Little Shin Shin
4258 Piedmont Ave., Oakland, 510-658-9799
Shan Dong Mandarin Restaurant is not much to look at — Formica tables, linoleum floors, and walls that could use a paint job. But atmosphere is not why fans flock here. It's the food of Shan Dong province, a venerable cooking tradition regarded as one of China's eight great cuisines. This stuff is substantial, reflecting the northern region's colder clime, which is more conducive to growing wheat than rice. A dumpling-lover's dream, Shan Dong offers six different varieties along with potstickers encased in wheat flour wrappers. Onion pancakes (six pieces for $4.95) are an all-time favorite. Bready steamed pork buns — $.95 a pop — satisfy the breakfast cravings of all but the greediest. Made fresh twice a week and steamed every morning (they're considered a breakfast item), these red bean, veggie, and pork and veggie buns often run out by the afternoon. Another specialty is the thick, hand-cut wheat noodles, which are a meal unto themselves. Someone is always rolling fresh dough for buns and dumplings right behind the counter near the entrance. But the restaurant, which teems at lunchtime with shoppers and workers looking for some variation from the southern Chinese cuisine that dominates our region, offers much more than just carbs. Among the winners are Shan Dong Chicken ($8.95) and Dry Braised Green Beans ($6.95). Some of the dishes are posted in Chinese only. But ask Charles, the maître d' and server, to translate. And if you want some dried vegetables on those green beans (heaven!), he'll happily comply.