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Nasi lemak, the national dish of Malaysia, at Chilli Padi. Jenny Oh
Nasi lemak, the national dish of Malaysia, at Chilli Padi. (Jenny Oh)

5 Bites: A-List Asian Rice Plates in Oakland

5 Bites: A-List Asian Rice Plates in Oakland

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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

Chilli Padi's nasi lemak is a spicy melange of salty, fishy and savory flavors.
Chilli Padi's nasi lemak is a spicy melange of salty, fishy and savory flavors. (Jenny Oh)

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.

Chilli Padi
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

Bún Mam Sóc Trang's plentiful broken rice plate also comes with a small bowl of clear chicken-pork broth.
Bún Mam Sóc Trang's plentiful broken rice plate also comes with a small bowl of clear chicken-pork broth. (Jenny Oh)

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.

Bún Mam Sóc Trang
1326 E 18th Street [Map]
Oakland, CA 94606
Ph: (510) 534-2828
Hours: Tue-Sun 8am-6pm; From 4-6pm, Take-Out Only
Price range: $ (Rice Plates $10 and under)
Cash only

The Best Polynesian Rice Plate with Thanksgiving-Sized Portions

The overflowing BBQ Plate at Mo's Hut is more like a full-size platter of food.
The overflowing BBQ Plate at Mo's Hut is more like a full-size platter of food. (Jenny Oh)

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.


Mo's Hut
2676 Fruitvale Avenue [Map]
Oakland, CA 94601
Ph: (510) 328-1677
Hours: Tue-Fri 10am-7pm; Sat 9am-7pm
Facebook: Mo's Hut
Price range: $$ (Rice Plates $11-$17)

The Rice Plate with the Best International Pedigree

Juicy pork tonkatsu swims in a pool of savory curry sauce from AS B-Dama.
Juicy pork tonkatsu swims in a pool of savory curry sauce from AS B-Dama. (Jenny Oh)

Curry rice, or karē raisu, is a fusion dish that dates back to the 19th century. It was introduced to the Japanese by the British (who developed a taste for curry during the era of colonial rule in India.) A part of my mom's repertoire of Korean "fast food," it was one of the quick-and-easy dinners she'd throw together for my brother and me. She'd sautée chopped onions, carrots and potatoes with chunks of beef, then simmer the mixture with water and cubes of concentrated curry spices from the popular S & B "Golden Curry" brand. (Koreans also became partial to curry rice through similar wartime circumstances; they were influenced by Japanese culture during the 35-year period of occupation in the early 20th century.) The katsu-karē variant comes with a breaded, deep-fried pork cutlet that downtown Oakland's AS B-Dama offers on its lunchtime menu. With no added vegetables, their earthy, flavorful curry is less like a stew and functions more as a dipping sauce for their juicy tonkatsu. And a fresh garden salad with ginger dressing nicely balances the substantial helpings of starch and protein.

AS B-Dama
Swan’s Market, 907 Washington Street [Map]
Oakland, CA 94607
Ph: (510) 251-1113
Hours: Everyday 11:30am-2pm; 5:30-10pm; Closed Sunday
Facebook: AS B-Dama
Price range: $$ (Rice Plates $11-$17)

Best Thai Comfort Food Rice Plate

Khao mun gai is a classic Thai comfort food dish.
Khao mun gai is a classic Thai comfort food dish. (Jenny Oh)

I've been a fan of Oakland's Hawker Fare since its opening back in 2011 when I first reviewed it for Bay Area Bites. They've tweaked their offerings over the years and now serve nine rice plates, instead of bowls, at lunchtime. It's no surprise that Hainanese chicken rice, one of Singapore's national dishes (which originally hailed from southern China), is featured on Hawker Fare's street food-centric menu. They serve the Thai rendition here (khao mun gai) but the basic components are similar: poached, boneless chicken that's silkily soft in texture; unctuous rice cooked in chicken broth and fat; crisp cucumber slices; sprigs of cilantro; and a thick, fermented bean dipping sauce. (Chili sauce or chicken broth often accompanies the Singapore or Malay versions.) Be sure to add an over easy fried egg for $1.50 to up the umami quotient.


Hawker Fare
Address: 2300 Webster Street [Map]
Oakland, CA 94612
Ph: (510) 832-8896
Hours: Lunch: Mon–Fri 11am–2:30pm; Dinner: Tue–Thu 5:30pm-9:30pm Fri-Sat 5:30pm–10pm
Facebook: Hawker Fare
Twitter: @hawkerfareOAK
Price range: $$ (Rice Plates $11-$17)

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