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Best Char Siu Bao in San Francisco?

Anyone have suggestions for where I can take my family for the best char siu bao in San Francisco? My family particularly loves the baked (rather than the steamed). It can be a simple bakery or dim-sum to-go spot. Nothing fancy, just really yummy!

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  1. I cannot claim to have tried even a tenth of the available char siu bao, much less compared steamed vs. baked, and folks will certainly disagree with me, but for my money the much-maligned Ton Kiang has a very tasty steamed char siu bao (sorry - my preference is for steamed over baked). On Clement, Good Luck Dim Sum & the place between 7th & 8th on the south side (sorry, forget the name) were okay, but not as good.

    Long live bao buns <g>

    5 Replies
    1. re: adampaul

      Was that other place Gourmet Dimsum (651 Clement St)? Anyhoo, I was disappointed by Good Luck Dim Sum's steamed buns (not firm enough, "cotton" texture). However, I thought their baked bun was a very good and tasty "sweet" version. The baked bun was a little "sunk in" (maybe not firm enough?), but both the bread and pork were very good, although on the sweet side (not in a bad way).

      In the same area, for a good "less sweet" alternative, I recommend Wing Lee Bakery's (501 Clement St) baked bun. The bread's texture has just the right firmness, IMO, and both the bread and pork are a little less sweet (but still very good) than Good Luck's version. My only gripe is its pork-to-bread ratio being a little too small (the bun is bigger than average).

      1. re: HungryMojo

        I believe Wing Lee is the other place. Agree on Good Luck's steamed Char Siu Bao, which is the kind I prefer - their texture wasn't optimal.

        1. re: HungryMojo

          Gourmet Dim Sum has my favorite har gao for take-out. I've tried a smattering of other things there, nothing I've purchased again except for the har gao. But it's easy enough to fill in with the things I like from Wing Lee since they're so close to each other.

          1. re: Melanie Wong

            I've never bought from Gourmet Dim Sum, but har gao (shrimp dumplings, a dim sum "standard") is important to me. I'll definitely try it out, even if har gao is the ONLY thing worth buying. Thanks for your opinion.

          2. re: HungryMojo

            The place just called "Clement Restaurant" at 621 Clement puts out a baked version of cha shao bao reminiscent of Cafe Bakery's. They look a little bit smallish at first glance but the shell is very thin and baked almost to a crisp, and they are packed chock full of satisfyingly fatty pork.

        2. I like the baked char siu bao at:

          Red House Bakery
          2818 San Bruno Ave
          San Francisco, CA 94134

          This place is not fancy, but the baked bao are absolutely delicious.

          6 Replies
          1. re: Nancy Berry

            So close to home! Do you know if they have the cocktail (smaller) size? Thanks for the rec.

            1. re: bernalgirl

              They have a full range of baked goods. I saw the cocktail buns but did not try them as of yet. But had a lot of the other offerings all was good not disappointed yet. The old wife cake was a little too sweet and chucky for my taste. But the chicken pie was very good.

              1. re: yimster

                Do you mean the filled bun called "cocktail buns" or cocktail-sized char siu bao?

                1. re: Melanie Wong

                  I have had the char siu bao and the char siu puff pastry but did not see the cocktail char siu bao.

                  1. re: yimster

                    Thanks very much yimster. I'll check them out anyway since they're so close to home, but won't count on them for my other inquiry.

              2. re: bernalgirl

                I've only seen the large (very large) char siu bao there, but I've only been there a couple of times. They are very close to my home, too, though. I'll be going there often and I'll ask whether they make smaller versions of the bao.

            2. In recent similar threads, many have given the nod to Cafe Bakery in the Sunset (1365 Noriega). I'm also a fan of You's Dim Sum in Chinatown (675 Broadway) for baked pork buns.

              6 Replies
              1. re: Gary Soup

                I'm with Gary on You's. Also I like the ones they have at King Eggroll in San Jose--1221 Story Road. Possibly the world's biggest baked chashu bao and for a buck truly a meal in itself.

                1. re: Chandavkl

                  I like the ones from You's better than Golden Gate's, and since it's so close by, an easy choice to make. Tried to pick up some yesterday when I was in Chinatown, but You's was already sold out of bao at 2pm.

