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House of Nanking - yay or nay?

  • f

now i'm not typically a big fan of chinese cuisine, and i have trouble believing that the slop that gets plated at a lot of american chinese joints is real chinese (at least i hope it isn't)...but i enjoyed myself at the house of nanking 5 years or so ago when i visited san fran. granted, my food-itude has come a long way since then.

whats the general consensus these days -- still enjoyable for someone who NEVER gets good chinese? or not worth it anymore. i've seen mixed reviews....just curious - thanks...

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  1. d

    i haven't been in a few years, but it was always a good and fun eat. especially because you can tell the owner what you don't eat (pork, shrimp) and he will send over a bunch of dishes. don't know about authenticity, especially since it has become so popular with the tourist crowd.

    R & G Lounge on Kearny is a great bite of chinese food. not necessarily low budget, but authentic and fun for everyone. ask to sit upstairs and your service will be a lot better. then tend to put us whiteys downstairs but i got that tip from a friend and it was great.

    2 Replies
    1. re: doodleboomer

      We like R&G Lounge too. But frankly we have never been upstairs, and we have always gone with all Chinese groups. So don't feel that you get special treatment.

      1. re: Peter

        Check out Chef Jia right next door to it

        Way way way way better ...

    2. House of N has gotten slammed a lot here on Chowhound. I used to like it but got really tired of the same sweet brown sauce on everything.

      A friend of ours flies out from Texas just to go there! He has the money to do so and usually spends a weekend eating there 4 times!

      They used to have a fantastic stir-fry of scallops a while ago...dunno how it is now.

      I personally would go someplace else. Chowhounds will lead you in the right direction.

      1. A Chinese restaurant with very few Chinese diners is a screaming warning signal. Either the food's not that good or the prices are too high, or both. The food at House at Nanking is not bad, but you can do much better at probably a 100 other restaurants in Chinatown.

        4 Replies
        1. re: Chandavkl

          Yes, I agree that is a good barometer. I never go to a Chinese restaurant where there are no Chinese people, especially in SF. With House of Nanking, you can see a bunch of non-Chinese people waiting to get in.

          1. re: Jamie Ross
            Robert Lauriston

            As a general rule that's true, but the food at House of Nanking is neither bad nor expensive.

            You don't see many Chinese people eating there because it's highly Americanized, but in a unique way that you won't find anywhere else. Sort of a Chinese counterpart of the old Casa Aguila.

          2. re: Chandavkl

            I'm not sure if I buy the idea that people eating outside of their own cultural cuisine are necessarily incapable of discriminating between good food and hype. I ate at Nanking before it had national recognition and it was so far and beyond better than any chinese food I'd ever had.

            1. re: Chandavkl

              I've always kinda wondered about this theory. At some level, I suppose it makes sense. But there are a lot of Caucasians who eat at Denny's and Olive Garden. If you're non-Caucasian, does that mean they're good? I wonder. It's sort of like the old traveler's rule that "it must be good if all the truckers eat there." Maybe, maybe not.

            2. r
              Robert Lauriston

              If you want great traditional Shanghai-style food, go elsewhere.

              House of Nanking was stellar when it first opened but went downhill within a year or two. The owner pandered more and more to young people and tourists who don't know much about Chinese food or have much money. For that kind of place, the food's relatively good, and not like anything you'll get anywhere else.

              A never-published capsule review I wrote based on my last visit (1998) says, "Good bets are fried squid, any dish with sweet potatoes, and seasonal vegetable specials." There are a lot of minor variations on the longish menu, try to avoid ordering two similar dishes.

              1. The food is the same as it was five years ago (which was well after it had been "discovered" and become insanely touristy). If that's what you like, then you'll still like it.

                However, it's a very long way from being "authentic" and there are certainly many more authentic restaurants in Chinatown.

                The catch is that most of the "authentic" restaurants in Chinatown are Cantonese, and Cantonese food is sometimes difficult to appreciate for people who've been trained to think that "authentic" Chinese food means stir-fried and spicy. Cantonese food is the California cuisine of China: it's all about using good quality ingredients and preparing them in ways that make them shine. If your fooditude has advanced since last time, you really should try some more authentic places. If you do a control-F search for "Chinatown," you'll find some recent discussions about what's "authentic" there.

