Mon 7 pm – 3 am; Tue 12 pm – 3 am; Wed 5 pm – 3 am; Thu-Sat 7 pm – 4 am; Sun 9 am – 3 am

In the mood for fast, cheap and tasty Cantonese food? This is a great go-to place, especially if you have late-night cravings for Chinese-style BBQ, claypot dishes, stir-fried noodles and soups. Scan their chef’s specials if you want an exotic helping of snake soup or spare ribs with frogs, or peruse the hundreds of items in their phone book-sized menu. You can’t go wrong with their big bowl of pork-shrimp wonton soup noodle soup ($5.25), roasted duck over peppery white rice ($6.50), sizzling claypot chicken with flecks of roast pork, onions, garlic and ginger ($9.25) and sauteed tender greens ($8.25).

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Gum Kuo
388 9th St., Ste 182, (between Webster St & Franklin St) [map]
Ph:(510) 268-1288
Hours: Mon-Thu, Sun 7:30 am – 10 pm; Fri-Sat 7:30 am – 12 am

Located in the Pacific Renaissance Plaza mall, Gum Kuo is short on ambience but serves up some of the tastiest congee you’ll find in Chinatown. Their chicken and mushroom rice porridge has the creamy consistency of risotto ($6.25), while the roasted BBQ pork with rice, steamed greens and fried egg ($7.50) is a solid choice for breakfast, lunch or dinner. If you’re in the mood for a fried delight, try the crispy salt and pepper shrimp ($8.95) that has a bit of a spicy kick. Roast duck ($6.95) and bok choy ($5.95) with a side of rice are another classic combo.

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Spices 3
369 12th St (between Webster St & Franklin St) [map]
Ph:(510) 625-8889
Hours: Mon-Fri 10:30 am – 11 pm; Sat-Sun 11:30 am – 11 pm
Cash Only

This spot lives up to its name and brings on the heat with its spicy Szechuan menu. Items are rated between 1-3 levels of spiciness (look for the cute cartoon chili peppers next to the dishes.) The “Kiss of Fire” orange chicken or beef ($9.95) gets a double pepper designation, while the “Gangsta” casserole “Murder Style” ($18.95) earns triple peppers on the spiciness scale. Two highlights on the menu are the eggplant in garlic sauce ($7.95) and Szechuan fish with beans and tofu ($12.95). If you have an acquired taste for pungent flavors, try any of their “stinky” dishes. The Ma-Po tofu with ground pork ($7.95) will certainly clear your sinuses.

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Best Taste Restaurant
814 Franklin St. (between 8th St & 9th St) [map]
Ph:(510) 444-4983
Hours: 7 days a week, 7 am -7 pm

A tiny, no-frills restaurant that specializes in standard southern Chinese fare, you’ll find its patrons hunkered down before bowls of noodle soups, clay pots and congee while Chinese soap operas blare in the background. Be sure to try their BBQ pork, roasted pork and duck with rice ($6.75) and fresh shrimp wontons in soup ($4). Most items on the menu are a real bargain, so you and a friend can eat well for $20 or less. Other standouts include the black mushrooms with mustard greens ($6.99) and beef short ribs with garlic ($7.99).

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What are some of your favorites places to eat in Chinatown? Let us know in the comments.

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Category: 5-Bites Restaurant Roundups, asian food and drink, bay area, local food businesses, photo gallery, restaurants, bars, cafes, reviews

About the Author ()

Jenny is happy to wear multiple hats at KQED; she works as an Interactive Producer for the Science & Environment unit and blogs for Bay Area Bites, KQED's popular food blog. Jenny graduated with honors from New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts Film and Television program and has worked for WNET/PBS, The Learning Channel, Sundance Channel and HBO.
  • Radhika Natarajan

    I find it hard to believe Ms. Oh is a resident of Oakland, or perhaps she lives in north Oakland has not visited downtown. Oakland’s Chinatown could not in any possible way be described as possessing “crowded corridors”. Instead, Ms. Oh is just repeating tired stereotypes of ethnic enclaves.

  • http://www.plattyjo.com/ Jenny Oh Hatfield

    Hi Radhika, Thanks for your comment. I actually live in West Oakland and definitely hang out downtown on a regular basis. I’m sorry to hear that you felt I was perpetuating stereotypes, but on the weekends, it’s definitely pretty busy!

  • http://oakleafblog.blogspot.com Roger Jennings

    It’s a pleasure to read a review of Oakland’s lesser-known Chinese restaurants. My wife and I patronize Ying Kee at 387 9th St. weekly for take out. We favor their dumplings, especially the deep-fried shrimp dumpling, and they make the best Singapore-style chow mei fun we’ve had since the early days of the now-departed Silver Dragon. Their Westlake beef soup is a good starter, and the black pepper short ribs have plenty of meat on the bones.

  • Amanda Shin

    It’s always great to hear about food finds in Oakland! Thanks for sharing! I think you hit the nail on this one. I’d also add New Ideas for dim sum and also Vien Huong Restaurant for their Ho Fun! Apparantly that has been a staple to a lot of Oakland natives since they were little.

  • http://www.plattyjo.com/ Jenny Oh Hatfield

    Thanks! I’m planning on doing a separate write-up for dim sum and bakeries as there’s so many great options. And Vien Huong is in my top ten, but we limited this round-up (part of a new series) to just 5. :)

  • http://www.plattyjo.com/ Jenny Oh Hatfield

    Thanks! I’m also a fan of Ying Kee, but I limited this list to 5. For future round-ups I’ll list other ones at the end that aren’t featured!

  • amindess

    Hi Jenny,

    Maybe you’ll do another round-up on sweets. Gotta have slippery, icy, sweet Mango Queendom at my favorite: YUMMY GUIDE, 358 11th Street.

  • http://science.kqed.org/quest Jenny Oh

    Thanks for the suggestion – that’s a great idea!

  • Lady C

    Totally nailed it with Gum Kuo and their congee. Their roast duck noodle soup is also an old standby. Love that place.