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favorite spots in Chinatown for a tourist who is not afraid of authentic food?

I'll be visiting San Fran from Boston for the first time. in most major US cities, Chinatown is my favorite place. However, I feel a bit overwhelmed by what I've heard about San Fran's VERY LARGE Chinatown...

for someone who will only be in town for 3 days--are there any food places/items in SF Chinatown I SHOULD NOT miss while I am in town? I am not afraid of very authentic food (I've been to Taipei)

thanks in advance for any suggestions!

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  1. That's kind of a tough question to answer. There are many different kinds of Chinese food/restaurants from Northern, Cantonese, Spicy Sechuan, Hunan, dim sum, white tablecloth to hole-in-the-wall noodle shops, ad infinitum. Also, there are many good Chinese restaurants outside of Chinatown.

    My suggestion would be to wander around and stop in to anywhere that strikes your fancy. Grant Street in Chinatown is very touristy and I wouldn't recomend going there for an "authentic" experience. A block over is Stockton Street and a better choice all round.

    3 Replies
    1. re: JockY

      agree that there are a lot of establishments that cater to the tourist trade but Grant Avenue is also home to Golden Gate Bakery. Worth a stop for their exemplary egg custard tarts and their coconut tarts - as well as many other favorites. Just look for the store front with a line outside.

      1. re: gordon wing

        although recent posts suggested the baker of those famous egg custards have either left or something. You might want to search for Golden Gate Bakery to see if there are any updates.

        1. re: OnceUponABite

          I picked some up on Sunday and they were excellent.

    2. I think the best chinese restaurants are not located in Chinatown but instead in Outer Richmond and Outer/Inner Sunset.
      However, since this is your first time to SF (and a short stay), I'd recommend R&G Lounge on Kearny in Chinatown. The alternate choice may be Great Eastern, and this board has several old posts discussing the answer to your question.

      10 Replies
      1. re: ankimo

        Agreed that SF Chinatown food does not compare to that in the Bay Area suburbs. The corollary to that is that SF Chinatown food isn't any better than Chinatown Boston, since Boston doesn't have the plethora of suburban Chinese options that other cities with Chinatowns have. Concur with R&G and Great Eastern as your best bets. And avoid places like Nanking Kitchen and Brandy Ho's which aren't on Grant Ave., seem to be crowded, but are patronized by the touristy types.

        1. re: Chandavkl

          I like Nanking Kitchen where else can you get General's Chicken with sweet potatos.. Its the perfect place to go after too many cocktails.

          1. re: Chandavkl

            I'm not sure that's the case. SF's Chinatown has always had a critical mass of first-generation Cantonese Chinese passing through to support authentic stuff. East coast Chinatown tend to be more fossilized, with the newer immigrants settling in other areas.

            Does Boston's Chinatown have an R&G, a Great Eastern, and a comparable level of Dim Sum service to SF Chinatowns? Maybe Blue Socks will provide a jusgement after his/her visit.

            And Limster, what say you?

            1. re: Xiao Yang

              Yeah, most of the good Chinese food in Boston, and particularly the HK/Cantonese style, is in Chinatown, since there is no equivalent of Monterey Park or Millbrae there. That's why you will find some pretty good stuff in Boston Chinatown.

              1. re: Chandavkl

                However, Boston (City, not CMSA) has only about 20,000 Chinese compared to San Francisco (City) with over 150,000. That makes for a decidedly bigger market for authentic Chinese food in SF.

                Metro area wise, it's about 83,000 Chinese in Boston's CMSA, 471,000 in SF's (more than LA, even).

                All figures are for 2000.

                1. re: Xiao Yang

                  I've eaten at a number of Chinese restaurants in Boston and I think places like East Ocean City, Peach Farm and Jumbo will stack up quite well against S.F. Chinatown's best. No match for the Koi Palaces, Zen Peninsulas or Joy Lucks, though.

                  1. re: Chandavkl

                    I respect your taste, Chandavakl, but this surprises me. It's been a while, and I don't recall eating at the places you mention, but I had some truly awful Chinese food when I lived in Boston. Isn't the Chinatown there only a few blocks? I never found anything remotely on the level of R&G, though I didn't yet know about Chowhound back then LOL!

            2. re: Chandavkl

              I think you mean House Of Nanking, which I call the H.O.N.K.-ie place.

              1. re: Xiao Yang

                yes House Of Nanking a quilty pleasure about every three years.

                I never hear about Sam Wo's and its been a few decades since I have been there.

                I would add San Wang Restaurant not in China Town but great for noodles/soups and dried fried chicken. On Post at Laguna

              2. re: Chandavkl

                Are you guys talking about House of Nanking? Agreed, to be avoided.

