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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
    doodleboomer

    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
            r
            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.