When Cam Huong in Oakland Chinatown closed last September, the universal reaction amongst fans was devastation. There would be no more of the Vietnamese deli’s BBQ chicken on a stick, healthy and affordable banh mi or soursop smoothies. While its larger sister café by the same name in the Eastlake neighborhood remains open, the 33-year-old Chinatown institution closed because Huong Luu, its matriarch owner, decided to retire.

But an East Bay businesswoman, Anh Nguyen, quickly stepped in. Nguyen is the proprietor of Folks’ Art, a jewelry and gift shop that relocated from Piedmont Avenue to Montclair Village, but she long had dreams of owning her own restaurant.

Almost 30 years ago, Nguyen left Vietnam as a refugee. She eventually joined her brothers in Oakland, who were the first to take her to Cam Huong. It reminded her of home. And over the years, Cam Huong became a meeting place for Nguyen, as well as a quick and reliable spot to get a caphe (Vietnamese coffee) or banh mi to-go. When she learned about its closing, she looked into it and decided to re-open the space as a similar concept.

Owner Anh Ngyuen stands behind the counter at her new restaurant, Cam Anh in Oakland Chinatown.
Owner Anh Nguyen also owns Folks’ Art, a retail store in Montclair Village. Photo: Momo Chang
Owner Anh Nguyen also owns Folks’ Art, a retail store in Montclair Village. Photo: Momo Chang

Cam Anh recently celebrated its grand opening in late February. The menu is still very much in line with what Cam Huong served, but Nguyen’s menu has been simplified. All sandwiches are $4.50, and the hot food is served as a meal, with a two-item meal for $5.50 and three items for $8.50. Some of Cam Huong’s popular sandwiches, such as banh mi ga nuong (roasted chicken), are offered, but Nguyen has removed offerings like the salmon banh mi.

There are still snacks, cold drinks, and ready-to-eat vermicelli and rice plates at $5.50 each, or spring rolls at $5.25, but at this time, Cam Anh does not serve smoothies.

Cam Anh has added more variety, as far as vegan dishes. Those include eggplant and tofu, a tofu curry dish, vegan vermicelli noodles, and more.

Hot trays full of Vietnamese vegan dishes like eggplant and tofu, a tofu coconut curry, vermicelli, and tofu with green beans and carrots at Cam Anh in Oakland Chinatown.
Cam Anh has vegan dishes such as eggplant and tofu, vermicelli, tofu with green beans and carrots and a tofu coconut curry. Photo: Momo Chang

Nguyen said that she will continue adding items in the future, such as tea drinks made with organic honey, and seasonal dishes. Nguyen may also add some Japanese items and Korean dishes such as kimbap.

Cam Anh offers catering, takes credit cards and will soon offer online ordering. It is open 7 a.m.-6 p.m. Thursday through Tuesday. Closed Wednesday.

Momo Chang is an award-winning freelance journalist, multimedia storyteller and digital expert based in Oakland, CA. She is a contributor to Nosh, has written for the San Francisco Chronicle, Shondaland,...