                  1. re: Melanie Wong

                    I'm gonna have to reverse myself on this one. I picked up boxes of bao from You's on Jan 1 to take to a party. The buns are 85¢ each and impressively large. Most folks at the party were cutting them in half to share with someone. They look like they have a lot of filling, but the barbecue pork filling has a lot of gravy and also fatty pieces that make it look more generous and give it a slimy texture. The bread part had no taste, neither yeasty nor sweet, whatsoever and had too much air, the kind of bread that squishes down too much and gets stuck in your molars.

                    Golden Gate's is a tastier bao with more flavor packed into a smaller dimension. Yet, Cafe Bakery and TC Pastry still come out ahead for me.

                    P.S. i also bough no mai chi, the coconut dusted mochi balls from You's. Now, these were excellent, with flaked instead of powdered coconut and a peanut-coconut filling. Quite big too.

                    1. re: Melanie Wong

                      Golden Gate's are lovely, with a decided five spice note in to meat filling, just enough gravy to hold things together, and with a nice texture to the bread and a good meat:bread ratio.

                      Planning to try TC's this weekend...

                      1. re: Melanie Wong

                        The TC Pastry baked bao I purchased for my daughter's birthday were a hit. They are very good, the dough has great texture and flavor, they're not underfilled puff balls, nor gravy-laden soggy messes. The filling is of a good consistency and not too sweet. They disappeared quickly and many of our guests asked where we got them. And it was very easy to place and pick up our order, a delightful place to do business.

                        I'd been a walk-in customer for several years and had never tried their char siu bao, thanks for the rec!

                        1. re: Melanie Wong

                          Melanie - given your several comments on this thread, and on the other one about cocktail sized buns, can you summarize your ranking on steamed and baked char siu bao? I did an informal test this weekend at Eastern Bakery which were pretty good, but I have these faded memories of my childhood, driving across the bridge from Marin to buy a box of them (somewhere) and arriving home with less than half of the dozen I'd bought.

                          Just trying to pass along bao knowledge to my kids now ;-)

                  2. In Chinatown, Golden Gate Bakery has meat-filled gristle-less baked Char Siu Bao...ofcourse you can top them off with their excellent Dahn Taht (egg custard) tarts,macaroons, or Coconut tarts...for dessert...

                    2 Replies
                    1. re: ChowFun_derek

                      I realize you will find any excuse to pick up dan ta at Golden Gate, but the cha shao bao at Golden Gate are effete and overpriced, IMHO.

                      Parenthetically, after my recent experience eating the Portuguese version of egg custard tarts in Shanghai, I can never go back to Cantonese dan ta (not that I loved them in the first place). "Pastéis de nata" is to dan ta what cheesecake is to Jell-o.

                      1. re: Gary Soup

                        I had a baked cha shao bao the other day at Golden Gate Bakery and it was good, though nothing outstanding. I think it cost 90 cents.

                        Dave MP

                    2. Gary,
                      I have never experienced Portuguese Egg Tarts in Shanghai ( and I sure would like to!) but the ones I have had here in S.F. cannot come close to Golden Gates' standard tarts...inferior crust, and starch thickened custard ( most likely corn starch) GG's are PURE custard ...eggs and milk or cream...
                      If you consider gristle Masculine...there are many places to choose from here in S.F. ,...I choose to see them as 'refined'..and since there is more high quality meat to bun minus the gristle, I consider them well worth the price!!!

                      ...and any excuse to go to GG is good for me..It's true!!!

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: ChowFun_derek

                        Well Chowfun I too have not tasted a Portuguesse Egg Tart in Shanghai but I think the ones in Macaw would be the best since that is were that verison of the tart started.

                        I would stick to xlb's in Shanghai.

                      2. I think the Portuguese versions have a MUCH higher heavy cream content than dan ta; as for cornstarch, the recipe on Leite's Culinaria has one T for six tarts. (Without it you'd probably have a basic creme brulee.)


                        Nothing wrong with a bissel gristle for adding flavor to the meat. Just ask the many fans of Cafe Bakery's baked CSB.

                        1. Methinks the "best" char siu bao in SF is similar to the best burrito question...widely subjective. That said, my standard is Dick Lee Pastry on Jackson in Chinatown although I can't describe it. It was my grandmother's fav and they've tasted the same for a long time. Are there better, no doubt but again subjective and I while I like bao, I'm not a hardcore connoisseur.

