Lao, Now

Champa Garden's salads, sausages and soups will lure you to Ingleside

Oakland restaurants rarely open second locations in San Francisco. That is, unless the mayor intervenes.

In 2006, Phuoc Nguyen, his wife and his father-in-law turned an old doughnut shop in East Oakland into Champa Garden, a Thai, Lao and Californian restaurant. ("If it has mango, it's Californian," he quips.)

A fan who worked for Mayor Lee's office city lured Nguyen to Ingleside, where he performed a similar transformation on a former marijuana grow house.

As of two weeks ago, San Franciscans now have ready access to Champa Garden's cult rice-ball salad ($7), and you'll see many tables wrapping the mix of crisp rice, cured pork, toasted peanuts and fresh herbs in lettuce leaves. Order the salad alone, or in a Champa sampler ($12), which also brings you spring rolls and pork sausage threaded through with lemongrass and chiles.

Another Lao dish, Lue's noodle soup ($8), gathers robust flavor from pork and fermented soybeans. The Thai dishes on Champa Garden's menu are more familiar than memorable, and the cooks are still feeling their way into seasoning the beef larp ($8) brightly enough to relish.

At lunch, order crispy BBQ chicken ($10)–delicately battered and served with a sweet-spicy dipping sauce. Thai? Lao? Californian? All of the above.