Avoiding the Cheesecake Factory Trap

Bay Area foodie reviews Straits

Several years ago, Straits Restaurant on Geary Street was my favorite restaurant in San Francisco.

Their Singaporean dishes were out of this world, and it was conveniently close to where I lived at the time.
Then it moved to the Westfield Centre and color me biased, but sticking a restaurant in the middle of a shopping mall seriously affects its ambiance.

There’s something very Cheesecake Factory about it, you know? I tried to pretend I was back at my old Straits on Geary, but it didn’t work. The vibe had changed, the dishes were slightly altered and the crowd was unrecognizable.

So I started frequenting the Straits Restaurant in downtown Burlingame instead and to my delight, it’s almost as good as the original on Geary. They’re a bit hipper than their predecessor (their DJ plays Q-Tip and the cute waitresses wear itty bitty skirts) but the food has stayed solid.

During my last visit, I started with the poh pia, served with a spicy plum sauce.

Poh pia are fresh spring rolls stuffed with jicama, carrots, prawns, Chinese sausage, peanuts, fried egg and a very spicy hoisin sauce. These rolls are a quintessential example of Singaporean cuisine, which melds Malaysian, Indonesian, Chinese, Indian and Nonya cooking to form its own glorious and diverse style of cooking.

Next I had the Straits Frites, served with kaffir lime aioli and galangal chili sauce.

Their fries are crispy on the outside and soft on the inside, just the way I like them. I’m not crazy about the aioli; it’s a little bland for my taste, but I love Straits’ galangal chili sauce.

For my entree, I ordered the hokkien bee hoon, which is probably my favorite dish at Straits.

Hokkien bee hoon are rice noodles stir-fried with shrimp, fish cake, calamari and fresh chilies. A small squeeze of lime over the whole thing, and you’re good to go. Introduced to the region by immigrants from the Fujian province of southeastern China, other versions of hokkien bee (or mee) are served throughout Southeast Asia as well, particularly in Malaysia.

The line of Straits Restaurants has expanded in recent years and is no longer limited to the Bay Area; they’ve opened up in Houston and Atlanta too. (Straits’ Executive Chef Chris Yeo teamed up with rapper Ludacris for the Atlanta branch.) If the food at Straits’ Burlingame location is any indicator, their growth hasn’t hampered their quality. Straits Restaurant continues to hold down the fort for Singaporean cuisine.

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