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Jan 19, 2009 08:10 AM

Madness At House of Nanking

So we're in the middle of a bad recession and it's also the middle of winter, so tourist traffic is down. Then why when I walked by House of Nanking Saturday night was there the biggest crowd I've ever seen waiting to get in? There must have been 60 to 70 people waiting outside at 8pm. I mean they had club type ropes on the sidewalk so that pedestrians could get through on Kearny. (No bouncer, though--yet.) In comparison, the other puzzlement close by, Stinking Rose, had only a small number of people waiting to get in. House of Nanking is rightly savaged on the board whenever its name appears. Of the roughly 125 currently operating Chinatown restaurants that I've eaten at, I'd probably rank it around 120. What's going on? Has it become a celebrity hangout? Has the food gotten good? Was there a killer review recently? Any explanation in my search for answers would be appreciated.

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  1. I have facetiously remarked that House Nanking was putting opium in their sickening sweet sauce to hook the customers. OMG, could I have been right? Has this become a throwback to the days of Chinatown opium dens? Will we be besieged with a city of HON zombies, craving the worst cuisine in Chinatown?

    1. Again, they have capitalized on the opposite of what many SF Chinese restaurants have done the opposite of: make food that appeals to Whitey. People love the place because it takes everything the guy from Paramus, West Chester or Peabody used to get back East and improves on it. I personally prefer a different style--Shanghai or Hunan etc, but they've been packed for the 16 years that I've known about the place.

      7 Replies
      1. re: hankstramm

        It isn't even REMOTELY the Chinese-American food that I grew up with in New York, and certainly not 'improved'.
        I would be happy to have even one restaurant here in the Bay Area that could do a shrimp in (white) lobster sauce, lobster cantonese...chow mein with bean sprouts and crispy wide noodles, or the wonderful sweet spareribs with the thin shiny glaze and moist is memory/mommy food to me...but House of's just a nightmare...

        1. re: ChowFun_derek

          Hey, Derek -- next time you're in Alameda, try the shrimp in lobster sauce at East Ocean.

          As for HON -- I think it's managed to convince people that because it serves dishes different from the traditional Chinese-American restaurant that it's somehow "authentic." Plus, people love it when the owner or waiter orders for them. Again, it's sort of a snobby "in" factor, although how it can be "in" when it's in every single SF guidebook is beyond me.

          1. re: Ruth Lafler

            "because it serves dishes different from the traditional Chinese-American restaurant that it's somehow "authentic." Plus, people love it when the owner or waiter orders for them."

            Ruth you hit the nail right on the head.

            For the record I don't think it's that bad. Good veggie dumps. I'm not so into the rest of the menu. And the chef has a total boner for yams.

            1. re: Ruth Lafler

              >it's in every single SF guidebook<

              Isn't that the answer?

            2. re: ChowFun_derek

              I so agree with you, I'd love to have really good east coast Chinese food here. I would not go back to H of Nanking even if the meal were free. Where do you eat Chinese food? I tried that China Village?? on Solano but it was only O.K.

              1. re: walker

                What did you order at China Village?

              2. re: ChowFun_derek

                It's sort of like people who eat lousy pizza and do so because that's what they grew up eating. If you grew up eating SF Chinese and you went to NY, you most likely wouldn't like the food there. I've spent a lot of time in Mexico, and the people like the Chinese food there--which is a lot like NY Chinese.

                The dishes you mentioned are of the type that any Chinese restaurant could make in a second if they only knew the recipe. These are generic dishes that any hack chef could make, they just don't understand why someone would want to eat them, so you won't find them here--just like you won't find a PuPu platter with the ribs you like so much--these dishes are white man/twinkie food.