Like the rest of California, Me & Jungle Cafe sustained some damage from this year’s set of heatwaves and the ongoing drought. The back patio is populated with tables, chairs, potted plants and a greenhouse. The owners of Me & Jungle, a nearby nursery, closed their shop and migrated some of their plants to the cafe. Pornping Theeradechakul, the chef and owner of the cafe, partnered with them. But when she visited our table, she held the ends of a dried vine in her hands. The summer months did little to stimulate the “jungle” effect of the potted plants.
Now that the cafe has been newly opened, Theeradechakul said her main focus is on getting the kitchen in order and expanding the menu. She’s planning to add more plants and an outdoor fire pit to warm the patio during the fall and winter months. Those plants, like the rest of us, must be searching the skies for signs of coming rains.
Theeradechakul has worked in the restaurant industry for a number of years, most recently at Kitchen Story on College Avenue. She said her boss at Kitchen Story encouraged her to pursue the plan to open her own restaurant. Me & Jungle Cafe has an eclectic menu fusing Thai, Japanese and Korean ingredients and flavors together.
During this first opening phase, the cafe is mainly serving rice wraps, brunch and bowls. The wrap choices include chicken, ham, shrimp, tuna or smoked salmon. We tried the first two vegetarian-ish wraps listed, the Piedmont Avenue ($12) and the Soya Soya ($13). Wraps can be the usual white rice ones or, for an additional fifty cents, more unusual. You can choose between spinach, pumpkin, beetroot and brown rice wraps. All of them come with a spicy cilantro lime dipping sauce and a peanut sauce. A spicy mayo sauce is $1 more.
I’ve ordered fresh spring rolls at dozens of restaurants before, but Theeradechakul’s approach to making them is unique. They’re robust, tightly packed and bursting with ingredients. In the Piedmont, slices of hard boiled egg face outward to greet the diner from inside. Their bright yellow yolks look especially vibrant against dark green spinach and herb leaves. The chef incorporates konjac noodles in the wraps and some of her other dishes. They are nearly identical to vermicelli, but are actually made from a variety of yam.
The Soya Soya features generous squares of fresh tofu accompanied by chives, radish, cucumber, sesame seeds and noodles. After Theeradechakul dropped the dishes off at our table, she said that eggs and tofu are currently as expensive as any of the meats. Along with the possibility of facing another season of the pandemic and trying to staff the restaurant, sourcing affordable ingredients is one more challenge facing restaurant owners.
The brunch menu was designed for avocado lovers. You can have it on toast ($9), with egg and toast ($10), with lemon shrimp ($12), smoked salmon ($13), or as an English breakfast ($14) with bacon and a hard boiled egg. We tried the toast with avocado, radish, cherry tomatoes, red onion and microgreens. And, as far as avocado toast goes, it delivered as promised but doesn’t wow in the same way the wraps do. Theeradechakul is excited about adding to the menu. She has been experimenting with a traditional soup recipe for tom kha gai. It’s going to be a hybrid, featuring at least a couple of ingredients normally associated with Japanese cuisine.
Me & Jungle Cafe also has an extensive selection of drinks that would benefit from a second explanatory line, as the snacks and more substantial entrées do. But the restaurant’s new IG account is starting to post pretty photos of the drinks. The Me & Jungle latte ($5) has a thick light green layer of foam on top. And two lemonades show up side by side: a crimson hibiscus lemonade and a violet blue butterfly honey lemonade. It’s also worth asking the owner to explain the story behind any drink that includes the phrase “Pink Lady.”
Me & Jungle Cafe, open everyday 9am–5pm. 3943 Piedmont Ave., Oakland. 510.775.3841. instagram.com/meandjunglecafe.