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This Sleek Taiwanese Street Food Lounge Serves Beef Noodle Soup Until 2:30 a.m.

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Two men devouring a bowl of soup noodles and a plate of fried tofu, with chopsticks in their hands.
Lounge Chinatown serves an array of Taiwanese street food classics — including stinky tofu — until 2:30 a.m. every night. (Thien Pham)

The Midnight Diners is a regular collaboration between KQED food editor Luke Tsai and artist Thien Pham. Follow them each week as they explore the hot pot restaurants, taco carts and 24-hour casino buffets that make up the Bay Area’s after-hours dining scene.

Much has been written about the demise of the American Chinatown, as well as the specific troubles that have plagued Oakland Chinatown in recent years — a double whammy of pandemic-related doldrums and fears about anti-Asian violence. These days, the neighborhood feels like a ghost town anytime after 6 o’clock at night, to say nothing of the late-night jook and roast duck feasts I remember enjoying even just five or six years ago.

You’d never guess at any of this, though, if your only data point was Lounge Chinatown, a stylish Taiwanese bar and restaurant that opened in December of 2022 with the explicit intention of being a late-night destination: It serves its massive menu of Taiwanese and Chinese street food specialties until 2:30 a.m., seven days a week.

Run by the folks behind Dragon Gate (another classic Oakland night spot), Lounge stands out like a gaudily neon-lit, bamboo-bedecked beacon amid the well-weathered storefronts and boarded-up windows of 8th Street, in the heart of Chinatown. At a little past 9 o’clock on a recent Thursday night, it was one of just a small handful of places in the entire neighborhood that was still open.

The first thing you notice about Lounge Chinatown is the decor, which is so hiply and aggressively Asia-fied in its aesthetics that 20-year-old me, at the very height of my AZN pride, would have eaten it up — all sleek red leather booths, lucky cat figurines and sexily back-lit Taiwanese whiskey bottles. Five or six different kinds of light fixtures, all designed to resemble various paper lanterns, bask the dining room in a nightclub-like glow. Meanwhile, a mural running the length of the restaurant depicts an unidentified Asian night market scene in such a way that the night market looks like the coolest damn place in the world.

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This is the kind of restaurant where you might imagine Jet Li — or Son Goku, at the height of his powers — strolling in for a late-night bowl of noodles. And, honest to God, even middle-aged me found the whole vibe to be pretty badass.

Exterior of a restaurant on a dark street. The sign reads "Lounge Chinatown," and the entrance is suffused in glowing purple light.
The restaurant’s aggressively Asia-fied aesthetics are a whole vibe. (Thien Pham)

The main reason we’d come, however, is because I can never resist the siren call of stinky tofu — or of Taiwanese street food, more broadly. Even more so when it’s still available hours after midnight. As it turns out, the menu covers a surprisingly (and intimidatingly) vast range of Chinese and Taiwanese food genres, running the gamut from meat skewers to hot pot and malatang. You’ll do very well for yourself if you stick to the most famous Taiwanese classics.

If you aren’t unnecessarily squeamish, you’ll start, as we did, with an order of the fried stinky tofu, which arrives at the table crisp-edged and deliciously pungent, served with all the standard accompaniments: pickled cabbage, soy paste dressing and a dollop of chili sauce. It’s about as tasty a version as you can find in the East Bay.

The best way to sample a bunch of things is to order one of the bento boxes, which come with a big scoop of lu rou fan (braised pork rice), pickles, sautéed greens and a marinated egg. We went with the fried pork chop — a nostalgic classic for anyone who’s ever bought a boxed lunch at a train station in Taiwan. Lounge’s version hits all the right notes: the jolt of five-spice powder on the crunchy batter, the juiciness and lavish fattiness of the thick, bone-in chop.

But the star of the menu has got to be the beef noodle soup, a faithful rendition of one of Taiwan’s most famous dishes. The noodles are thick and chewy. The generous chunks of beef shank and tendon are slow-cooked to a jiggly, luxurious tenderness. And the broth? Spicy and savory, heavy on the tongue-numbing Sichuan peppercorn — almost too boldly flavorful for me to finish the entire bowl, making it perfect for sharing. It’s pure comfort food.

I’ll have to come back again, with more stomach space or a larger group, to try the extensive selection of lu wei, a uniquely Taiwanese genre of cold, braised street snacks.

My usual worry with a place like Lounge Chinatown is that it’ll be too loud or too trendy — too many weekend karaoke warriors singing badly in public. But the truth is, the restaurant was busy during our visit but not exceptionally so. The vibe was more Chill Place for Quiet Conversation than it was Loud Party Zone. Like the rest of Chinatown, it seems, the restaurant is just starting to get things rolling again. And I, for one, am ready to see what it looks like when it really hits its stride.


Lounge Chinatown is open 10:30 a.m.–2:30 a.m. daily at 366 8th St. in Oakland.

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