Nite Yun's Bay Area: Where to Eat and Drink in SF and Beyond

The Nyum Bai chef tells us her favorite places to eat in the Bay Area.

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Bay Area chef Nite Yun placing a lime wedge atop a bowl of soup with rice noodles, in a restaurant kitchen
Photograph: Patricia Chang

Nite Yun comes from a family of Cambodian refugees whose identity is steeped in food and cooking. Her mother taught her to cook bright and fresh recipes from their homeland, and these dishes shaped her life at home and for years to come.

Though Nite was always passionate about food, it was only when she went back to Cambodia and sampled kuy tew, a ubiquitous stew, that she found her calling. She wanted to bring this type of food to the Bay Area with her very own restaurant. And she did it, with Nyum Bai, a little noodle shop and pantry offering staples of Khmer cuisine. Visit Nyum Bai any night of the week, and you'll find lok lak, shaken beef in a lime-and-pepper sauce; kuy teav phnom penh, a rice noodle soup in pork broth; and fried chicken rubbed with salt and Kampot peppercorns.

We sat down with Nite to hear how she spends her time off in Oakland. Here's what she had to say.

Nite's Night-Off Philosophy

"I don’t really have a routine for my day off. I usually still get up early and have a cup of coffee. I like to spend a lot of time alone, starting off my day with meditating for at least five to 10 minutes, and then trying to go do some type of exercise. Lately, it's been jogging."

How Nite Gets the Most Out of a Night Off

"I have at least 10 people up in the kitchen around me, so I'm pretty in tune with all my staff’s energy—listening to feedback, or just what they're going through every day. I process a lot of outside energy rather than my own thoughts and feelings. That's why it’s important to me to have a full day off, just to myself, so I can reflect and reenergize and feel normal. I try not to think too much about the restaurant on my day off. I try not to look at texts. I tell my sous chefs not to reach out to me on Mondays. That's my time to just kind of recover from a busy week. I like to hang out with friends, too, or go out to dinner or something like that. But if not, I honestly just stay home, catch up with my reading, and do the small admin work. I keep it as simple as possible."

Nite's Favorite Places to Eat in the Bay Area

Standard Fare

"Standard Fare is this really cute breakfast and lunch spot with an open kitchen, out in Berkeley. But it's very, very tiny. I think it can only probably seat about 10 people at most. But it's the most homestyle cooking you can ever find. They’ve got really good toast, sandwiches, and soups. Not to say the food is simple, but it's nothing too crazy. You don't need tweezers or microgreens in their kitchen. It’s straight up just really good food. Very homey."

Sequoia Diner

"If I were to go to brunch, it would definitely be at Sequoia Diner, out in the Laurel District in Oakland. It’s got a diner-type atmosphere, with baby-blue colors and booth seating. They make their own pecan buns, and the best matcha latte with coconut milk. It’s another place with comfort, homestyle cooking in a really cute neighborhood."

Rintaro

"I keep going back to Rintaro, in San Francisco. You get to try a lot of different plates, especially the yakitoris, if you're going with a big group of friends. They always have a really great mahi collection. The menu changes quite often, but something about that place...it just makes you want to unwind. It's probably because all the staff is so friendly, and all the wooden decor."

House of Prime Rib

"For me, if I were to get a reservation at House of Prime Rib at 10 p.m., I would still do it, because that's a splurge for me. Everything about that place is very festive, and they're carving the prime ribs right in front of you; it's like they put on a show, and you know you're getting good service there. Sometimes you just don't want to think about anything, and they've got your back. The menu is small enough where you don't have to really think about anything. You know what you're getting, and it's always delicious."

Swan's Market

"I always tell friends to go to Swan's Market in old Oakland. It's kind of like a food hall where they have everything from prosciutto to good Mexican food, and a great oyster happy hour spot. I was just there for lunch last week."

Starline Social Club

"Because I live in the neighborhood, I like going to Starline Social Club. They always have a really good selection of cocktails. I order anything with mezcal, or my go-to cocktail is a Sazerac. It's always consistent. They’ve got snacks like onion rings and mini corn dogs and things like that, but done really well."

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