                          1. Hadn't tried Golden Gate's baked bao for a while so picked up one today. It's okay and better than most. The bread is neither yeasty nor the slightly sweet type. I found the bread too soft, compacting too much with each bite. The bbq pork filling's tender with clumps of starchy gravy and surprisingly low on flavor. The bao does have a good proportion of meat to bread.

                            Best place to get cocktail-size baked pork buns?

                            1. Portugese Dan Tat is not endemic to Shanghai. Portugese Dan Tat originates from Macau I think. Dan Tat came about as a HK interpretation of Western custard tarts; Macau portugese-ised it, and from there, Portugese Dan Tat spread back to HK and also the rest of China, Shanghai included.

                              You can get Portugese Dan Tat everywhere in China, including Shanghai and HK and Macau. They all taste pretty similar.

                              In fact, KFC (yes kentucky fried chicken) has very consistent and pretty good Portugese Dan Tat, so it doesn't matter if you are in Beijing or Xian or Shanghai or Guilin or HK or whereever, you can get Portugese Dan Tat.

                              For what its worth, the very best in Portugese Dan Tat compares very comparably to the very best in HK style Dan Tat. You need to get the crust right with the right flakiness. (many places in SF do not get this right, although some get it very right). Once you have the very best in 1000-layer crusts (filled with lard I am sure), the filling is just decadent (for HK style Dan Tat) or extra-decadent (for Portugese Style).

                              Jason in SF

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: jhleung

                                Thanks..I've only found the "places in San Francisco that don't get it right"!!
                                Can you make any suggestions as to where a good Portuguese Dan Tat can be found?
                                Thanks again...

                              2. All great recommendations for SF! How about some tips on where to pick up some of the steamed pork buns (either full or cocktail size) in the Fremont / Milpitas area?

                                1. Sorry, for Portugese Dan Tat, zero places get in right in SF, although sometimes I see them in the various Sogo Bakeries but I've never tried. For Cantonese Dan Tat, I think I already know you lavish effusive praise on GG bakery. :-) I, though, prefer the little ones you get on Clement & 8th on the south side of the block in the middle of the block (the one that is connected to a steam table restaraunt to the left of it.... they are alway out of dan tat by 1pm) and also I like the ones they give you during dimsum @ parc hong kong restuarant on geary & 18th.

                                  4 Replies
                                    1. re: jhleung

                                      hello, if 'Portuguese daan tat'= pasteis de nata, there are delicious examples in Rohnert Park (anyone going north via 101 to S.Rosa or beyond passes within a mile or less of this spot) at the 9 Islands bakery. I think they bake the widest assortment on Sat. but I found the basic custard tart on both of our visits there. In comparison w. the Cantonese style they seem much richer and intense, almost another category though clearly still a 'custard tart'. enjoy your 2007

                                      1. re: moto

                                        Pastéis de Nata are exactly what we are talking about. I assume 9 Islands refers to the Azores (the supposed origin of Pastéis de Nata)?

                                        Could be a real find. Maybe some more North Bay 'hounds could check it oit.

                                        1. re: Gary Soup

                                          I couldn't locate moto's earlier post on 9 islands, but here's mine -

                                    2. I'm totally out of the loop. I did not know that there is a Sogo in SF on Irving. (I'm assuming somewhere between 19th ave and 25th ave). I'm going to have to go and find that Sogo because that's the best news I've heard in a while!

                                      I stopped going around the Irving street area when Jook'n'Fun closed.

                                      I'm assuming you mean Sogo and not Sheng Kee...

                                      Anyways, onwards to the outer Sunset.... :-)

                                      4 Replies
                                        1. re: jhleung

                                          Whoops, let's regroup. I was thinking of Sheng Kee on Irving, which also makes the portuguese tarts. There is a Sogo business on Irving, but I don't think it's a bakery.

                                          1. re: Melanie Wong

                                            regarding Sogo bakeries - the Richmond 99 Ranch has a Sogo Bakery in store - not sure if that is the case in all the other Ranch stores or not?

                                            1. re: gordon wing

                                              Per the Sogo location page linked above, the Ranch 99 stores in Richmond, Daly City, Milpitas, and Hostetter in San Jose have in-store bakeries.