A Map of the East Bay’s Favorite Asian Noodles

Story By Cheryl Angelina Koehler
Illustrations by Margo Rivera-Weiss

 

Good Asian noodles are deliciously easy to find in the East Bay—or so we discovered when our readers offered their favorites for this map. In sorting through oodles of mouthwatering suggestions, we realized what we most needed was some taxonomy and a map of Asia in order to understand the origins and influences of East Bay noodles, from their birthplace in ancient China through their pan-Asian migrations.

Wheaty noodles . . .

Most any grain or starchy vegetable can be made into a noodle, which means today’s gluten-free set might find a good meal of buckwheat, rice, oat, bean starch, tapioca, and even sweet potato noodles. However, mighty wheat, with its stretchy gluten component, is the flour of choice for an Asian chef wanting to pull, peel, cut, or shave dough into a stringy noodle. And anyone who has ever watched a noodle puller at work would agree with famed food writer Jonathan Kaufman, who in his SF Chron story (8/10/18) about Shinry Lamian in Fremont said, “No one combines circus arts and food porn quite like western China’s noodle-pullers.”

Your search for hand-pulled noodles might take you to Alameda, where one reader swoons over ARK Chinese Restaurant’s handmade “golden tresses” served in a triple mushroom soup. If in Union City, step onto the Silk Road at Sama Uyghur Cuisine and order the laghman (stir-fried noodles with vegetables, beef, and lamb) to try some spicy, chewy hand-pulled noodles prepared by Uyghurs, a Muslim ethnic minority in China’s Xinjiang province. For Tibetan hand-pulled, you’ll ask for thaen-thuk at Nomad Tibetan on Solano Avenue in Berkeley. At Shan Dong in Oakland Chinatown, the #1 noodle spot among our readers, you might try the zha cai rou si mian (Sichuan shredded pork and pickled mustard greens).

To experience the legendary dao xiao mian (hand-shaved noodles) of Shaanxi, Carolyn Phillips, author of the scholarly Chinese cookbook All Under Heaven, suggests Huangcheng Noodle House in Oakland Chinatown. “None of these places in Chinatown have much in the way of atmosphere,” she warns, “but the food is always of excellent quality with good seasoning.” She suggests the vegetarian fried noodles, spicy Chongqing street noodles, or the noodles with pickled mustard greens and pork sauce. If you’re out in Pittsburg, find hand-shaved noodles at Skyview Noodle.

Back in Oakland Chinatown at Gum Kuo Restaurant, “a classic Hong Kong–style diner,” Carolyn Phillips watches her Chinese husband down the wonton noodle soup as she indulges in the tomato beef pan-fried noodles, which has noodles fried like a crispy pillow. Or she might have the stir-fried beef chow fun (rice noodle) with black bean sauce. She notes that Gum Kuo has a second location in Dublin.

And last in this category are the spicy Sichuan style tan tan noodles at Chengdu Style near Cal in Berkeley.

. . . and not so wheaty noodles . . .

For a truly memorable plate of mung bean noodles, follow the advice of food writer Carolyn Jung. She describes the Double Skin cold appetizer salad at Great China, Berkeley’s temple of Shandong cuisine, as “a tangle of slippery noodles with piles of cucumber, carrots, shrimp, calamari, pork, and sea cucumber arranged all around it. The server mixes it all at the table with a blend of soy sauce and hot mustard for just the right amount of nasal heat. It’s a riot of textures—chewy, crunchy, and soft—and so fresh and light tasting.”

A vegetarian reader led us to Dosirak Shop beside Oakland’s Lake Merritt for japchae, a traditional Korean “royal” dish made with sweet potato noodles, shiitake mushrooms, carrots, and other vegetables stir-fried in a sesame oil–based sauce.

. . . like rice noodles . . .

Rice noodles are common in rice-growing parts of China like Guangdong province. For ho fun (wide rice noodles) prepared in the Teochew style, Carolyn Phillips likes Vien Huong Restaurant in Oakland Chinatown.

