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Jun 1, 2010 04:27 PM

Seeking best Peking Duck in SF Chinatown

I will be in SF, staying at the Mark Hopkins, later this month and am looking to get a great Peking Duck meal in nearby Chinatown. I would love to get some suggestions from fellow Chowhounders on specific restaurants to hit up. I will not have a car, thus the reason why any suggestions will have to be Chinatown-specific. Walk-ability to the restaurant from the Mark Hopkins will need to be paramount.

Additionally, are there any specific Malaysian and/or Singaporean restaurants in the immediate vicinity as well?

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  1. You might know this already, but Chinatown is pretty meh when it comes to Chinese food. R & G Lounge is probably the best restaurant in Chinatown and is likely your best bet for Peking Duck. Chinatown is also mostly Cantonese oriented, but Penang Garden on Washington is OK and should satisfy your request for Malaysian food.

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

    Penang Garden Restaurant
    728 Washington St, San Francisco, CA 94108

    2 Replies
    1. re: Chandavkl

      I don't remember reading much about Peking duck at R&G. The last Peking duck I had in Chinatown was at Z&Y:

      That was over a year ago, though. Any recent reports on Z&Y? One of the nice things there is that you can have some good Sichuan dishes with your Peking duck.

      1. re: Ruth Lafler

        They do serve a pretty good version of peking duck (or the Canto version called "sliced skin duck".)

    2. :Louie's on Washington Ave makes a decent Peking Duck as well as a Tea Smoked Duck. I like the Tea Smoked Duck better which has more flavor as well as the crispy skin. But is has been over a year since I have had duck there and over 9 months since I have had duck. Not on my diet.

      1. If you are new to SF, know that the Mark Hopkins (while only a few blocks from Chinatown) is a steep walk to the hotel.

        8 Replies
        1. re: OldTimer

          Thanks. I've been warned already - will be there for 7 days/6 nights. In any case, the walk/climb back to the hotel should help to burn off some of the dinner calories!

          So, no other recommendations for Peking Duck, huh? Kind of disappointed.

          1. re: psychofan

            If you can walk down the hill and catch BART to downtown Berkeley it is only a short walk to Great China. There are mixed reports about it's Peking duck but a regular really likes their tea-smoked.

            Great China Restaurant
            2115 Kittredge St, Berkeley, CA 94704

            1. re: wolfe

              The Peking duck is pretty good, but the tea-smoked is better.

              For some reason, I'm thinking that Silver Dragon in Oakland Ctown has good Peking Duck. It's within walking distance of the 12 the St. Oakland station.

              Silver Dragon
              835 Webster St, Oakland, CA 94607

              1. re: chocolatetartguy

                Peony in Oakland Ctown has a pretty food Peking Duck also. Plus, it's 1/2 off on Thursdays.

            2. re: psychofan

              Before I'd BART to Berkeley, a ride on the Geary bus to Five Happiness will net you the top Peking duck in San Francisco that we've found to date. You need to order it in advance and arrive promptly at the time its scheduled to come out of the oven.

              Sometimes the Peking duck at R&G Lounge can be very good, and other years, it is not. It is served Cantonese style with steamed buns rather than the pancakes you'll find at Five Happiness.

              Five Happiness
              4142 Geary Blvd, San Francisco, CA 94118

              1. re: Melanie Wong

                Wow - we were BIG time disappointed by 5 Happiness' Peking Duck. I was embarrassed that I took my family there and said that Chowhound folks had recommended it.

                Peking Duck should have a dark, mahogany, crispy skin. They paraded a whole, honey colored duck before us. When the platter arrived at our table - the comment from everyone was, "This can't possibly be the skin for an entire duck!" There were just eleven pieces of skin, and it wasn't even crispy or tasty. Where did the drumsticks and meat go? At best, it was skin and meat from half of a duck. My brother in law grew up working in a restaurant and he has carved many a duck. He said it wasn't a whole duck. The pancakes were good - better than the paper thin variety that you can't peel open.

                Greater China is better - the skin is crisp, but it is still not the Peking Duck from our childhood banquets. As they say - they don't make em like they used to ... thick, crispy, flavor packed skin that was substantial enough that you didn't have to sandwich in a slice of meat to make it tasty. There was always enough skin for at least 18 servings.

                1. re: Melanie Wong


                  Is Five Happiness still the favored location for Peking Duck?

                  I am pretty sure I sent my family there based on your recommendations a year ago. I cannot find my e-mail directing them there.


