Smoked Bacon Stir Fried with Bean Curd ($9.95) at Spices 3
Do you ever think to yourself, "Man, I could really go for a big bowl of meaty bacon and incredibly hot peppers right now"? Well, your wish has been granted. This totally decadent, totally awesome dish from Spices 3 gets to the quick and dirty point: BACON, peppers, peppers, and more peppers. Specifically, mouth tingling red Szechuan peppers, jalapenos, some bell peppers, and some leeks. The smoked bacon has a deep, rich flavor; the unctuous, meaty pieces lined with fat don't hurt things, either.
Side note: it's also awesome for leftovers. Make a breakfast burrito, make nachos, or, if you're me, make open faced BLATs with baguette, avocado, and Sriracha mayo.
Szechuan Beef Noodle Soup ($7.25) at Spices 3
From now on, this is the noodle soup I'm going to dream about on those rough mornings following a night with a little too much whiskey. The broth is intensely beefy, with a slick of tingling chili oil floating on the top of the bowl. The heat builds slowly, slowly enough that you can keep eating without severely sweating and tearing up... at least not right away. The beef ranges from fall-apart tender to chewy and tendony, depending on how lucky your chopstick grabs are.
Szechuan Beef Noodle Soup
The noodles in this soup are fantastic. Silky, tender and with a touch of chew, they take on the beef flavor while maintaining their eggy-rich taste as well.
Mango Icee ($3.50) at Spices 3
Spices 3 features icees in a number of flavors. This mango one was sweet and refreshing, without the sticky cloyingness that can come from using bad-quality fruit syrups. The best part: icees are buy one, get one free (you have to get the same flavor for both). Drink up, but be wary of brain freeze.
Curried Pork Bun ($.80) at Cam Huong Bakery
While there wasn't much pork in this bun, we loved the sweet, squishy bread, from the glossy top to the massive air pockets within. The pork that was there was nicely laced with curry.
Cam Huong Bakery: 1088 Webster Street, Oakland CA 94607
Mantoo ($5.95) at Kamdesh Afghan Kabob House
A cross between tender, pliant dumplings and fresh ravioli, these mantoo are filled with a sweetly spiced blend of ground beef and onions. Topped with serviceable sauteed vegetables, the generously applied yogurt sauce is the real star of this dish. Rich, savory, and laced with a hint of citrus and chili powder, this was a lick-the-plate-good sauce. "I want to like, bathe in it," as our photographer Wes aptly said.
Kamdesh Afghan Kabob House: 346 14th Street, Oakland CA 94612
Mantoo, inside shot.
Doogh ($1.95) at Kamdesh Afghan Kabob House
A great example of a savory Middle Eastern yogurt drink, the same yogurt we loved on the mantoo is mixed with small pieces of cucumber and refreshing mint. Throat-coating but clean tasting, the doogh was a nice match for the rich mantoo.
Special Shan Dong Dumplings ($8.50) at Shan Dong
Seeing as these dumplings have earned the distinction of being Shan Dong's signature dish, we couldn't not order them. We're damn glad we did. Just thick enough, doughy wrappers hold a generous amount of meaty, sweet pork, and still-crisp cabbage.
Special Shan Dong Dumplings, Inside Shot
The flavors of the rich, porky interior were especially good with a pour of the accompanying salty-sweet dipping sauce.
Fortune Layers, or Shredded Pig's Ear ($4.95) at Shan Dong
Certainly the prettiest pig's ear dish I've ever eaten, this is more of a terrine than anything shredded. The contrasting texture of the slick five-spice-laced gelatin and snappy cartilage was worth noting; flavor-wise, a dollop of hot chilis is definitely a good move for this dish.
Sesame Paste Noodles ($8.75, +$1 for handmade noodles) at Shan Dong
One of my favorite dishes of the Chinatown crawl, hands down, these thick, doughy noodles have that incomparable spring and snap that evidences freshly made strands. I loved the nutty savoriness of the sesame paste, too, which was balanced with the heat of chili oil and some baby spinach.