            3. By and large, the Chinese food in Chinatown is authentic if you avoid the restaurants on Grant Avenue. You'll find plenty of debates on the merits of individual restaurants on this board, and a glance through the window at who's eating inside will also provide a clue as to the authenticity.

              My personal favorites include Great Eastern, Utopia Cafe, Z&Y Garden, and Gold Mountain for dinner or conventional lunch, Gold Mountain, Y. Ben House and Lichee Garden for dim sum, and Hing Lung for (congee) brunch. These are all Cantonese (Chinatown's forte) except Z&Y Garden, which serves Sichuan and Yunnan cuisines. I don't recommend R&G because of its notorious inconsistency.

              SF's Chinatown is not as big as New York's Chinatown (which you're probably familiar with) and easier to navigate. For a Chinatown buff, Oakland's Chinatown is also worth a visit. SF has several "strip" Chinatowns including Clement Street, Irving Street and Noriega Street which have some good restaurants but are not as interesting visually or historically.

              2 Replies
              1. re: Xiao Yang

                What are your favorite dishes at Utopia Cafe and Great Eastern? I think I have been to Great Eastern but have not been to Utopia.

                1. re: Lori SF

                  I like the clay pot (with rice) dishes at Utopia, and the deep-fried tofu appetizer is a grreat version. At Great Eastern, the seem to do almost everything well, but I like to get at least four people together and go for the Chef's "Chinatown Selection" (currently at $88):

                  Minced Seafood with Lettuce Soup
                  Shredded Dried Scallop Soup
                  Sauteed Sea Conch & Scallops with Yellow Chives
                  Fresh Dungeness Crab with Xo Sauce
                  Sauteed Soft Bean Cake & Chinese Mushrooms with Tender Greens
                  Steamed Fish
                  Dessert & Fresh Fruit

                  It feeds 4-5 fairly well, and whith more people you can just add a dish.

              2. I haven't been to Lychee Garden or Yuet Lee for a long time. Neither are as nice as Great Eastern or R&G but neither are in the same price range.

                Anyone been to LG or YL lately?

                2 Replies
                1. re: ML8000

                  greetings ML8000, we had a good lunch at Lychee Garden a few months ago. The best dish was salt and pepper sand dabs--they were boneless fillets from very fresh fish. This was back in the fall when the local catch was in season.

                  As for an place that is not touristy right on Grant, Yee's near Broadway has good straightforward cooking incl. a decent 3 dishes/15.99 menu and delicious roast goose that I'll indulge in once a year or so (converted some to a good cassoulet for thanksgiving past.) cheers

                  1. re: ML8000

                    Yuet Lee is constistently great. Sit down, order the salt and pepper calamari before you get your menus, and then go from there...

                  2. for authentic, old school, Hon's Won Ton, on Kearny across-ish from Portsmount Square parking garage. Golden Gate Bakery for the egg tarts, baked cha su bow. The hardware store (Ginn Wall) across from Golden Gate Bakery, it hasn't changed since the 70's. It does have some good cookbooks and very authentic cooking equipment and knives. Gold Mountain on Broadway for dinner. There are some good Chinese Deli's for roast duck, etc...on Stockton. The California navel oranges should be really good from the groceries up on stockton too. If you are in Millbrae, the town across from SFO, there's Asia Pearl, Hong Kong Flower Lounge, etc... for dim sum. I don't think dim sum in Chinatown is very good. It's cheap though.

                    1. There's Jai Yun, which offers an elaborate set multi-course Shanghainese meal in an austere space. They've recently moved, and while I haven't been to their new location (though I ate there when the same people operated Flying Pan Bistro there), I really liked my meal at their old location. Reservations required. Nothing like it in Boston that I know of.

                      680 Clay St.
                      (415) 981-7438

                      (the Chowhound link-to-place still has the old Pacific St. location listed)

                      Has anyone tried Jai Yun at the new location?

                      8 Replies
                      1. re: david kaplan

                        I too am interested in whether or not anyone has tried the new Jai Yun site.

                        We've been going to Great Eastern for many years and have found it generally reliable if price-y through various changes (ownership? management?). Almost anything from the specials menu and likewise at least the HK-Cantonese dishes from the rest of the menu have been generally good to great.
                        My personal fave--though now priced out of my reach at GE--is plain boiled live prawns served with a chile dipping sauce.
                        I may be pointing out the obvious, never having eaten Chinese food in Boston, but do consider the following, either "straight" or in combination dishes: Chinese broccoli (gai lon); sauteed pea leaves (dau mieu); and the wonderful Chinese mustard greens, which are quite different from "American" veggie of that name and not at all bitter.

