Rockridge's Ramen Shop features a special  donburi bowl that changes daily.   Jenny Oh
Rockridge's Ramen Shop features a special donburi bowl that changes daily.  (Jenny Oh)

5 Bites: Ridiculously Good Asian Rice Bowls in Berkeley and Oakland

5 Bites: Ridiculously Good Asian Rice Bowls in Berkeley and Oakland

Whether its mac 'n' cheese or samosas, chocolate chip cookies or tamales, everyone has their own notions of comfort food. Growing up in a Korean-American home, rice was the foundation for many of my meals. We always had our rice cooker plugged in on our kitchen countertop, warming a big potful of rice I'd dig into for a fast after school snack. Cracking a raw egg into a bowl filled with hot white rice, butter and soy sauce, I'd mix it all together to let the heat cook the egg. I'm still partial to rice bowls, and here’s four places in Oakland -- plus one in Berkeley -- where you'll find an excellent selection of Asian options. Please let us know your favorites in the comments, and check out my companion post about rice plates.

Best Daily Donburi

A recent donburi at Ramen Shop featured pork chashu and yellowfin tuna tonnato with charmoula-stuffed pimento pepper, scallions, ginger, kombu and sansho Tokyo turnips.
A recent donburi at Ramen Shop featured pork chashu and yellowfin tuna tonnato with charmoula-stuffed pimento pepper, scallions, ginger, kombu and sansho Tokyo turnips. (Jenny Oh)

There's a gazillion variations of donburi, which literally means bowl in Japanese. While Rockridge's Ramen Shop is known for its eponymous menu item, it also features a delightful donburi that changes on a daily basis. Depending on what's in season or stocked at the nearby Monterey Market, you'll just have to check in to see what magical combination Ramen Shop has heaped into their bowl. A recent special featured pork chashu and yellowfin tuna tonnato with charmoula-stuffed pimento pepper, scallions, ginger, kombu and sansho Tokyo turnips.

Ramen Shop
Address: 5812 College Avenue [Map]
Oakland, CA 94618
Ph: 510-788-6370
Hours: Mon-Thu 5-10:30pm; Fri 5pm-Midnight; Sat 12pm-Midnight; Sun 12pm-10:30pm
Twitter: @ramenoakland
Instagram: @ramenshopoakland
Price range: $$ Entrees ($11-$17)

Best Rice Bowl That's Also a Traditional Lunch Box 

Kani Wappa Meshi at Musashi has a generous helping of real crab and shredded egg over steamed rice.
Kani Wappa Meshi at Musashi has a generous helping of real crab and shredded omelette over steamed rice. (Jenny Oh)

Wappa meshi is a traditional Japanese dish that functioned as both a lunch box and cooking vessel for woodcutters from the Fukushima prefecture; river fish and wild vegetables were steamed together with rice in a wooden bowl. Berkeley's Musashi has a multitude of choices: you can get ground or sliced beef, marinated chicken or seafood with slivers of omelette over white rice. It's served with miso soup, tsukemono (pickled vegetables) and a piping hot ceramic bowl of chawanmushi. This custard-like steamed egg dish is flavored with chunks of seafood, slices of mushroom and fish cake, seaweed and dashi. They've also got a fine selection of other donburi such as sautéed chicken, egg, onion and mushroom (oyako don) and unaju (eel). A special mention should also be made for their excellent chirashi, which is a veritable buffet of raw fish over sushi rice.

