Oakland’s Teni East Kitchen serves fresh, surprising takes on Burmese food

Under the helm of an Ethiopian-born chef who got her chops at Burma Superstar, this two-year-old restaurant has found its footing and point of view.

The refreshing pea shoot salad is Teni East Kitchen’s signature dish. Photo: Benjamin Seto

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Teni East Kitchen opened during the spring of 2016 in North Oakland’s Broadway corridor, but many East Bay diners are just discovering this modern Burmese spot for the first time. The neighborhood continues to undergo change, which has been ongoing for the last several years since nearby 40th Street became a dining destination with the opening of Homeroom, Subrosa Coffee and Hog’s Apothecary. When it opened, Teni was joining a new crop of spots like Trueburger, Clove & Hoof and Monster Pho that were starting to branch off that main 40th Street drag by opening restaurants on Broadway.

“It’s great to have a block with so much happening. … I realize I’m part of the change,” said owner-chef Tiyo Shibabaw.

Now two years later, Teni East Kitchen feels like a restaurant that’s found its footing.

Teni East Kitchen owner-chef Tiyo Shibabaw was born and raised in Ethiopia but became immersed in Southeast Asian food, and Burmese food in particular, after working at Burma Superstar. Photo: Benjamin Seto

Shibabaw, who was born and raised in Ethiopia, moved to the Bay Area at age 18. Here, she became interested in Southeast Asian food, especially after she became general manager at Burma Superstar’s original location in San Francisco. Shibabaw became immersed in traditional Burmese cuisine, even apprenticing under the restaurant’s chef in the kitchen. Eventually, Shibabaw decided to forge out on her own, taking what she learned at Burma Superstar and on her travels to Southeast Asia and combining it with her knowledge of the contemporary Bay Area dining scene.

Inside Teni East Kitchen in North Oakland. Photo: Benjamin Seto

It’s an approach that has worked at Teni East Kitchen. Shibabaw’s menu showcases traditional Burmese flavors but adds modern twists or influences from a contemporary point of view. The ubiquitous Burmese tea leaf salad, for example, is made with kale ($10) for an updated taste but still retains the traditional ingredients of fermented tea leaves, nuts and fried shallots.

The pea shoot salad ($9) is another dish to try. This refreshing dish makes pea shoots the star when they’re often a garnish at other places. A tangy vinaigrette and crunchy shallots and peanuts all combine to make Teni East Kitchen’s signature dish.

Roti with dip at Teni East Kitchen. Photo: Benjamin Seto

A must-order starter is the roti with dip ($8). The fluffy pan-fried flatbread, served with a flavorful curry sauce for dipping, is flaky, warm and comforting. A layer of red chili oil sits atop the dipping sauce, adding a nice spice and creating a beautiful pattern.

The coconut duck ($17) has been on Teni East Kitchen’s menu since the restaurant opened. It’s made with the same curry sauce as the roti and features a tender bone-in duck leg and marble potatoes stewed with fragrant curry leaves.

Coconut Duck is one of Teni East Kitchen’s original dishes that’s been on the menu since it opened. Photo: Benjamin Seto

Side vegetable dishes are available, such as the cauliflower and sweet corn ($12) or Chinese broccoli with mushrooms ($12), but I find them not as interesting as the salads or other curries, such as coconut shrimp or chicken cardamom.

The dishes at Teni East are modestly sized and served a la carte, but the crispy skinned salmon ($17) is served with a scaled-down version of the pea shoot salad, which could be a good choice for diners who aren’t ordering family-style.

Teni Spicy Noodles are flat rice noodles in a saucy gravy, topped with chili sauce that you can moderate to your liking. Photo: Benjamin Seto

One of the newer items is the Teni Spicy Noodles, made with veggie, chicken or shrimp ($13). The flat rice noodles are tossed in a spicy curry sauce that’s simple, but very tasty. I like how a ball of chili paste sits in the center, letting you control the spice level of your plate as you mix in as much of the spice as you like.

The only option for dessert is Mitchell’s ice cream served in an edible cone bowl ($5-$7). Flavors offered include ube (purple yam) and buko (young coconut), as well as chocolate, pistachio and coffee.

Mitchell’s ice cream is the only dessert for offer at Teni East Kitchen. Photo: Benjamin Seto

Shibabaw said she plans to continue to tweak the menu at Teni East Kitchen, including adding a few more seafood items. There’s also more to come for its drink menu. Currently, Teni East Kitchen has a beer and wine license, but Shibabaw hopes to get a full liquor license this year.

“In Burma there are lots of tea shops that have whiskey shops right next to them,” Shibabaw said. “So I want to look into a whiskey-focused bar program and see if it’ll be something that catches on here.”

Teni East Kitchen is not your grandmother’s Burmese restaurant, but like the neighborhood, it stays fresh and relevant.

Benjamin Seto is the voice behind Focus:Snap:Eat, where he dishes on food at restaurants and shops in the Bay Area, in his kitchen, and from his culinary adventures.