One of my obsessions since moving to Berkeley is to find good Vietnamese food in the East Bay.
I made my rounds in Downtown Berkeley with no luck whatsoever. Establishments including Pho Hoa, Saigon Express and Le Regal shamelessly use powdered broth as their soup base (at least it tastes like it) leaving my mouth filled with an MSG essence. Gross.
Last Saturday was a breakthrough. Umamimart Queen, Kayoko, visited me in the East Bay and suggested Rang Dong in Oakland's Chinatown. Most good Vietnamese restaurant score very low on "atmosphere" points, and by the looks of Rang Dong, this place fit the profile as we walked in. Initially suspicious of the low customer population in the restaurant (it was 12:30 on Saturday), I walked in while my stomach was eating itself in hunger.
We started off with fresh spring rolls. Score! These were firm without being dried out. The ingredients inside were tightly packed with no sign of wilted greens. The pork and shrimp were ample in portion. These babies had nothing to hide.
Shortly after some "Who ordered what?" confusion by the server, we got our huge pho bowls. On first sip, the broth really popped out in flavor. After what felt like a few gallons of MSG broth during my search for great Vietnamese in the East Bay, my first sip at Rang Dong was super-satisfying.
This was my husband Washi's raw beef pho. The meat was tender and flavorful. The broth was dark - no wishy-washy chemically enhanced flavors here.
Unfortunately, I forgot to take a picture of my seafood noodle soup, but that was equally noteworthy. The broth was light in color but carrying the depth of a slow cooked, savory concoction - most likely derived from chicken.
Each bowl was semi-pricey at $8-9, but well worth it. Their firm noodles come in generous portions. I dream of the day when I can go next and it still hasn't even been a week! It was hard not to think of a "next time" when our neighbors on one side were eating some amazingly aromatic chicken wings with a clear sauce while the neighbors on our other side were sharing a bowl of bright red, spicy noodles - taunting us as they were transferring the rice noodles in mid-air.
By the time we left, Rang Dong was buzzing with peeps. I guess everyone had a rough Friday night...
724 Webster Street
Oakland, CA 94607-4228