Musashi
2126 Dwight Way [Map]
Berkeley, CA 94704
Ph: (510) 843-2017
Hours: Lunch Tue-Fri: 11:30am-2pm; Dinner Tue-Thu 5:30pm-9pm Fri-Sat 5:30pm-9:30pm
Facebook: Musashiya Berkeley
Price range: $$$ Entrees ($18-$24)

Best Rice Bowl with a Sizzling Soundtrack 

A symphony of sounds and flavors come with the sizzling dol sot bi bim bap at Bowl'd.
A symphony of sounds and flavors come with the sizzling dol sot bi bim bap at Bowl'd. (Jenny Oh)

 Bi bim bap, which means "mixed rice" in Korean, is a smorgasbord of ingredients arranged on top of a big bowl of steamed rice.  My favorite version is dol sot bi bim bap. The dish is served in a hot stone bowl -- and it's really hot, so don't touch the sides! -- which announces its arrival at your table with an enticing sizzling sound. While I'm also a fan of the bim bim bap at Pyeongchang Tofu House in TemescalBowl'd BBQ on Telegraph  has a slight edge as they also offer a mixed grain option with barley, quinoa and several varieties of rice. Choose your protein (meat, tofu or fish) to accompany your assortment of fresh or sautéed vegetables. It's crowned with an over easy fried egg, but before you dig in, squeeze some gochuchang, or spicy fermented soybean paste, over the bowl. As you throughly mix it all together with your spoon, the egg yolk will cook quickly from the heat radiating from the bowl. And you'll love the tasty finale: eating the crispy, browned bits of rice that await you when you reach the bottom. Save some room for the complimentary banchan that comes with your meal, too.

Sponsored

Bowl'd BBQ
4869 Telegraph Avenue [Map]
Oakland, CA 94609 (Additional locations in Albany and Berkeley; Check website for details.)
Ph: (510) 654-2000
Hours: Everyday 11am-10pm
Facebook: Bowl'd Korean Rice Bar
Price range: $$ Entrees ($11-$17)

Best Chinese Cheap Eats in a Clay Pot

Gum Wah's pork spareribs in black bean sauce over sticky rice is an affordable and filling lunch.
Gum Wah's pork spareribs in black bean sauce over sticky rice is an affordable and filling lunch. (Jenny Oh)

If you have some extra time, head on over to downtown Oakland's Chinatown and stop in Gum Wah for one of their no-frills clay pots. Each one is made to order, so the rice takes about 15-20 minutes to cook inside the pot. Choose between jasmine or sticky rice (for a slight surcharge). The tender, gingery pork spareribs in black bean sauce is a classic choice, but there's also eel, quail and even frog if you're looking for something besides the usual meaty offerings. Be sure to scrape the sides of the bowl so you can enjoy the crunchy crust of rice coating its sides at the end of your meal. Other house specialties include rice noodle rolls, Chinese-style BBQ and porridge. And if this small establishment is packed with patrons, there's also Gum Kuo, Best Taste, Tay Ho or Binh Minh Quan nearby (see my previous '5 Bites' guides on Chinese and Vietnamese food in Oakland.)

Gum Wah Restaurant
345 8th Street [Map]
Oakland, CA 94607
Ph: (510) 834-3103
Hours: Everyday 8:30am-7pm
$ (Entrees $10 and under)

Best Filipino Feast in a Bowl

The sweet and tangy pork menudo at Fruitvale's Lucky Three Seven.
The sweet and tangy pork menudo at Fruitvale's Lucky Three Seven. (Jenny Oh)

The steam table at Lucky Three Seven's is brimming with traditional Filipino stews, noodles and sides. They're available a la carte, but the best way to savor their menu is to pile it all on a large bowl of steamed white rice. Lucky Three Seven offers several standard items -- like juicy longaniza sausage and chicken adobo -- as well as a few rotating daily specials. Choose small or large containers for one item over rice; it's $2 more for extra items (and the specials are another $2-3.) Their pork menudo, a rich stew packed with tender chunks of pork, carrots and peppers in a sweet, tangy tomato sauce is perfect for a hearty lunch. Get your meal to go or sit out front in the sunshine on their outdoor deck.

Sponsored

Lucky Three Seven
2868 Fruitvale Avenue [Map]
Oakland, CA 94602
Ph: (510) 789-6343
Hours: Mon-Sun 7am-7pm
Facebook: Lucky Three Seven Fillipino
Twitter: @lucky37oakland
Price range: $$ Entrees ($11-$17)

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