Sandwiches, burritos, slices of pizza -- these are all solid options if you want a fast, affordable meal. But as a Korean-American who grew up eating rice with breakfast, lunch and dinner, my idea of a "meat and three" often includes this staple grain from Asia. Given the diverse ethnic population of the Bay Area, there's no shortage of restaurants to order a humble rice plate -- in its numerous incarnations -- around the clock. Here's five places that I've selected to show the range of tasty rice plates that are available in Oakland; please let us know your favorites in the comments. (And stay tuned for my follow-up post about rice bowls.)
Tastiest Breakfast-For-Dinner Rice Plate
Whenever I head to Chilli Padi Malaysian Cuisine -- which is located right in the heart of downtown Oakland's Chinatown -- I admit I'm rather lazy and default to ordering one of two of my favorite Malay dishes: a big bowl of laksa mee, a spicy coconut milk noodle soup, or nasi lemak, which is considered the country's national dish. Typically eaten for breakfast, it's now consumed all day in Malaysia and neighboring Southeast Asian countries. There's myriad incarnations, but a traditional version, like the one served at Chilli Padi, contains the following mini-buffet: stir-fried, chili-infused anchovies; roasted, salted peanuts; half of a hard-boiled egg, curried meat (in this case, tender slices chicken with potatoes); fresh cucumbers; and sambal, or chili paste. They also include a small side of pickled cabbage that's reminiscent of a milder form of kimchi. But the most alluring component is its centerpiece: an aromatic mound of coconut milk rice flavored with cloves and pandan leaves. (Sometimes the entire dish is wrapped in or served on top of one of these leaves as well.) Its rich flavor lives up to the dish's name, as nasi lemak translates to "fat rice" (although from a culinary standpoint, it means "enriched".) There's a good chance you'll leave the restaurant a little bit fatter and happier afterwards.
366 8th Street [Map]
Oakland, CA 94607
Ph: (510) 891-8862
Hours: Mon-Thu and Sun 11am-10pm; Fri-Sat 11am-10:30pm
Facebook: Chilli Padi Malaysian Cuisine
Price range: $ (Rice Plates $10 and under)
Best Cinderella-esque Rice Plate
I've heaped loads of praise upon Bún Mam Sóc Trang in my previous '5 Bites' write-up about excellent Vietnamese food in Oakland. It's worth trekking out to East Oakland to eat anything and everything that emerges from their homestyle kitchen -- but you can't go wrong with ordering the beloved Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City) street food dish, cơm tấm, or broken rice plates. (The dish originates from southern Vietnamese farmers that repurposed the unsellable grains that were broken during the milling process into cheap meals.) There's 11 to choose from on their menu, depending on whether you want grilled or shredded pork, crispy chicken or simmered prawns. They're paired with great sides such as strứng hấp, or steamed egg cakes filled with translucent noodles and pork and fried shrimp cakes with a delicate, flaky crust. Be sure to dip your meat in the nuoc cham made from fermented fish sauce.
The Best Polynesian Rice Plate with Thanksgiving-Sized Portions
As global explorers landed on Hawaii's shores throughout its history of settlement, native foods that were gradually introduced -- such as malasadas (Portugal) and manapua (China) -- helped create a diverse indigenous cuisine. Japan's influence is most evident, with unique dishes like Spam musubi, poke and shave ice. Over at Mo's Hut, a cozy Samoan-Hawaiian venue in Fruitvale, you can get a quintessential Hawaiian plate lunch with platter-sized portions. The standard two scoops of white rice and macaroni salad (with a hefty addition of potatoes and imitation crab) are crammed into a container that barely holds a huge pile of grilled short ribs (prepared and seasoned like Korean kalbi) and barbecued chicken thighs and beef that are glazed with a sweet teriyaki sauce. This feast will easily feed two people, so sharing is encouraged. If you're in the mood for something different, they also have the "Mo's Special" with corned beef, chop suey, barbecued chicken and coconut milk bananas.