Restaurants & Bars

Classic Guilin Rice Noodles - Oakland Chinatown

Dave MP | Sep 23, 201309:13 AM     43

There are a few reports starting to trickle in about this place in Downtown Oakland in a different discussion, but I decided to start a new thread about this particular restaurant.

The other discussions are here: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/727987

I was excited to hear about this place in Oakland, since Guilin food (let alone any food from Guangxi Province) is pretty rare in the United States. I have spent 2 months living in Yangshuo (which is just south of Guilin), and during my time in China, I ate Guilin rice noodle soup nearly every day for breakfast. I have a pretty good documentation of all the food I ate in this area during my 2009 stay here: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/632343

Anyway, I am very happy to report that the Guilin mi fen served at Classic Guilin Rice Noodles is quite similar to what I regularly ate in Guangxi Province. I certainly wouldn't say it's the best version of the soup I've ever had, but the important components are all there, creating a taste sensation that I hadn't experienced since summer of 2010.

There's a whole series of Guilin mi fen (Guilin rice noodle) on the menu, and basically you just get to choose which meats (or combo of meat) you want. I chose "salty beef and crispy pork" based on our server's recommendation, though this is also the classic version depicted on the picture menu, which is both printed and above the kitchen on the wall. Other meat choices are bbq pork, beef brisket, and beef tripe.

I really enjoyed both meats in my soup, and the salty beef reminded me of the salty pork that I was used to eating in Yangshuo. Interestingly, beef consumption in the Guilin area is quite uncommon, so at most noodle places I went to, beef woudn't have even been an option. It would have been pork broth with various choices for pork cuts in the soup. But anyway, back to Oakland.

My bowl of noodles was $6.50, and it was a pretty large serving of round spaghetti-like rice noodles (just like in Guilin/Yangshuo, and also the same as the noodles in Vietnamese bun bo hue). Inside the bowl there was also a fair amount of brown sauce. This sauce is the seasoning for the noodles, and in this restaurant, the rest of the broth is served on the side. On top of the noodles were pickled long beans, peanuts, garlic, scallion, and a half hard-boiled egg. The pickled string beans and peanuts are both key components. In Yangshuo and Guilin, the best noodle places had multiple types of pickles you could add into your soup, creating a sour/spicy element, but pickled long beans were one of the most common types. These pickles have a distinct taste, and my dining companion didn't love them. I, on the other hand, really love it, though probably partially thanks to the nostalgia factor. The peanuts also lend a nice crunch, which is a nice addition to the breakfast. One of my favorite noodle places in Yangshuo offered bits of crispy donut as an add-in to noodle soups, and we were able to accomplish this at Classic Guilin Rice Noodles as well, by ordering a deep fried dough stick on the side ($1.99). I broke this up and put it in my soup for even more crunch. I ended up using all of my broth in my soup, though if I had wanted a more concentrated flavor, I could have added less.

The tables had three seasonings for soups: a lighter chili/garlic/bean paste, a darker smoky chili paste, and a bottle labeled "Seasoning for Guilin Rice Noodle." I'm pretty sure the seasoning was the same stuff already in the soup, but the bottles are there in case you want to add more. It tastes to me like a mixture of soy, water, msg and five-spice, but I'm not totally sure.

So, the Guilin Rice Noodles were a pretty big success in my opinion. Not as good as in China, but definitely on the right track. They definitely give a good sense of a common dish from a region that's barely represented in the United States.

Meanwhile, we also tried another regional soup on the menu, which is Liuzhou Spicy Snail Noodle Soup. I have never been to Liuzhou, which is also in Guangxi province, south of Guilin, so I wasn't super familiar with this dish, but it seemed like a pretty good version (assuming you like it). Here's a wikipedia article about the dish: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Luosifen

Unfortunately, neither myself or my dining companion really liked this soup. It had a clear snail taste, and my DC said he could pick out bits of snail (though apparently this soup doesn't necessarily have actual snail pieces in it). It did, like wikipedia says, have pickled bamboo shoot, bean curd sheet, greens, peanuts, and chili, mainly in the form of chili oil poured on top. This made the soup both too oily for my taste, and also quite spicy....though I could certainly imagine how a person could really like it anyway. It also had fried gluten puffs, which I love, though they really soak up the chili oil, making them spicy. The noodles in this dish are smaller (more like vermicelli).

We also tried a "grain soy milk", which had a grainy texture. It was fine, and served cold. I would rather have smooth soy milk.

Tea was included, and service was friendly and helpful. We were there for breakfast at about 10 AM. Our Cantonese server said the owner of the place is from Guilin. The restaurant is actually really large, since there is a section in the back behind the kitchen, and many tables in front. I hope they do enough business to fill all these seats, especially since many dishes were are essentially fast-food (our soups took about 5 mins to assemble). There are still some other interesting things to try on the menu: clay pot soups (also look similar to what I ate in Yangshuo), and steamed lotus leaf w/ rice. So, I am certainly looking forward to going back and also hearing what others think.

The restaurant is at 261A 10th St. Oakland, 94607. It's pretty big and you can't really miss it. Telephone is 510-250-933. Open every day from 9 AM until 8 PM. Guilin Rice Noodles are eaten at all times of day in China, but especially for breakfast, so ordering them at any time of day would not be out of place.

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