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Jan 11, 2008 06:51 AM

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.