A Culinary Tour of Chinese Cuisine in Oakland's Chinatown

Chinese Food | © sanfamedia.com / Flickr
Chinese Food | © sanfamedia.com / Flickr
Photo of Victoria Lau
13 July 2017

Chinese food in America has long been a staple favored by many. Yet dim sum, chow mien, and other familiar dishes only represent a style of cooking from just one region of China. Luckily, you don’t have to hop on a plane for a tour of east Asia when Oakland’s Chinatown offers an impressive array of regional cuisines. Here are six restaurants for your roaming taste buds to try.

Spices 3

Restaurant, Chinese
© Ewan Munro/Flickr

What can you expect from this restaurant? Well, it’s all in the name. A popular regional cuisine in China, the key flavor profile is hot, spicy, and thanks to the use of the Sichuan peppercorns, numbing too. Classic must-try dishes include the fish fillet bowl with flaming red oil, lamb cumin hotpot, ma-po tofu, dan dan noodles, and other explosive chili-cooked offerings. Be prepared to have your taste buds lit up.

Gum Kuo Restaurant

Restaurant, Chinese
Duck | © Jason Goh/Pixabay

The many waves of Chinese immigrants that came to North America and established Chinatowns were for the most part from the rural districts outside of the southern city then known as Canton. That’s why Chinese restaurants here typically serve Cantonese cuisine. Don’t be off put by the glistening chunks of hanging meats and duck in the display window of Gum Kuo Restaurant. They serve up Cantonese classics ranging from the meat essentials such as barbecue pork, soy sauce chicken, and roast duck, to wonton soup, noodle stir fry, and a small selection of steamed dim sum dishes.

Shanghai Restaurant

Restaurant, Chinese, $$$
Steamed pork buns
Steamed pork buns | © City Foodsters/Flickr

Never mind the faded photos of dishes plastered on the windows of Shanghai Restaurant, this hole in the wall eatery serves up plump soup dumplings otherwise known as Shanghai dumplings, or xiaolongbao. Eat with caution, as these delicious little pyramids are filled with pork and steaming hot dumpling “soup.”

Gently scooping one with a soup spoon is key to preventing it from bursting en route to your taste buds. You can buy a bag of frozen ones to steam at home. Other foods to try are their stir fried rice cakes and pan fried pork buns.

Classic Guilin Rice Noodles

Restaurant, Chinese
Guilin Rice Noodle
Guilin Rice Noodle | © gigijin/Flickr

There are plenty of noodle soup eateries in Chinatown, but only one place that serves Guilin rice noodles. At Classic Guilin Rice Noodles, the rounded rice noodles are topped with a variety of toppings, typically peanuts, thinly sliced meat, chopped scallions and pickled vegetables—soup is served on the side.

First timers should try the Guilin noodle sampler, which consists of five small bowls of their signature noodles with different meat toppings each. You can choose to drink the light soup alongside your noodles, pour it in from the start, or as they suggest, add it in at the very end when you’re almost all done slurping up your noodles. Vegetarians will delight in their veggie sampler.

Shooting Star Cafe

Restaurant, Chinese, American
Hong Kong-style milk tea
Hong Kong-style milk tea | © City Foodsters/Flickr

Hong Kong cuisine features Cantonese-style dishes alongside British and Western-inspired food. Shooting Star Cafe offers a fusion menu of East meets West that’ll fulfill all your cravings and then some. Try French toast for breakfast, wonton noodle soup for lunch, and baked pork chop over macaroni for dinner.

If you’re just in the mood for a small snack, there’s fried fishballs and french fries all on the same menu. Be sure to save room for their sweet desserts. Crowd favorites include egg puff waffle a la Mode and sago pudding with fresh fruit. Wash it all down with the quintessential Hong Kong-style milk tea.

Shandong Restaurant

Restaurant, Chinese
Pan-fried Pork Buns
Pan-fried Pork Buns | © Alpha/Flickr

Named after the northeast coast Shandong region of China, this restaurant serves up steaming hot dumplings, a common staple for colder regions. Whether it’s boiled or pan fried, be sure to dip the dumplings in black vinegar for a tart compliment to the doughy casing and savory meat goodness inside. While you’re there, don’t overlook the other non-dumpling dishes on the menu. Crowd favorites include hand-pulled noodles served in soup or stir fried, and sautéed string beans.

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