Eight is said to be the number of prosperity, so here are my top eight locally owned eateries in Oakland’s Chinatown. Hopefully, this list gives you the best luck in satisfying your cravings. A mere 30-minute bus ride away, Oakland’s Chinatown is both an accessible and wonderful place to explore a quintessential landmark of Chinese American culture in the East Bay. Try to arrive early in the day if you can! The most popular delicacies are the first to sell out each day.
1. Ruby King Bakery Cafe
Let’s start with the morning. A classic breakfast meal for Cantonese speakers is most definitely a pastry. Ruby King offers all the classic buns and puffs you would find at any 茶餐廳 (cha chaan teng, translated as tea restaurant), a popular Hong Kong-style restaurant. Must-tries include the pineapple bun and the baked BBQ pork bun, along with the shining star, the custard egg tart, known as dan tat (葡撻). A flaky puff pastry bowl enveloping a smooth, lightly sweet egg custard, this is something you just can’t pass up at Ruby King.
2. New Tin’s Market
This is not quite a restaurant, but still very much related to food. A casual stroll around New Tin’s produce market will get your creative juices flowing for meal ideas at your apartment and will help you digest some of the pastries from earlier. Numerous produce markets are scattered around Chinatown, each carrying a variety of products, but New Tin’s is one of the larger ones. Feel free to wander through the snack aisles — you might just find your next favorite snack. What do you say, some salted egg yolk fish skins, perhaps?
3. Tian Jin Dumplings
Although the restaurant name features dumplings, Tian Jin is best known for its 煎饼 (jian bing, or fried pancake). These traditional Chinese egg crepes are usually stuffed with pickled vegetables, lettuce, a variety of sauces and a fried Chinese donut as filling. Feel free to add meat to make it a bit more filling. The best part is the contrast of textures and flavors — from the crisp greens to the crunchy cruller, the jian bing is perfect as a big snack or even brunch.
4. Ming’s Tasty Restaurant
Dim sum is yet another Cantonese favorite, and Ming’s is known for its various steamed and fried wraps, buns and dumplings. Ming’s creates fresh 烧卖 (siu mai) and 蝦餃 (har gow) every day. The filling is delicious, but the perfect bounce of the wrapper sets these apart from the rest. Make sure to visit early so you don’t miss the Snowy Baked BBQ Pork Bun, a soft pork bun with a lightly sweet “snow” topping.
5. Ying Kee Restaurant
Ying Kee is best known for its handmade noodles and dumplings. Don’t let the interior fool you: It’s been around for decades, long before you and I were even born. It’s best known for its shrimp noodle dumplings. It’s hard to go wrong with fresh shrimp wrapped in a thin dumpling wrapper: the perfect, hearty meal for a cold day, without hurting your wallet.
6. Gum Kuo Restaurant
This restaurant is well known for its 烤鴨 (roast duck) and 叉烧 (barbecue pork), two of the most popular meat dishes among many Cantonese families. Gum Kuo proudly displays its roast meats in the window, a practice often done by Chinese butchers to show off the freshness of their food. It’s hard to miss this restaurant when you can smell the aroma of sweet soy sauce and five-spice powder from yards away.
7. UC Dessert
UC Dessert serves classic Hong Kong, Chinese and Taiwanese-style hot and cold desserts. You can mix and match between coconut, walnut, almond, sesame, taro and durian bases with an assortment of toppings. My favorites include the mango pomelo and sesame paste with taro mochi balls — both are great options for first-timers. This is also a great spot to grab a cup of boba, and don’t forget the egg puffs, a crispy, sweet egg pancake.
8. Golden Tea Shop
Located on the outskirts of Chinatown, Golden Tea Shop offers both classic brewed tea and boba milk tea. Its promise is that the tea is always brewed fresh from loose leaves and its expertise ensures that you will always get a delicious cup. My favorite milk tea, the Hong Kong-style milk tea, is not usually offered at most milk tea shops, and I’m glad they serve it here!
So there you have it! With Chinatowns across the country having seen reduced customer traffic for more than a year, it’s up to the community to continue supporting these businesses that serve both amazing foods and a rich cultural history as a local landmark. There are still many options in Chinatown for everyone’s preferences, and I urge you to go see the local sights for yourself.