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House of Nan King yes/no

  • b

This place in Chinatown was recommended to me in glowing terms by someone I don't really know that well. Anyone familiar with it? Is it really that good, or do you have a better choice for serious hardcore authentic Chinese?

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  1. I'd say no and I don't consider it serious, hardcore or authentic.

    I'd go somewhere like R&G if you're sticking to the Chinatown area.

    R & G Lounge
    631 Kearny St, San Francisco, CA 94108

    1. NO! unless you love tons of MSG...

      1 Reply
      1. It's fondly known in some circles as House of Hoisin Sauce (where they use it repeatedly in virtually everything). Yeah that plus MSG...

        1. No...unless you like S&M service to boot. The food is one thing...the hot and cold, borderline-personality, abusive owner is another. Beware if you ask for a menu or anything.

          1 Reply
          1. re: ML8000

            I'm glad that I am not the only person that had an issue when asking for a menu. I thought he was going to throw us out. It's a restaurant right? Not to mention that cleanliness is not a priority. A trip to the bathroom is an eye opener.

          2. While I have nothing against MSG I will agree that it seems pretty heavy on the hoisin. Frankly of the dishes I've tried on each of my two visits there just about everything always managed to taste the same.

            I've always been unimpressed, but recently I've been meaning to reevaluate it.

            Lots of people, however, do give it glowing reviews and it often seems to do rather well with critics. Glad to know I'm not the only person who felt it was dismissable.

            1 Reply
            1. re: belgand

              Unless things have changed, it is not hoisin sauce that HONK abuses, but Shanghai "red" sauce which is typically a combination of dark soy sauce, Shaoxing rice wine, sugar, garlic, and star anise, Combined with a little fat, it's candy to a carnivore (think of a red-coooked pork joint). Peter Fong learned early on that it's dope to us guilaos, and cyncally set out to get us addicted to it.

              I once slunk into HONK (with my shades on and collar turned up) craving Shanghai-style chow mein and they served me what could have been an excellent version but was killed by drowning in red sauce literally ladled over it before serving.

            2. I think one of the great mysteries of SF Chinatown is the popularity of House of Nanking with palate impaired non-Chinese diners. I ate there once many years ago, shortly after it opened, and never went back. There have been so many good restaurants in Chinatown, why suffer Nanking? It does, however, have its following who seem to be hooked on that sweet, crappy sauce that made them famous (is it possible that its is laced with opium to hook the diners?)

              1. Nooooooooooooooooooooooooo. Neither serious, hardcore or authentic--probably in the lower 10 percentile of Chinatown quality and price wise.

                1. Sounds like I've dodged a bullet - thanks to the SF hounds. So, as a frequenter of the San Gabriel Valley Chinese scene down south, where might I find the 'real deal' here in the city or environs?

                  3 Replies
                  1. re: BIM

                    Near the the airport for SGV quality dim sum, Koi Palace, The Kitchen, Hong Kong Flower Lounge. In SF proper, for XLB, Shanghai Dumpling King. Good Canto food in Chinatown -- Yuet Lee (hole in the wall, excellent seafood), R&G Lounge, Great Eastern, Hing Lung. Not a big bakery fan so others will jump in.

                    1. re: BIM

                      Will you have access to a car? If so, some of the places ML8000 will be to your liking.

                      1. re: BIM

                        SF Chinatown is probably a slight cut above LA Chinatown, but except for a couple places falls way short of SGV. There is SGV quality food throughout the Bay Area, but it's much more spread out, even taking into account the size of the SGV. Besides the places noted above in Daly City and Millbrae near SFO, you can find good stuff in places like Milpitas, Cupertino, Richmond, Newark, San Mateo and Union City. Being from L.A., if I had to make one recommendation it would be to go to Koi Palace because I think it's better than anything we have. But it just depends where you want to travel.

                      2. Thanks v much for recs. I do have a car and though I'm based in Marin I plan on coming into the city often. And I'll drive a long way for a killer meal. Wouldn't you?


                        Say, Chandavkl, you mentioned Richmond which is not far...what's there?

