If you ask me which one I prefer — fine dining or casual “mom and pop” kind — I will choose casual dining over a long-drawn out fancy culinary affair. I can appreciate an upscale and fancy gastronomic experience. However, my fondest memories of great meals are those that are relaxed, loud, full of laughters over a long table of homecooked meals shared among the people I care for the most. A bowl of pho, plates of dim sum, sunny backyard picnics, a messy crab feast on the beach, Filipino breakfast of garlic rice, eggs and meats — these are what bring a smile to my face while eating. And finding hole in a wall places. The type where no one would brag that they ate there and where you also do not have to sell your first born in order to afford a meal there.
Hanoi Chicken Noodle’s wall-size menu bill board worked its marketing magic. I was drawn to the restaurant right away even though we were in the area because Mr Sweetie wanted to show me a Filipino buffet restaurant. I told him that I did not want to eat an All You Can Eat meal.
Mr Sweetie is very easy and will eat anything although Chinese food will not be his first choice. He indulged me, though, and I was happy! Hanoi is a hole in a wall restaurant specializing in chicken dishes. It is located in a dingy mall not far from industrial part of San Leandro. We were in the area to visit Mr Sweetie’s warehouse unit.
After looking at the extensive mouth-watering menu, although I said I did not have a big appetite before walking in, I just kept on ordering at the counter. For appetizers we ordered gai lan with oyster sauce, Chinese fried doughnut, egg rolls for Mr Sweetie, claypot duck over rice for Mr Sweetie and Hai Nan chicken for me.
The Verdict: It was definitely a feast. Everything was steaming hot. They forgot Mr Sweetie’s duck but he devoured the entire plate of egg rolls which are his ultimate favorite appetizer (right next to fried calamari) while waiting! We both also liked the gai lan (aka Chinese broccoli) which were fresh, crunchy and traditionally served with a side of oyster sauce for dipping. The Chinese fried donut was also good but better when eaten with porridge. Mr Sweetie liked his duck claypot. My Hai Nan chicken clay pot was okay. It was a little dry. Hainanese chicken rice is a dish of poached chicken and seasoned rice, served with chilli sauce. The rice is cooked with the same broth from the poached chicken. The broth was delicious as I poured it on the rice.
Value: It was definitely food coma. I went home with 3 days worth of leftovers for lunch. I was only able to eat a quarter of my food. I took Mr Sweetie’s leftover rice as well and they gave us a lot of rice. Our final tab with 2 sodas for Mr Sweetie and a coconut water for me, tax and tip was about $50. While Hanoi Chicken might not be a destination place, I am planning to go back when the weather gets cold, and enjoy more comfort food from this mom and pop place.