After his popular Shanxi noodle shop, Huangcheng Noodle House, was lost in the big fire in Oakland Chinatown earlier this fall, Jimmy Huang didn’t know when he’d be able to reopen — not with insurance claims to deal with and a long rebuilding process that looked likely to stretch out beyond a year.
What he didn’t necessarily expect, then, was to find a prime new location within a couple of months. But thanks to a lot of people who helped him, he says, Huang has signed the lease for the restaurant at 911 Washington Street in Old Oakland, just a few blocks away from Chinatown — the space in Swan’s Market recently vacated by Rosamunde Sausage Grill.
If all goes well, Huang hopes to be slinging his chewy Shanxi-style knife-cut noodles out of the new shop by Christmas.
Good Good Eatz, the Oakland Chinatown-based initiative that has been supporting the neighborhood’s restaurants and markets, first told Huang about the available space at Swan’s Market and introduced him to the landlord, the nonprofit East Bay Asian Local Development Corporation (EBALDC).
Of course, Old Oakland has a much larger non-Chinese customer base compared to the restaurant’s old Chinatown digs, but Huang decided the new location would work out even better: Amid the cluster of restaurants in Swan’s Market, Huangcheng will be the only Chinese spot. The good thing, Huang says, is that what his restaurant sells — noodles — has a universal appeal. “I think everyone can eat that.”
Best known for its knife-cut, handmade Shanxi-style noodles, Huangcheng Noodle House was never dogmatic about serving only the dishes of one particular region in China. Huang explains that while his father was from Shanxi, his mother was from Sichuan, so his restaurant always served a mix of those two cuisines, incorporating those knife-cut noodles into dishes where you wouldn’t normally find them, like the noodle soup Chongqing xiao mian.
In keeping with that spirit, Huang says he’ll be introducing a number of new dishes at the new restaurant. He’ll serve rou jia mo, a kind of meat-filled flatbread — often described as a “Chinese hamburger” in English-language media — that is a popular street food throughout much of northern China. “It’s very convenient,” Huang says. “You can eat it in the car. You can eat it at the office.”
He also plans to serve mao cai, a hot pot-like Sichuan dish that isn’t, to Huang’s knowledge, very widely available in the Bay Area, The base of the dish is a rich broth (made with pork bones and chicken carcasses), in which a variety of vegetables and meats get cooked. Customers will be able to choose either a plain soup base or a spicy one seasoned with the restaurant’s signature chili sauce, which is made in-house according to a 100-plus-year-old family recipe.
Beyond that, of course, the restaurant will continue to serve the wide variety of noodle dishes that have earned it a faithful following in the East Bay.
In the aftermath of the fire, Huang says the thing that really moved him was the outpouring of support — from longtime customers, church groups, and community organizations: Good Good Eatz, for instance, helped raise $11,000 — in collaboration with Oakland artist Jocelyn Tsaih’s Save Our Chinatowns fundraiser — to benefit the restaurants that were destroyed by the Oakland Chinatown fire. According to Good Good Eatz founders Trinh Banh and Tommy Wong, part of that money will help pay for the redesign of Huangcheng’s new restaurant.
“I’m thankful for everyone’s help in finding this new home,” says Huang.
According to Huang, that redesign will prominently feature the color red, for the tables and the stools, as a way of wishing all of his customers good luck. The most significant part of the remodel will be in the kitchen. Because Rosamunde only dealt with grilling sausages, it doesn’t have much of the equipment a Chinese restaurant kitchen needs — including, most crucially, a wok stove. Still, Huang says he’s optimistic that the restaurant will be ready to open by Christmas or shortly thereafter.
As for Huangcheng’s fire-ravaged Chinatown spot, Huang says that while he doesn’t know what the owners of the building are planning, he’d love the opportunity to reopen that location as well, adding it as a second outpost. Ultimately, Huang says, he believes in Oakland Chinatown and wants to do everything he can to help lift up the neighborhood — to turn it into a famous, world-class destination.
“That way, after we retire, it’s a way for us to feel proud of something that we did for Oakland, for future generations.”