I am eternally grateful to VN for introducing me to Champa Garden. Tucked randomly in a residential area in a slightly sketchy part of Oakland, this Laotian restaurant was everything I've been missing in my life:
It was a Monday evening and we arrived around 6:00pm. After reading the Yelp reviews, I was concerned about a long wait, but we were seated immediately:
Just about every single review on Yelp mentions the Champa sampler ($12.95) and VN recommended the same thing, so of course we had to order one:
The sampler includes Lao sausages (slightly spicy!), fried spring rolls, and fried rice salad. That fried rice salad. THAT FRIED RICE SALAD.
Make a wrap out of lettuce, mint, and cilantro:
Drizzle on some of that magic fish sauce...and boom. It's freakin' awesome. The rice is fried and crispy and mixed with preserved pork, green onions, peanuts, and lime juice. I would be 100% satisfied with just the fried rice salad alone. The fried spring rolls are pretty damn good too. So are the sausages.
Dammit, everything on that platter is delicious.
We also ordered the kaow soy or Lue's noodle soup (large $8.95):
You get a choice of rice noodles, vermicelli noodles, or pho noodles in your fermented bean soup. (We went with the rice noodles.) Also in the soup were minced chicken, sliced cabbage, and bean sprouts. Looking at the bowl, I never would have expected the soup to be on the bland side. But it was. It probably would have been better had we added some condiments to it, but untouched it was rather meh.
We also ordered the pad mah kuer ($8.95), which was pan-fried eggplant with basil, garlic, onions, bell peppers, and our choice of meat:
We chose pork.
To balance out the saltiness, we added an order of sticky rice:
Even though we couldn't finish all of the food, we couldn't resist getting the fried banana and ice cream ($7) for dessert:
No surprises there. Just perfectly fried bananas and wonderfully creamy coconut ice cream.
I loved Champa Garden so much that I took my parents there four days later when they came to help me move out of the place where I was housesitting.
I wanted to share with them the absolute joy that is the Champa sampler:
I know I already posted a picture of it above. But this one is from a different angle and it's so pretty! And so yummy.
The pad kea moa or drunken noodle ($8.50) was alright:
The noodles were a bit too soft, but that could have been a fluke.
The house special ($12.50) with its lightly fried catfish, eggplant, and basil, on the other hand, was great:
Slightly sweet, it went perfectly with rice.
Some Yelpers complain about poor service at Champa Garden, but I didn't experience that at all. Not during my first two visits. And not during my third visit when I went back yet again, this time with my sister.
To avoid the crush, get there early for dinner. You should be able to get a seat with no problem as long as you arrive before 6:30pm. The restaurant fills up pretty quickly after that though.
And remember, get the Champa sampler.
Get it, get it. Get it, get it. Yea.
2102 8th Ave
Oakland, CA 94606