                        1. re: Fine

                          We have always been huge Jai Yun fans. We went to the new location late last year. The new space is very awkward and unappealing, I actually preferred the old space better. We felt like the food had slipped a notch from the old location. I am curious what other people think.

                        2. re: david kaplan

                          I don't know if the OP will be dining solo, or with a SO, but Jai Yun is a place where you REALLY need a group of four or more.

                          1. re: Xiao Yang

                            Well, me and the wife had one of the best meals of our lives there as a twosome. It's soooo good. Wonderful meal.

                            1. re: uptown jimmy

                              Did they appear to be bringing the food in coordination with the service at one or more other tables? It's hard to imagine cooking two-person portions of all those dishes.

                              1. re: Xiao Yang

                                It was our impression that they do that every night. They only do one turn, and they basically serve the same dishes to all the "tiers", but the larger "tiers" get an extra few dishes interspersed thoughout the meal, and mostly towards the end of the evening. And the extra dishes seemed to be things that were more easily prepared one at a time, like fried whole fish.

                                1. re: uptown jimmy

                                  I don't recall there being only one seating when I was there early on, but maybe they have streamlined their operations somewhat.

                                  1. re: Xiao Yang

                                    I'm pretty sure that's their modus operandi. The server dude was quite pointed in explaining the whole thing to us. They have one big seating at about 7:00, and dinner lasts the better part of two hours, and that's it.

                        3. Some hardcore Taiwanese Buddhist vegan friends of mine trek all the way to SF Chinatown's Lucky Creation for their Bay Area vegetarian fix, particularly the soy sauce wheat gluten. I like their tofu, mushroom e-fu stir fried noodles and for only 2 weeks out of the year, their vegan mooncakes.

                          Other than that, I too cast my vote for R&G Lounge, Hon's Won Ton House.
                          Hing Lung is great only for a bowl of congee, which is good enough for brekkie or lunch.

                          1. As a NYC Chinatown Veteran, I've been to all the major city Chinatowns in North America.

                            Sorry to say to SF Chinatown fans, but while I always enjoy eating there.....it's somewhat always a let down for me, especially for the recommendations given to me. Admittedly, my visits there are always on a travel day, usually right after landing at the airport......so I timing is sometimes the culprit for less than satisfactory meals....specifically dim sum.

                            Within our group, I have always maintained on my next visit to SF Chinatown, I will only go to restaurants on Stockton......I know I cannot go wrong there......It's all out in front for me to see the Chinese BBQ. Sometimes less is more and simple is best.

                            I hope this helps.

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: fourunder

                              As mentioned, the real "action" in Chinese restaurants in SF is actually happening on the Peninsula (Millbrae, Daly City, near SFO) and the Avenues. If you want something good and the best Chinese in the Bay Area, that's where you should head.

                            2. Well if you are not afraid and want a very authentic experience there is always DOL HO. Is is a small dive dim sum place, very cheap and good. You will definitely get your moneys worth. Make sure to order the dried shrimp rice noodle roll which i believe is called "Sin Ha Cheong Fun". The Glutenous rice with pork is also good and you will need to ask for that as well, or just point to the steamer in the front window. This is a Chinatown dive and not for everybody, but if you are adventurous, you will probably like it...

                              4 Replies
                              1. re: denochow

                                I love this place. It is truly a dive. Just grab any empty seat you see available. Noone minds sharing a table. Its authentic but culinary wise its nothing new or interesting. Just good greasy dim sum.

                                1. re: DarthEater

                                  Across the street and up the hill a bit is Y. Ben House, a BIG dive (900 Seats) with all of the charm and warmth of a grotto, my favorite for cheap dim sum. I can never get out without ordering the seafood chow fun as an anchor dish.

                                  1. re: Xiao Yang

                                    Y. Ben House is awesome.. after living in Taiwan and Hong Kong.. this is the place to go for DimSum in SF

                                2. re: denochow

                                  About a year ago, Melanie pointed out Dol Ho on a walking tour of Chinatown. Since then, I try and make it there when I'm in the area. I went there about a week and a half ago. Their pork short ribs over rice is still fantastic! Shrimp and chive dumpling was great as well.

                                3. thank you all for all of your input!!! I was not able to explore SF Chinatown as much as I had hoped to, but did want to report that I enjoyed breakfast at AA Bakery on the corner of Jackson & Stockton! really really delicious traditional breakfast--"you tiao" and the sort of "porridge" (what is it called?) that goes with it...

                                  also great pineapple buns there, and super friendly service!

                                  2 Replies
                                  1. re: blue socks

                                    Glad you made it up to Stockton Street. Here's the Place link.

                                    A A Bakery & Cafe
                                    1068 Stockton St, San Francisco, CA