I’ve been on a noodle discovery kick lately, and after experimenting with a different type of Vietnamese noodles, I ventured last week into Classic Guilin Rice Noodles.
That’s actually the name of the restaurant in Oakland Chinatown that sells exactly what’s in the name. Their specialty is the signature dish of the region, rice noodle bowls that follows a 2,000-year-old custom from the Qin Dynasty.
If you’re not familiar with Guilin, it’s the region of China that’s known for its picturesque limestone mountains that have been immortalized by countless painters who have tried to depict the unique mountain lines. For the people from Guilin, these rice noodle dishes are just as familiar as those towering mountains.
Each bowl is created with a base of thick rice noodles (looking almost like white spaghetti), and then topped with salty meats, pickled vegetables, peanuts and a soy-marinated hard-boiled egg. It’s served with a cloudy broth that’s clean in flavor and used to sip on the side or to add to the bowl of noodles as needed.
Classic Guilin has been opened for about two years and ironically it looks more like a contemporary Asian cafe than a rustic Chinese restaurant. I went for lunch last week with a couple of co-workers, Fernando and Virginia, who both were also trying Guilin noodles for the first time.
The menu has 10 different types of rice noodles that are topped with a variety of combinations of meats such as beef brisket, BBQ pork, crispy pork, salty beef, or beef tripe. You can get a regular size for $8.97 or a large for $9.57. I ordered a regular bowl with beef brisket and crispy pork, while Virginia went for a large bowl topped with BBQ pork and crispy pork.
The large is actually quite large (Virginia took most of it home for dinner). You’re supposed to mix all the ingredients together, and I found that it needed more of the pickled vegetables to offset the heaviness of the meats and noodles. I liked how the crispy pork was sliced thinly but still leaving some of the crispy pork skin, but it was “crispy” as advertised. The beef brisket were chopped into cubes and were tender in some parts, and chewy in others.
As for the noodles, they were on the soft side. So I avoided pouring any of the broth into my bowl and instead sipped it on the side. The broth had a light, clean flavor.
Fernando went on his own path and ordered a bowl of beef rice noodle soup ($8.75), which is traditional soup noodles but with the flat rice noodles instead. We also started off with a vegetarian combo platter ($11.99) that was a pretty display of vegetarian bites, that ranged from sour bamboo shoots, fried bean curd, yuba, dried lily flowers, dried radishes, agarics, peanuts and boiled lettuce.
The last bite
It was fun trying something different, and the Guilin-style noodle bowls remind me of the Vietnamese bun vermicelli bowls. While it offers something different than the other noodle shops in Chinatown, I thought the quality and kitchen skills were good but not exceptional. It’s more rustic than sophisticated, but for the price it’s a satisfying comforting bite.
The deets: Classic Guilin Rice Noodles, 261 10th St., Oakland. PH: 510.250.9333. Open daily from 8:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. (till 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday). No reservations. Major credit cards accepted. www.classicguilinricenoodles.com
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