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Restaurant Guide

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Tuk Tuk Thai Cafe 2468 Shattuck Ave., Berkeley, 510-540-6360. A tuk tuk is a tiny, rickety Bangkok cab, and you'll find one smack-dab in the middle of this large and brightly lit restaurant. Not too sweet, not dumbed-down for an American audience, the curries here are oily and obviously made from scratch, not from the can. Also great are the lime-blasted salads and the grilled meats. Wash it all down with young coconut water sipped straight from the fruit. Plus it's open long after everyone else in downtown Berkeley closes. $-$$

Vietnamese

Cam Huong Deli 920 Webster St., Oakland, 510-444-8800. Depart from your normal turkey and Swiss with a banh mi. You may have to brave the crowds to shout out your order in this microscopic, bustling cafe, but one taste of these Vietnamese sandwiches on crispy, heated French rolls — each for a couple of crisp sawbills — will help you shoulder your way in. The meatball and curry chicken are particularly good, but vegetarians won't leave unsatisfied. $

Pho Ga Huong Que Cafe 1228 7th Ave., Oakland, 510-835-8488. Pho Ga Huong Que's specialty is chicken. More specifically, chicken pho, poached chicken with a pungent ginger-scallion sauce, and rice porridge with — you guessed it. The chicken noodle soup's so good, the chef-owner doesn't waste his time on the better-known beef version. If you're not content with what the restaurant does best, you can order anise-tinged curries of oxtail, duck, or chicken. $

Pho Hoa Lao 720 International Blvd., Oakland, 510-451-6888. Pho Hoa Lao specializes in 200 variations on about six different dishes — several noodle soups, cold bun noodle dishes, and barbecued meats over rice — so you know it's doing them right. Make friends with the ten other people at your table. Steer right around the oily appetizers and head straight for the dirt-cheap entrées. (Only the prices are dirty; the room is sparklingly clean.) If you leave without ordering one of the fruity cold drinks, you've really missed out. $

Pho Thai Hung 12860 San Pablo Ave., Richmond, 510-235-1223. Despite the name, the pho is just okay at this neighborhood Vietnamese, a scuffed, rambling space with the faint outlines of a 1950s dinner lounge. Focus instead on the cháo, bowls of rice porridge similar to Cantonese jook. It's Saigon street food at its most basic, comforting slurries of long-cooked rice. Cháo ca gio heo is studded with soft hunks of sweet-tasting white fish, canned straw mushrooms, and garlic chives. If you're really brave, try cháo huyet, swirled with metallic-tasting pork blood. $-$$

Rang Dong 724 Webster St., Oakland, 510-835-8375. The pho here is some of the best around, with a color like diluted caramel and a big flowery whiff of cinnamon, cloves, and star anise. All the soups — known collectively as mon nuoc, "watery dishes" — are fantastic at this comfortably rangy Chinatown spot. With its custardy blocks of congealed pork blood, bun rieu (tomato-noodle soup with ground shrimp) isn't for everybody, but pho ga, chicken pho, is a watery dish even the faint of heart can dip into. $

Tay Ho 344B 12th St., Oakland, 510-836-6388. Oakland's first branch of this California chain specializes in banh cuon, soft rice noodles made to order. The warm, chewy noodles come with pickled vegetables and slices of lunchmeat-like steamed pork or shrimp and yam fritters, all to be dipped in fish sauce. Less adventurous eaters can stick to old favorites such as pho and cold vermicelli salads, but you'll have best luck ordering soups with thick homemade rice noodles. First-timers can expect an exhaustive description of the menu. $

Vanessa's Bistro 1715 Solano Ave., Berkeley, 510-525-8300. Vanessa Dang's contemporary Vietnamese cooking is precise and confident, and her dishes seem rigorously thought out even as they're easy-to-love delicious. Dang and daughter Vi Nguyen have opened a beauty of a neighborhood bistro that's half bar, with an easygoing small-plates format that serves the food's bright flavors well. Ethereal filet mignon carpaccio shows off fusion's unrealized potential, and sautéed prawns and scallops in coconut curry (Dang's signature dish) teeters on the knife's edge of delicate and gutsy. $$


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