Happy Cafe, San Mateo
I stopped into this little Chinese place on B street between 3rd and 2nd yesterday after seeing it mentioned in San Francisco magazine - which says they have great dim sum. The menu is very short - I chose the vegetable special of the day, a wonderful bok choy and mushroom dish which was cooked to perfection with a nice amount of garlic. Also, got the steamed soupy buns (sorry, don't know the name for these shanghai style dumplings) which were very good (though not as good as my favorite Joe's Shanghai in New York's chinatown), and a noodle soup with mustard greens and pork - the pork was a bit fatty for my taste, and i almost didn't recognize the greens at first, as they were cut into thin strips, but once I did, I eagerly picked them out away from the pork. The noodles were delicate and flavorful with the simple broth.
Has anyone had dim sum here? Would love to hear more about it.
I used to go to Happy Cafe almost every weekend when I lived in San Mateo, shortly after moving to the Bay Area from NY. So my experience was pretty much the same as yours: I'm thinking, "Wow, this is really good dim sum," but somehow feeling something missing, something just not pushing me over the top into dim sum heaven. I finally figured out, as did you, that the problem was the gastrogasmically* high expectations set by Joe's. The tough part about Happy Cafe was trying to catch them when they're open. I'm sure their hourse are posted somewhere, but it was more fun just not to know and be pleasantly surprised. I think the hours tend toward the morning, especially on weekends.
*"gastrogasmic" is the intellectual property of my friend Ellen. Please contact me if interested in using this word in everyday speech.
I had a horrible experience at the Happy Cafe. We waited over and hour for a table and they barely acknowledged us. We figured that the wait would be worth it since there were so many people. I was disappointed. The food was boring and bland. We had some fried noodles and appetizers I cannot remember. The service was so bad that I was tempted to get up leave. Don't bother with this place.
HKL, I am really sorry to hear about your bad experience at Happy Cafe. In my experience, the service has always been brusque, but never that bad. Maybe you can give them another chance.
I have to put a disclaimer on this post and say that I have gotten to know the owner a little bit because of how frequently I go there. But my food opinions are not influenced by that.
Here's my summation. Dim Sum is not WOW there. In fact, nothing is completely WOW there in the 4 star sense. So why do I go back? Because the cooking is like that of a good home cook. It reminds me of my mother's dishes. And they are definitely worth it at something like $6 a pop. I think the food is very good and authentic at that price range. Don't get the typical things like fried noodles and broccoli beef.
A good place for ShangHai dim sums used to be WuKon's in the SF Recon center. But sadly, they were bought out.
You might also want to try the following in San Mateo if you like ShangHai food.
Chef Dings, they have a special stir fry with squid that's good. Sorry, I don't know what the name is in English. Their little dragon buns (soupy buns) are good if you eat right in the store.
There's also another place that's on El Camino, the english name escapes right now (Taste of Shanghai maybe?). They have some good traditional soups and also lions heads. But they seem to have some good days and some bad.