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. What are some of your favorites places to eat in Chinatown? Let us know in the comments.
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 and Shan Dong dumplings with pork and vegetables -- are generously portioned platters large enough to feed four hungry diners. The wonton noodle soup has a richly flavored broth chock-full of vegetables, chicken, beef and shrimp. For an extra dollar, you can substitute in their plump, homemade noodles -- which I recommend if you're ordering their spicy sesame paste noodles.
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, roasted duck over peppery white rice, sizzling claypot chicken with flecks of roast pork, onions, garlic and ginger and sauteed tender greens.
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, while the roasted BBQ pork with rice, steamed greens and fried egg 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 that has a bit of a spicy kick. Roast duck and bok choy with a side of rice are another classic combo.
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 gets a double pepper designation, while the "Gangsta" casserole "Murder Style" earns triple peppers on the spiciness scale. Two highlights on the menu are the eggplant in garlic sauce and Szechuan fish with beans and tofu. If you have an acquired taste for pungent flavors, try any of their "stinky" dishes. The Ma-Po tofu with ground pork will certainly clear your sinuses.
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 and fresh shrimp wontons in soup. 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 and beef short ribs with garlic.