Asian Chefs From Sunhui Chang to James Syhabout Reinvent the Food of Their Youth
The folks from FuseBox, Hawker Fare, Juhu Beach Club, Osmanthus, and The Ramen Shop raise their childhood favorite dishes to new heights.
Young Asian chefs and restaurateurs in Oakland love the food of their home countries and their youth, like the salty-sweet street fare from Mumbai’s beaches or the spicy roasted Siamese peanuts sold on Thailand streets. Oakland-based cooks like to do their own thing, often outpacing their counterparts elsewhere. They herald the rise of inventive, new dishes with fresh takes on traditional cuisine. Here are six spots raising the bar, and changing expectations, for what Asian food can be.
Owner Sunhui Chang’s FuseBox is a peaceful oasis of minimalist, modern design in West Oakland. Also a breath of fresh air is the architecture aficionado’s Korean fusion fare, which takes its cues from Chang’s native country—but isn’t tied to it. “I love Korean food, but there are some things that I wanted to expand on,” he says. That includes using more fresh herbs and lightening up a traditionally heavy cuisine. As an example, Chang serves classic Korean barbecue with South American–influenced chimichurri sauce to add a little brightness to the earthy dish.
Try these: Bacon mochi; KFC spicy chicken wings; grilled pork belly.
2311 A Magnolia St., Oakland, 510-444-3100, www.FuseBoxOakland.com.
Michelin-starred chef James Syhabout’s casual outpost in Uptown offers updated takes on Asian street fare in a setting that pays homage to the Oakland native’s roots. While taking its cues from a humble cuisine, Hawker Fare’s signature rice bowls are hardly basic, with high-end kitchen techniques incorporated into popular favorites such as slow-cooked pork belly and kao mun gai poached chicken. Earlier this year, Syhabout tweaked the dinner menu to reflect a more Thai style of dining, with family-style dishes meant to be shared and eaten with sticky rice.
Try these: Blistered green beans; kao mun gai rice bowl; condensed milk soft serve.
2300 Webster St., Oakland, 510-832-8896, www.HawkerFare.com.
Juhu Beach Club
One look at the thought-fully hip interior, craft beer list, and menu peppered with references to locally sourced meats and dairy, and it’s clear that Juhu Beach Club isn’t your typical Indian joint. Owner Preeti Mistry offers a modern take on Indian street food, as you might expect from someone whose eatery started as a pop-up in San Francisco. The centerpiece of the menu are the pav sliders, filled with new twists on traditional Indian flavors, including black cardamom braised short rib, pav bhaji “sloppy joe,” and fried potato puff with ghost pepper chutney.
Try these: Vindaloo chicken wings; masala fries; pav bhaji slider.
5179 Telegraph Ave., Oakland, 510-652-7350, www.JuhuBeachClub.com.
This beautiful Rockridge restaurant incorp-orates Japanese, Chinese, and Southeast Asian influences on its eclectic menu. Exec-utive chef Julia Klein previously cooked at St. Helena’s elevated Japanese restaurant Terra and brings a similarly innovative approach to Osmathus. Dishes such as fried rice with smoked trout and a Burmese tea leaf salad in which she ferments tea leaves in-house offer fresh takes on classic dishes. “We didn’t want to be a typical Asian restaurant,” she says. “We’re doing something a little different here, a little bit more upscale.”
Try these: Brussels sprouts with salt pork and honey-Sriracha; dan dan noodles with ground pork and peanuts; smoked trout fried rice.
6048 College Ave., Oakland, 510-923-1233, www.OsmanthusRestaurant.com.
The Ramen Shop
While Japanese ramen purveyors have used top-quality ingredients for years, that’s not always the case with their U.S. counterparts. The owners of the year-old Ramen Shop in Rockridge set out to change that. They use sustainably raised pork, made-from-scratch noodles, and even organic eggs, as would befit three former Chez Panisse alums. Says co-owner Sam White, “It’s funny; somehow people adopted this idea that certain foods from other countries should be made dirt cheap with the cheapest ingredients. We reject that.”
Try these: seasonal fried rice; miso ramen; black sesame ice cream sandwich
5812 College Ave., Oakland, 510-788-6370, www.RamenShop.com.
Pi Dan Noodle House
Owner Allison Chen’s new take-out focused spot in Uptown will concentrate on Taiwanese-style beef noodle soups and zhajiangmian Chinese noodles featuring ground meat mixed with fermented black beans. While the food isn’t new, Chen is looking to update its appeal with a clean, modern décor; streamlined, accessible menu; and high-quality ingredients. Expect a mid-May opening.
412 22nd St., Oakland, www.PiDanOakland.com.