                  Cathy2 (from Chicago)

                2. re: psychofan

                  The best Chinese food in the Bay Area don't reside in Chinatown, has not been for a long time.

              2. I recall from several banquets ago that the Peking Duck at Empress of China is pretty good. You may have to order a whole duck...maybe they will do a half on request.

                Empress of China
                838 Grant Ave Ste 5, San Francisco, CA 94108

                2 Replies
                1. re: OldTimer

                  It's true, the Empress of China Peking Duck is really good. You have to order in advance, and you have to be up for the strange mix of old-school and tourist (out of which, on occasion, I get a giant kick), but I thought the Peking Duck was out of this world.

                  Served to our party of six tableside, carved on it's little trolley then delivered to each plate in a pancake.

                  Empress of China
                  838 Grant Ave Ste 5, San Francisco, CA 94108

                2. OK, so we went to R&G for their Peking Duck (at the suggestion of the hotel concierge). Went the evening of 6/20 at around 6:30pm (w/o a reservation) and found the place to be extremely packed. This was no "hole-in-the-wall" Chinatown restaurant, this was an upscale 'fancy' place. It was very nicely decorated and well-lit. Anyway, we were initially ready to head elsewhere as the line at the door was pretty long. Matter of fact, the hostess had assumed we were a party of two and told us that the wait would be at least an hour. HOWEVER, when she finally realized that we were a party of 5, we were IMMEDIATELY given a table downstair. No waiting at all, felt kinda bad walking right past everyone to an open table, but oh well.

                  What we ordered:
                  -Kong Xin Cai (w. Garlic): $15
                  -Salt and Pepper Prawns: $15
                  -Honey Spare Ribs: $13
                  -Peking Duck: $32
                  -Ling Cod (prepared in sauteed chives w. sprouts): $20

                  The entrees were pretty damn tasty. Really good in fact. Everything was cooked perfectly and seasoned nicely. However, the portions were extremely small for the price paid compared to the many other restaurants in Chinatown. If you are planning on ordering the Peking Duck, bear in mind that they do not serve the dish on those thin tortilla pancakes, they do so on those weird fluffy buns. Also, although the duck tastes fine, they did not do as good a job carving the fat off the skin as other places I have visited. Additionally, the Peking duck here still has bones in certain parts! I'm not referring to the legs/drumsticks, I'm talking breast bones/cage! That's just plain horrible for a classy Peking duck dish!

                  Being a 'fancier' restaurant in Chinatown, this place at least accepts credit cards. Anyway, if you come here, just remember that you'll be paying more for the presentation of the dishes than at other places in Chinatown.

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

                  22 Replies
                  1. re: psychofan

                    You've pointed out the West Coast/East Coast difference in peking duck. Those "weird" fluffy mantou buns are the norm in SF and LA, while the tortilla pancakes are the exception. (Exception? I don't think I've seen them out here.) And since there are a lot more Chinese restaurants serving peking duck on the West Coast than the East Coast, the tortilla pancakes are actually the weird ones.

                    West Coast Cafe
                    466 San Mateo Ave, San Bruno, CA 94066

                    1. re: Chandavkl

                      There's a takeout window in Flushing that also does the buns.

                      But in Beijing I only had the tortilla flats. Does that put the Buns back in the weird spot?

                      1. re: boris_qd

                        Nah! This is a west coast board, and buns are the only thing I've seen in 50 years of eating the stuff. There was a thread last year on the Manhattan board on the same subject. Just as Chinese-American culture differs from Chinese culture, to a lesser extent Chinese food in the U.S. has evolved from its overseas origins.

                        1. re: Chandavkl

                          Never been to Great China, Berkeley?

                          Great China Restaurant
                          2115 Kittredge St, Berkeley, CA 94704

                      2. re: Chandavkl

                        The buns thing is a result of Cantonese restaurants serving Peking Duck and maybe Tea Smoked Duck.

                        In Hong Kong however, Peking Duck restaurants do the tortilla/crepe thing, like Spring Deer/Luk Ming Chuen in Tsim Sa Tsui. For a place serving the duck with crepe/tortilla, you would have to go to a restaurant run by Mainland Chinese (specializing in Beijing cuisine and duck, like that famous place in Berkeley) or Taiwanese run (in the case of SoCal, like Lu Ding Gee or whatever that place is called).

                        1. re: K K

                          Peking Duck Restaurant in Palo Alto serve the tortilla/crepe instead of the buns, but they are simply reheating tortilla wraps bought somewhere. I remember when I was small in Hong Kong, I loved eating those crepes by themselves because restaurants are supposed to be making those from scratch when they serve Peking Duck.