                        7 Replies
                        1. re: BIM

                          Richmond is the home of the Pacific East Mall -- an all-Asian mall anchored by a 99 Ranch. Daimo is good, and there have been some very favorable reports about the Sichuan place there. If you go a tiny bit farther, you'll be at China Village, an excellent Sichuan restauant (many reports -- check the places link).

                          Daimo Chinese Restaurant
                          3288 Pierce St, Richmond, CA 94804

                          China Village
                          1335 Solano Ave, Albany, CA 94706

                          1. re: Ruth Lafler


                            Orchid Bowl Cafe
                            3288 Pierce St, Richmond, CA 94804

                            Asian Pearl
                            3288 Pierce St, Richmond, CA 94804

                            1. re: Ruth Lafler

                              Pacific East Mall is off the Central offramp which is off either 580 or 80.

                            2. re: BIM

                              No good Chinese food in Marin that I know of, so you'll have to do some driving to fill your Chinese food needs. As far as driving a long way, absolutely. I once had a seminar in Monterey and I drove to the Bay Area (mid-Peninsula) for lunch, went back to my seminar, and then drove to the Bay Area (Cupertino) for dinner.

                              1. re: Chandavkl

                                I think that makes you my new hero.

                                1. re: BIM

                                  And I didn't even mention the time I drove from Naples, Florida to St. Petersburg (and back) to have lunch at a Hong Kong style restaurant.

                                2. re: Chandavkl

                                  Curiously, you can get halfway decent Korean-Chinese from Dynasty Restaurant in Marin. Sometimes the waiters don't even realize they serve it, but the cooks seem to know the classics like tan soo yuk, ja jang myun, etc.. Unfortunately, the regular Chinese food is mediocre, so this is not a destination spot by any stretch.

                              2. Bim,

                                It's a mystery to me why this sad excuse for a Chinese restaurant receives so much praise.
                                The food is poorly done being too sweet with Hoi sin sauce and overpriced!

                                The clientele consist of tourists, period. No native (me included) will eat there.

                                The service is rude and surly; perhaps those accolades have gone to their heads?

                                This shows the gullibility of the general dining public, if someone dislikes the food they may "go along" with the crowd as not to appear "negative"!


                                10 Replies
                                1. re: Claw

                                  Patricia Unterman started the HoN craze back in the day and since then it's lived off it's rep, a rather weird rep frankly. I've been twice (not my choice) and the food was bad and very bland. Bland isn't a bad thing if the prep and ingredients are up to snuff, but they weren't. Watery veggies, over cooked meat, that sort of stuff. It made no sense. Add in the often rude service and there's really no reason to go..unless you read a tourist book or review that says you should.

                                  1. re: ML8000

                                    I don't believe House of Nanking is coasting on a 20-year-old review. I think its popularity stems from satisfied customers, repeat business, and word of mouth.

                                    1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                      It's hard to believe the quality of food and service could sustain any of that..unless the eaters don't have a sense of taste, cuisine and/or service regardless of comparables.

                                      1. re: ML8000

                                        You don't think there are enough people without a "sense of taste, cuisine and/or service" to sustain a restaurant? I think the existence of thousands of mediocre chain restaurants would argue against that. Of course, most chains have decent service, but in the case of HoN, bad service just feeds people's stereotypes about what service should be like in an "authentic" Chinese restaurant.

                                        If you look on yelp! or another local guide, I bet there will be as many people saying "this place rocks" and calling it "authentic" as there are people who hate it.

                                        ETA: Many of the people on Yelp who loved it said they asked the owner (or waiter) to put the meal together for them. Any chowhounds tried this?

                                        1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                          We did after practically being thrown out for asking for menus. We had him do a beef, a seafood, a chicken and a vegetarian dish. It all tasted the same and the funny thing was, a few minutes later the table next to us did the same thing and got the exact same dishes. I don't think there is a whole lot of personal attention paid....they just cook up a large portion of a few dishes at the begiining of the night and that's what you get like it or not.

                                          1. re: baseballfan

                                            In my observation, most if not all of the food is cooked to order.

                                          2. re: Ruth Lafler

                                            My housemate (who is a vegetarian) has done this and has really enjoyed his meals at House of Nanking. In fact, everyone I know who recommends House of Hanking suggests the strategy of having the waiter put the meal together. I still haven't been, but I'd like to try it some time just so I can form my own opinion about the place....the problem is I probably won't want to wait in a line to eat there.