Several readers directed us to Noodles Fresh in El Cerrito for chef/owner Wenyan Petersen’s version of her home region’s Jiangxi rice noodle salad featuring chicken, a seafood-flavored chili sauce, and plenty of vegetables.

One recommendation came directly from southwest China’s Yunnan province via Mei Zhang, founder of WildChina tour company and author of Travels Through Dali with a Leg of Ham. She says her friends back home would go to Cloudland Rice Noodle in Newark and order Crossing the Bridge, Yunnan’s signature chicken with rice noodle dish.

. . . or buckwheat noodles

Buckwheat is not wheat, but rather a seed that can be made into flour. While it was first domesticated in China’s Yunnan province, the more notable buckwheat noodle dishes are found in Korea and Japan.

On a hot day, mul naengmyeon or bibim naengmyeon, the cold buckwheat noodle dishes of Korea, would be the ticket. Try them at Ohgane in Oakland or Concord.
Buckwheat noodles rose to an art in Japan’s Tokugawa period (1603–1868), when Edo’s upper classes learned that amending their white-rice diet with thiamine-rich buckwheat would ward off beriberi. Soba Ichi, which opened last summer in its Zen-chic West Oakland setting to great acclaim, is the place to experience soba meticulously handcrafted, grain to bowl. Buckwheat plus wheat flour makes a more workable dough, so most diners settle for that when the chefs’ small batch of fragile 100% buckwheat noodles runs out each day.

Buckwheat noodles do well in the hands of Chef Louis Kao at Noodle Theory (recipe here), and the vegan chefs at Berkeley’s Cha-Ya make a mean bowl of soba noodles with curry and vegetables.

A noodle tour of Southeast Asia . . .

To follow the migration of Chinese noodles throughout Southeast Asia, you might start at Royal Rangoon in Berkeley for a Burmese version of pad Thai with tofu, red bell pepper, chili, onion, pea leaves, egg, and crushed peanuts. Or try the classic dish mohk hingar (a puréed catfish chowder with thin rice noodles, ginger, lemongrass, onion, garlic, hard-boiled egg, cilantro, and crushed chili.

For a pad Thai from Thailand, visit Chai Thai Noodles in Oakland or Hayward, where the chan pad poo (spicy stir fried noodle with Dungeness crab) is the bomb. Or step up to the Funky Elephant in West Berkeley for Pad Thai Old Skool. This one, by former Hawker Fare chef de cuisine Supasit Puttikaew, includes Gulf white shrimp, Hodo Soy tofu, peanuts, bean sprouts, garlic chives, egg, shallot, and Thai chili powder.

For a taste of Laos, visit Vientian Cafe in East Oakland for the coconut milk noodle soup (recommended with the blood cubes option). Or try Lao’s chicken noodle soup at Champa Garden near Lake Merritt. “When you eat in, there is an actual cake pan of toppings to choose from to add to your bowl,” one informant says.

For Cambodian dishes, head to Phnom Penh House (Oakland and Alameda) and try the cha kathiw, “delicious pan-fried red noodles—available vegetarian or with meat—with chili sauce, bean sprouts, scallion, egg, and crushed peanuts. It’s a longtime family-run restaurant with tasty and consistent food. The thinner Singapore curried noodles are also wonderful.”

And for Malaysian flavors, try the laska at The Banana Garden in Dublin. You’ll enjoy mixed seafood over noodles with tofu puffs and vegetables in a delicious curry broth.

For Vietnamese phở, we traveled back in time to 1983 when Janet Fletcher, now a James Beard Award–winning food writer, was just starting her new job as restaurant critic for the Oakland Tribune. “I wrote a feature story about this place because nobody outside of the Vietnamese community knew what phở was or how to eat it.” Fletcher now meets friends at Pho Anh Dao every Christmas. “I’m always tempted by other dishes, but 99% of the time I get a medium bowl of phở with tendon, tripe, brisket, and rare beef. Every single time, I finish the whole bowl, groan and say, ‘I should have ordered the small,’ but I never do.”