                          1. re: vincentlo

                            Good to know, thanks for the data point (and perhaps rare exception!)

                            Just out of curiosity, is Peking Duck Restaurant run by Hong Kongers or Northern Chinese?

                            In addition to making crepes/tortillas in-house as a requirement for achieving excellence (or authenticity depending on how one looks at it) in the whole Peking Duck experience, the sauce (tian mien jang) should also be made in house (from scratch). There is also the school of folks or restauranteurs (in HK and elsewhere) who believe that the duck must be brought to the table within 5 minutes and sliced in a particular way for maximizing the customer's experience.

                            1. re: K K

                              The owner and the chefs at Peking Duck Restaurant speak Cantonese to one another, and so I assume they must all be from the Guangdong province of China.

                          2. re: K K

                            Sounds right: here's a review of the famous place in Beijing that mentions the flat pancakes.


                            One Chinese wedding banquet I went to printed "good luck" or similar on each of the buns with the duck course. That would be hard with the pancakes.

                            1. re: bbulkow

                              Yes, when I was a wee one, the buns at Cantonese banquets used to have symbols in red for good luck or double happiness stamped on them. And it was SOP then to peel off the outer skin of the bun due to the way the glossy sheen was achieved before water spray bottles were common.

                          3. re: Chandavkl

                            The buns are the way that Cantonese restaurants serve Peking duck. The Beijing/Shandong restaurants on the West Coast that I've been to serve with the traditional pancakes. Since the majority of Chinese restaurants on the West Coast are Cantonese, I can see where you'd come to that conclusion.

                            1. re: Melanie Wong

                              Thanks. Hardly any Beijing style restaurants in the LA area, as a recent LA Times review pointed out.

                              1. re: Melanie Wong

                                As far as I know, no Cantonese restaurants in mainland China, Taiwan, or Hong Kong serve Peking Duck, *but* we are in California here. Just like how 99% of Japanese restaurants must serve sushi, tempura, tonkatsu, teriyaki, ramen, and the whole enchilada of what one expects to find in a Americanized Japanese restaurant.

                            2. re: psychofan

                              "Additionally, the Peking duck here still has bones in certain parts! I'm not referring to the legs/drumsticks, I'm talking breast bones/cage! That's just plain horrible for a classy Peking duck dish!"

                              Were you expecting the duck to be broken down Western-style into sliced breast fillets?

                              1. re: Cary

                                Yes I was because that's how it's supposed to be. That's how the peking duck I had back in DC (Falls Church, VA) was presented. Completely boneless sliced breast fillets.

                                  1. re: Chandavkl

                                    That's the one. They even gave me the two peking duck carcasses afterwards. Now to find a good duck soup recipe for those carcasses.

                                    1. re: psychofan

                                      There must be a reason why something is as easy as....
                                      * Boil duck carcass in about 1 gallon of water for 1-1.5 hours
                                      * remove carcass by draining the broth over a colander and catching the bones and meat in it
                                      * remove bones from meat, and set meat aside
                                      * place broth back into pot.
                                      * Chop and add vegetables and spices to broth
                                      * while the vegetables are cooking on low-med, chop the pieces of duck, and return to soup.
                                      * Simmer for about an hour. Don't overcook or it'll be mushy.

                                  2. re: psychofan

                                    I am curious if perhaps some people are confusing roast duck (found hanging in windows of various chinese restaurants & deli) with Peking duck.

                                    I have seen lot's of chinese restaurants claiming Peking duck on the english menu...but what they actually serve is slice roast duck meat & skin with something to wrap it in & sauce.

                                    I was under the impression roasting Peking duck is a much more skilled & complicated process (i.e. the separating the skin from meat, blowing it up like a balloon, air dry overnight with fan blowing on it etc) then the regular old chinese roast duck or goose. Always served with pancakes. Anything else is just roast duck or goose, tasty..but not the same.

                                  3. re: Cary

                                    The classic way is to serve slices of just the crispy skin, alongside boneless slices of the meat.

                                    1. re: Melanie Wong

                                      That's known in my circles as "The greedy way to eat it" aka. my favorite way.

                                      1. re: Pei

                                        when i was in beijing, a team of three came out and sliced the duck, and even wrapped it in pancakes for us. a chinese restaurant in tokyo i visited did the same thing, so you don't have to do any work at all, just eat as much duck as you possibly could.

                                        does anyone know of a place in the bay area that does (or will) serve it like this? perhaps by special order or something?