I'd get these again, but it's very worth noting that you can get any of Shan Dong's noodle dishes with the fresh, handmade stuff for just a dollar extra (the noodles with pork and preserved vegetables were pretty tempting, too).
Banh Mi ($3) at Cam Huong Restaurant
We tried the barbecue pork banh mi and weren't blown away but have to give Cam Huong serious points for their other banh mi fillings. In addition to the standard cold cut-pate-chicken combinations, you can order curry tofu, barbecue bacon, and fried salmon.
Vietnamese Iced Coffee ($2.50) at Cam Huong Restaurant
A textbook-great Vietnamese iced coffee, Cam Huong's version is rich with sweetened condensed milk, and filled with crushed ice. The coffee's pretty good, too, and plenty caffeinated to keep you going through a Chinatown food crawl.
A full house at Cam Huong.
Sachkor Ang ($9.95) at Phnom Penh House
The dishes we tried at Phnom Penh House had me ready to book a ticket to Cambodia (okay, I may have been ready to do that anyway). Still, this rendition of sachkor ang, or charbroiled beef skewers, was standout both texturally and flavor-wise. The beef, shwarma-like in texture, was tenderized before being cooked over high heat, lending it a nice char and a hint of grilled flavor. It's thickly rubbed with coconut, lemongrass, and ginger, making each bite a killer blend of spicy-sweetness and heady tang.
Slaap Moarn Borg ($9.95) at Phnom Penh House
Slaap Moarn Borg? A description is in order here. Boneless chicken wings are stuffed with lemongrass, bean thread, meat, black mushrooms, onion, and spices. The wings are fried crisp and split, with the remaining wing bone acting as a very convenient handle for grasping, dipping, and eating. The chicken, for starters, has a crackly, nicely salted crust, and the chicken meat is tender and flavorful. The filling is somewhat indistinguishable (in terms of individual elements, at least) and is more texturally interesting than flavor-packed, but the overall effort ends up in an addictive mash-up of fried chicken wings and potstickers. In short: totally awesome. Order these, drink beer, and be happy.
Napoleon Super Bakery (4 Pastries for $2.50)
My experience at Napoleon Super Bakery was, literally, kid-in-a-candy-shop-esque; I legitimately wanted to run around grabbing one of everything I saw (if it had been less crowded, I probably would have). But we controlled ourselves, selecting four pastries (two sweet, two savory), all for a grand total of... $2.50. Hello, beautiful.
Napoleon Super Bakery: 810 Franklin Street, Oakland CA 94607
Mini Barbecue Pork Bun at Napoleon Super Bakery
While this lacked the curry flavor of Cam Huong's pork bun, Napoleon Super Bakery's mini barbecue pork bun more than made up for it with its sweet, perfectly squishy bread, and well-proportioned, meaty interior. The pork, sweet and moist, would have been great on its own.
Ham and Fried Pork Bun at Napoleon Super Bakery
A double-hitter of pig, this bun featured salty, meaty ham and dry, almost grassy-textured fried pork.
Ham and Fried Pork Bun, Inside Shot
The fried pork was too dry for our taste, but this bun had the the same excellent, sweet bread of the barbecue buns, too.
Sesame Seed Ball from Napoleon Super Bakery
Sweet and oily on the outside, biting into this sesame ball reveals a dense, rice-rich, glutinous interior. Hearty, slightly sweet, and hugely satisfying, this pastry evokes a donut with a whole lot more going on inside.
Egg Custard Tart from Napoleon Super Bakery
I'm going to put this out there: the egg custard tart from Napoleon Super Bakery is better than the one at Golden Gate Bakery in San Francisco. Go ahead, come after me with pitchforks. But seriously, this egg custard tart is ridiculous. The pastry is so delicate and flaky that it literally shatters in your mouth; the filling is creamy, rich, and deeply egg flavored with the perfect hint of sweetness. The entire thing melts in your mouth. Plus, this bakery is open every day.