                                            1. re: Dave MP

                                              Yeah, I had to try it for myself to confirm my suspicions. You don't have to wait in line though--I went at 5pm and the place was barely half full.

                                      2. re: ML8000

                                        IIRC, the PU review was published less than a week before the annual Chinese New Year's Parade which led it to being inundated by a flood of gueilaos with only a casual knowledge of Chinese food. That irrevocably set the course for HONK's focus, which Peter Fang engineered cunningly. Half of the restaurant owners in Chinatown would do the same if they could come up with the formula.

                                        As the saying goes, Fang is crying all the way to the bank.

                                      3. re: Claw

                                        It's not authentic but it's tasty in that Americanized Chinese food greasy spoon diner kind of way. Frankly I feel the same way about Tu Lan but you have just as many people who like that place and confuse it with authentic Vietnamese food as well.

                                      4. Best Chinese for those willing to schlep to the suburbs:


                                        Best Chinese in SF Chinatown:


                                        House of Nanking is worth a try but it's very Americanized in a unique way. People who go there expecting serious, traditional Chinese food often hate it. I wouldn't recommend it for you, but here are some tips on what to order:


                                        1. House of Nanking is justly popular with unsophisticated young locals on tight budgets--good cheap food unlike anything you'll find elsewhere. Peter Fang's a great cook and has Americanized his Shanghai-style food and presentation in a unique way; the results remind me a bit of Malaysian cooking. I prefer un-Americanized Chinese food but that doesn't make his food bad.

                                          Order the right dishes and you can eat well--squid and asparagus are two safe choices, see Patricia Unterman's "Food Lover's Guide" for more recommendations. Check with your waiter to make sure you're not ordering more than one dish with sweet potatoes.

                                          2 Replies
                                          1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                            House of Nanking is justly popular with unsophisticated young locals on tight budgets--good cheap food unlike anything you'll find elsewhere.

                                            Maybe those unsophisticated young locals know how to order like their sophisticated more affluent elders and go not just because it is cheap eats.

                                            1. re: wolfe

                                              Go try it and see what you think. I wouldn't stand in line for Nanking's food when I could walk around the corner and sit right down at Z&Y.

                                          2. We've split a digression about how to order in a Chinese restaurant into a new topic on the General Chowhounding Topics board. You can find that thread here: http://www.chowhound.com/topics/512466

                                            1. Hey I hope you went. Agree with the posts that say that HoN is not the most authentic Chinese restaurants around but it is good - very fresh. Dumplings are super. Try the Rice Chowder - I'm still looking for a recipe that comes close. I'm very well traveled and have had all kinds of Asian food all around the world. I thought it was very good. Will go back if only for the rice chowder.

                                              1. blech. unlike the original poster, i was not able to dodge the bullet and ended up here with a bunch of colleagues who were not that adventurous. they were told by someone at the hotel that this was just a tremendously wonderful place......... given that we had to walk by a tasty looking/smelling yunnan place to get here, I was most sad. in my experience, its never a good sign when a purportedly chinese restaurant has nobody who is actually chinese eatting dinner in it and they hand out forks as you sit down.
                                                the only way i was able to not sob into my food was to keep telling myself "its not really chinese, its pan asian......."

                                                3 Replies
                                                1. re: jenn

                                                  It's not pan-Asian. The chef started out cooking his own version of Shanghai cuisine, and over the course of a few years adapted it ever more drastically for relatively unsophisticated American tastes.

                                                  1. re: jenn

                                                    If it makes you feel any better, SF Chinatown food is only slightly better than LA Chinatown, and there are a number of places comparable to Z&Y in the SGV, so it's not that you missed out on an unparalleled experience. And actually you can now understand why most Hounds ridicule House of Nanking.

                                                    1. re: Chandavkl

                                                      Alas, we aren't in SGV anymore----we moved north. And while I can find excellent congee and noodle places and even some very nice sichuan [despite all the rumors to the contrary], those nether food regions of China---like Uighur or Yunnan or Hunan whatever---is just not here.....not yet any rate..........