                1. I just ate at Nan King and really enjoyed the food, as usual. I cannot claim to have visited too many "authentic" chinese places yet but I do think Nan King is good and a good value. Our food was bright, fresh, no overcooked veggies here and the tofu was perfect. My only advice is not to go during peak hours- your experience will be much more enjoyable. I would be interested to hear local chowhounds comment on what specifically they don't like about the place- beyond the fact that it is frequented by tourists.

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: alynn

                    I haven't been there in years. We went a few times and enjoyed it quite a bit. I'd say it's worth going once, just for the experience. But the place is crowded, and noisy.

                    Maybe it was what we ordered -- but the last time, we realized that the food was very salty and very sugary, with lots of sliced dried garlic (or pickled garlic, maybe) -- a lot of the sauces were the same, and very intensely flavored. So the palate tires quickly.

                    1. re: Joel Teller
                      Robert Lauriston

                      Not ordering similar dishes is probably the hardest part of eating well at Nanking.

                  2. House of Nanking is a good when I crave Americanized Chinese and when there is no line. Saucy fried rice and sweet potatoes in just about every meat stir fry dish.

                    If I have to wait more than 5 min. to sit I'm out of there. Tons of good and cheap eats around the 'hood. I'll leave the waiting for the tourists.

                    1. 4 words: Chef Jia's (Next door)

                      1. Awful. Always a let down when I worked in that area for many years. The trendy, "in" place followers head there like lemings and I always had to endure it with clients or out-of-town visitors who heard all the hype. If people would just be honest and think for themselves, this would have been gone long ago.

                        7 Replies
                        1. re: NoeMan

                          Oh lord no, the trendy set wouldn't be caught dead at House of Nanking, where they'd be bumping elbows with the bridge-and-BART-tunnel crowd.

                          If you approach it with an open mind, the food's good, especially for the price. It's just for the most part not traditional Chinese food, and it's easy to order the wrong dishes and have a bad meal. The Chron's new reviewer Bill Addison totally got the peculiar gestalt of the place:


                          1. re: Robert Lauriston

                            A big fat WORD to two things that have been brought up:

                            1. Going to an ethnic restaurant without seeing patrons of said ethnic group definitely means the place isn't authentic. Can it still be good for certain people? Absolutely! Would I go to HoN myself? Only if I run out of Spam and Ramen at home.

                            2. It's very hard to find a stir-fry dish without the annoyingly cloying sauce and endless slices of yam. That said, a lot of my friends LOOOVE that sweet sauce with everything.

                            ***Edited to add that I went there when it was still a single storefront and had a very decent Tsing Tao beer chicken with fuzzy melon. The love evaporated after it got too popular for the wrong reason.

                            1. re: dty

                              The one time I went to HoN after its initial splash (slinking in there jonesing for some Shanghai style chow mein) it wasn't so much that the whole crowd was Caucasian that got to me, but the dirty look I got when I asked for chopsicks. Forks seemed to be de rigeur in there. (The Shanghai-style noodles would have been a great version, except that they proceeded to DROWN it in red (brown) sauce before they served it).

                              1. re: Gary Soup

                                I went to HN shortly after it opened...rather mediocre. Never could understand that during their heyday, anyone would go to HN with Jackson Cafe around the corner. I guess people don't mind waiting an hour for the sweep goop on everythnig.

                                1. re: Gary Soup

                                  When House of Nanking first opened (like the first month or two), the food was great. Nothing like it is today, no sweet potatoes, no sweet sauces. Then Patricia Unterman reviewed it in the Chron, it got mobbed, and Peter Fang started adapting his style to please the crowds.

                                  1. re: Gary Soup

                                    If I recall correctly, the glowing review that put the H of N in the limelight appeared at the worst possible time: in the week before the Chinese New Year Parade. It was immediately mobbed by people who didn't know any other Chinatown restaurants (and probably still don't).

                                2. re: Robert Lauriston

                                  I ate there fairly early on (maybe with you?) and then I went back a couple of times, last time maybe 2 or 3 years ago. I thought they had definitely taken a nose-dive over the years.

                                  EDIT - oh, I see you said something similar above.

                              2. a big yay. Its very greasy but the onion cakes are superb.

