Goodnight Hawker Fare Oakland

The East Bay community is saying goodbye to Hawker Fare in Uptown Oakland, which closed its doors last night after almost six years. Hawker Fare is Chef James Syhabout’s Southeast Asian street food focused restaurant. I was able to dine at Hawker Fare on one of its final nights last week with a friend and her daughter.

One of the favorite dishes of the evening was the fried chicken. Similar to Japanese chicken karaage, these crispy nuggets of chicken thighs were well marinated, breaded, and deep fried to a golden perfection. It was served with a chili jam and went especially well with sticky rice. It was a hit for my friend’s daughter as well.

In the last several years I have been obsessed with the Laotian dish, Nam Khao, fried rice ball salad. I have been in search of the best fried rice ball salad in Oakland. I just love the mix of savory, tart, and spicy flavors and then the awesome crunch you get with this dish. Unfortunately, the fried rice ball salad at Hawker Fare fell flat for me. One huge factor was likely that it didn’t include pork meat. I also felt that the texture was chunkier than I have had at other neighborhood Laotian restaurants.

Similar to how I must order fried rice ball salad, my friend must order the Laotian style papaya salad. Some might call it umami and others might call it funky because of the flavors of fermented fish and crab that are very prominent. In general, this dish was fine, but my friend thought it was too saucy.

We also shared the mussels steamed in coconut milk. The fresh mussels from Washington are cooked in a coconut broth made with unique spices including fresh galangal, Makrut lime leaves, lemongrass, and fish sauce. The broth was so good, I envision dreams about it.

We ended the evening with condensed milk soft serve. I’m really gonna miss their soft serve machine. It was always a refreshing way to end a meal here.

The closing of Hawker Fare is sad for me, but likely bittersweet for Chef Syhabout. I still remember how cool it was that he opened up the restaurant in the exact location of the Thai restaurant his mother once opened. The saving grace is that there still remains a Hawker Fare, but you’ll have to cross the Bay Bridge to get there. He opened up a second Hawker Fare in San Francisco about two years ago.  

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Camber: Bringing Exotic Flavors to Uptown and Montclair

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Camber in Uptown Oakland is a cool hip restaurant serving delicious South East Asian food. It’s located close to where I work and I can’t believe I didn’t learn about it until recently since it’s been around for about two years. The owners are Irfan, who is part Burmese and part Pakistani and Linda who is Mein. Together this couple bring food with a mix of exotic flavors.

My coworker and I went to check it out last week at lunch. We decided on sharing a few items. We ended up ordering a variety of appetizers since I am back on Weight Watchers and didn’t want to eat too many carbohydrates.

The first salad we got was the Tea Leaf Salad which was on their Specials board. The Tea Leaf Salad is a Burmese dish made with fermented tea leaves, dried ground shrimp, cabbage, mixed nuts, onions, garlic, and cilantro. The salad had bold and diverse flavors and a nice crunchy texture mainly brought on from the nuts. It didn’t have the beautiful presentation where you get to mix all the ingredients, but it was just as tasty.
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The Rice Ball Salad or the Nam Kaow is a Laotian dish made of shredded cured pork tossed with fried rice patties, cilantro, mint, green onion, fish sauce, and fresh lime juice. You wrap the filling in lettuce leaves with a piece of dried chili pepper. I love the textures in this dish and it always makes me happy to eat it. The Camber version doesn’t disappoint.
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The Papaya Salad can be prepared Thai style or Laotian style. My coworker wanted the Laotian Style Salad which was a first for me. Crisp green papaya is tossed with tomatoes, garlic, fish sauce, and green beans and served with a side of lettuce, and vermicelli noodles. I consider my coworker the expert in Papaya Salad. She pointed out that long beans are normally used, but she still very much enjoyed this dish, especially the spiciness.
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The Angel Wings are crispy fried chicken wings that are tossed in a sweet and sour sauce. These were finger licking good, both crispy and juicy. I do love my chicken wings.
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My coworker and I started planning our next visit where we’ll move on to entrees and invite more people. The owner Irfan recommended that next time we should try the Eggplant Basil, the Ginger Chicken, and the Bouncing Beef. Camber opened a second location a few months ago in the Montclair district which is close to where I live. Whether I’m at work or home, I’m lucky to have a Camber close to me.