Word on other Vietnamese favorites came from photographer Carolyn Fong, who led us to SideStreet Pho in Alameda, where she loves the phở and the bò lúc lắc (shaken beef with garlic egg noodles). Our Instagram follower _funonion, says “Joe’s Pho in San Leandro is on .” And we also heard about the vegetable chow fun at Pho Le in Berkeley.

. . . and then on to Japan

Kaedama is the word to know when you’re hungry and want a second order of noodles dropped into your ramen bowl, and barikata (very firm) is how you want your ramen noodles cooked if you’ve been dished up a big serving and don’t want them going soggy at the bottom of the bowl. Food writer Carolyn Jung will also tell you that “umami dama”—the big dollop of miso paste you stir into the 18-hour tonkotsu (pork bone broth)—is the secret behind the dish called Akamaru Modern at Hakata Ippudo in Berkeley.

For handmade ramen noodles, Jung suggests Itani Ramen in Oakland. “Chef-owner Kyle Itani actually makes his own noodles every day on site. His intense porky broths are fortified with dashi, which lends a back note of seafood brininess to up the umami factor.”

Mei Zhang says her ramen go-to is Yuzu Ramen & Broffee in Emeryville. “Their slow-cooked pork and beef bone marrow broth is divine. Back in Asia, all good soups are simmered for hours and hours, so I am not surprised to learn that their soup takes 30 hours. It turns creamy white like milk and full of flavor.”

At Iyasare in Berkeley, Zhang gets charshu miso ramen, which comes with a heap of healthy veggies like bean sprouts, bamboo shoots, and greens. “The ramen portions are huge, probably best to share with a friend, and they are friendly when you ask for an extra empty bowl.”

Mochi expert Kaori Becker teaches both mochi and ramen classes in San Leandro. She says the best miso ramen and ramen toppings “hands down in the East Bay” are served only on Saturdays and Sundays (11am–1:30pm) at a little-known pop-up inside Hayward’s Eon Coffee. “The ramen maker is Morio Tateno, and he makes his own noodles from scratch using moroheiya, a healthy green herb originally from Egypt.”

High marks also came in for Ramen Hiroshi in Walnut Creek, Marufuku in Temescal, and the Ippo Ramen pop-up at Ocean View Brew in Albany. The spicy pork noodles with pork chashu topping at Shiba Ramen in the Emeryville Marketplace are a favorite with Edible East Bay illustrator Gary Handman.

And if you’re wondering, we didn’t find a soul who doesn’t adore the ramen made by former Chez Panisse chefs at the Ramen Shop on Oakland’s College Avenue. Walt French, a Wagner opera enthusiast, gave us thumbs up on the shop’s “so incredibly rich” miso ramen, adding that the place is “open late, so we culture vultures can get a bite after an evening of Das Rheingold—tho not Götterdämmerung.” ♦

Ready to cook?

Click here for a recipe from Noodle Theory chef Louis Kao, brought to us by Carolyn Jung, author of East Bay Cooks.

More maps?

Yes indeed! The plan for our Winter Holidays issue is Margo’s Map of East Bay Chocolatiers. And for Spring 2020, it will be the Great East Bay Map of Favorite Places to Eat Out with Your Dog. Please contact us at info@edibleeastbay.com to give us your ideas on what to include. We’ll reply with our thanks plus a few questions for you.

Publisher, editor, and designer Cheryl Angelina Koehler launched this magazine in 2005 in conjunction with Edible Communities cofounders Tracey Ryder and Carole Topalian. She is the author of Touring the Sierra Nevada, published by University of Nevada Press in 2007.

Staff illustrator Margo Rivera-Weiss makes food-related art and draws daily. Connect with them at margoriveraweiss.com, or on Facebook at Margo Rivera-Weiss – Art or East Bay Sketchers.