                                1. So, last night we went to Great Eastern after being persuaded by Chowhounds that it was better, by far, than Nan King. We have been to House of Nan King twice, and while not blown away, we did like it. Great Eastern had pretty decor, but subpar service, and most importantly, the food was just bland and boring. We asked for suggestions and went with them, it was definitely not impressive. Plus, the dining room was drafty. Here's why I do like Nan Kin, tourist trap that it may be. The ambience is lively and loud, but fun for going out with friends. If you ask, the waiter will bring you what he suggests, which for us last time was a sizzling rice soup, then a plate of various appetizers (not quite your eggroll and deep fried shrimp variety- which was, by the way, the assortment at Great Eastern). I can't remember what we had because it was a while ago, but it was good! Then he brought out a delicious mushroom and unidentified greens (delicious though) dish as well as a chicken or seafood one (sorry, I can't really remember). Anyway, what I do remember is that it was a good variety of tastes and textures. And it was even less expensive than what we would have ordered for ourselves- because there were only two main entrees ordered. We had tea (which is unusual and delicious- little berries and such in it) and beer, and I think it was still only about $50 for 4 of us.
                                  In the end, I disagree with some of you Chowhounds. While Nan King might not be the best in gourmet Chinatown has to offer, it is a great experience. Skip Great Eastern, go to the House of Nan King instead.

                                  1 Reply
                                  1. re: bellarella

                                    I have nothing against House of Nanking, but if you're going to most Chinese restaurants expecting a particular type or level of service, you're going in with the wrong expectations.

                                    And for the record, I have seen many, many Asian people eating at House of Nanking!!!

                                  2. With all due respect to any above posters who recommend NK.....stay FAR away and eat any any number of muchmuchmuchmuchmuch better places that will serve you with farfarfarfarfarfar less attitude.

                                    If you want a hole in the wall with great food - go to Tulan where they can demonstrate great cooking without being rude. Also, they have MORE than ONE sauce!

                                    1 Reply
                                    1. re: jbyoga

                                      Oh yes, I've had hilariously abusive service there, too! Along the lines of Weiner's Circle in Chicago, or the Soup Nazi on Seinfeld. Good if you like That One Sauce and have a masochistic streak, not so good otherwise.

                                    2. It fills that craving I get once and a while. Or If I had one too many drinks and it's walking distance, perfect. Some people need a fast food fix once in a while I like House of Nan King fix once in a while. I think it's been at least two years since I was there but you can pretty much count on it being the way it was your last visit

                                      1. I hadn't been in a long while so tried it again about 3 weeks ago. Emphatic "nay".

                                        1. Much to my surprise, I didn't hate House of Nanking. I find their seafood to be rather good, especially the calamari. I think that's the way to go. Of course, I know nothing about authenticity.

                                          1. Personally, I can't stand the place. Tried it once and will never go back.

                                            3 Replies
                                            1. re: anna

                                              Ditto ... once was enough. I didn't find them nice and whatever it was I tried was only memborable in that I didn't like it. Really, I don't need to be talked about and sneered at in Chinese. Like someone said a kitchen full of Steinfeild's soup Nazi's without delivering deliciousness. Long ago, but unless I read a WHOLE lot of positive posts recommending specific dishes ... no, no, no ... and STAND IN LINE FOR THAT ON TOP OF IT ... heaven's no.

                                              1. re: rworange

                                                How did you know they were talking about you? Maybe you are confusing the Soup Nazi episode with the Korean nail place episode,,,,

                                                1. re: Gary Soup

                                                  I know please, thank you, stop, right, left, how much and a few choice insult words in various languages including Chinese. They were talking about me and not doing a damn thing to disguise it. If the food were worth it fine ... it wasn't worth it.

                                                  I'm going to have to learn "this food sucks" in various languages ... nah, can't run that fast.

                                            2. I haven't been in quite a long time, but I do crave their potstickers still...damn good. I'd like to go back and try Nanking again.

                                              1. NAY. I found the food ill-prepared and on the bland side. Also the owner pulled a major case of stink eye when I asked for something standard but off the menu (boy choy). Suspect food is one thing -- attitude is another.

                                                1. I won't go there again. Last time I went, the owner was there and I ordered a shrimp dish. Shrimp were very small, inferior, dish was a sloppy mess. The one thing I did love, tho, was the vegetarian dumplings. Wish I could find a Chinese restaurant I could love, like the now closed Mike's Chinese Cuisine that was at 16th Ave and Geary. The chef/owner retired but he used really excellent quality ingredients, fresh shredded (not frozen) chicken breast in the fried rice, etc. I love Yank Sing but so far, they are not open at night.