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The Great Wonton soup quest (trying to find east coast style wonton soup in SF)

I will preface this call fro help with the acknowledgement that I understand that it is difficult or impossible to find east coast style anything in SF as far as chinese food goes. I have come across countless threads during my search for Wonton soup of people craving an entire east coast style menu, or a specific item like egg rolls, but none that are looking for wontons in particular. I also realize that the gourmand would consider east coast style chinese to be a greasy perversion of the real thing, and that many people would prefer the more subtle flavor of the food available in the west. Let me describe what I have been looking for, and see if anyone else here can clue me in on something approaching what I am searching for. In New York and many other places that I have lived on the east coast, there is about a 75% chance that a restaurant will be likely to serve up a wonton soup that has golden colored rich chicken/pork flavored broth with a few green onions and a bunch of tiny strips of bbq pork floating freely in the bowl. The wontons themselves in this style of soup are made with a much thicker noodle that retains its folded shape in the broth. Here are a few pictures of what I am talking about http://www.kingwokchinese.com/images/... http://farm1.static.flickr.com/223/52... . Out here, I always tend to get a soup with a silvery colored weaker broth that has huge chunks of cabbage and other veggies floating freely, and wontons that may have a larger meat content with a much more shrimpy seafood flavor overall and a wrapper that is super thin with a kind of ghost shape where the meat is pinched over the top with the wrapper, leaving the excess wrapper as a kind of tail that trails downwards off the main meat ball. I am sure that this style of soup can be prepared in a way that really brings out the subtle flavor of the combination of shrimp and chicken/pork- and that such a dish would be considered better in a taste test administered by experts or food critics. The problem is, most of the takeout type places that serve this style of soup seem to have a tough time of packing enough flavor into this type of dish to prevent the broth from tasting like thin dishwater, and from having the flavor of the cabbage predominate. The east coast style of meatier wonton soup with a strong chicken flavored broth is probably harder to screw up, because I am hard pressed to remember a time that I ordered this style of soup and was especially disappointed with the flavor. The thing is, my girlfriend and I always used to order wonton soup on the east coast while either of us was feeling a bit under the weather, and it was really a satisfying type of comfort food that would make us feel way better after we ate it. My girlfriend is currently sick with strep throat, and even though I had previously given up my quest for the east coast wonton- I want to try and locate something close to that so that I can bring it to her and heal her up with it. To reiterate, the most important thing I am looking for is a strong flavorful chicken based broth, and the thick skinned wonton noodles with the kind of flower face shape that comes from folding the wonton would be a great visual confirmation that we are on the right track. If anyone can identify the actual name of this style of wonton it would be a big help in searching for that. I have seen some references to Yee wonton soup, where the wontons are fried beforehand, but my research is inconclusive as to whether or not this is actually what I should be looking for. Any help would be greatly appreciated, especially if you can get it to me soon so that the GF won't be recovered by the time I can locate that magic soup.

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  1. I have a had a deep yellow chicken broth that may be close to what you want. I believe it was called "Supreme" broth. I had it at both the Kitchen in Millbrae and Asian Pearl in Richmond, but it was a long time ago.

    Asian Pearl
    3288 Pierce St, Richmond, CA 94804

    1 Reply
    1. re: wally

      Thanks for the tip man, I just ordered a dumping and wonton soup and a standard wonton from King wonton and noodle on Irving and 10th based on yelp reviews- Im about to ride over there and pick it up. Its probably not what I'm looking for but I will get let everyone know how that place's stuff stacks up to my expectations.
      The supreme broth sounds like it would be dead on, the main problem with a lot of the soup out here is the broth being too weak. thanks again for the tip, I'm gonna try that place as soon as I get the chance.

    2. Not the same style as NY Cantonese, but the best won ton soup I've had in SF is from a Taiwanese hole in the wall called Tea Garden on Mission at 1st.

      A man goes in the back to what appears to be a closet and emerges a while later with a perfect bowl of broth and won tons. Inexpensive and open fairly late on weeknights (or was).

      For a solid chicken broth in San Francisco, stick to Mexican restaurants or occasionally Vietnamese. Caldo de Pollo from Chava's on Mission and 24h is great for a cold.

      Turtle Tower has two or three locations and is known for its delicate chicken pho. Ask for extra garlic, ginger, and hot sauce.

      Turtle Tower Restaurant
      631 Larkin St, San Francisco, CA 94109

      Tea Garden
      515 Mission St, San Francisco, CA 94105

      1 Reply
      1. Just wanted to follow up on my post about the order I tried from King Wonton and Noodle last night. I decided to try that place before I had gotten responses from anyone on this thread because it was close and the yelp reviews boasted flavorful broth and had pictures that looked closer to what I'm seeking. The broth there was indeed a lot richer than most of what I've had elsewhere around town- but it had a ton of shrimpy flavor which become more and more apparent as the bowl cooled down. The wontons were interesting, but they had the same thin wrappers and whole uncut pieces of shrimp in them. I am not a person who hates shrimp, but that flavor doesn't really jive with the heavier greasy meat flavors in a chicken or pork based broth. My girlfriend didn't finish her bowl so we saved about half of it in the fridge, and now the bowl just plain reeks of fish sauce odor-The taste is almost entirely shrimpy when the soup is cold, which is weird since I would have said that it was much less prevalent when the soup was hot- This is obviously not a big deal since I will be planning to eat soup hot, but it indicates to me that there really was a lot more shrimp flavor to the stock than I had originally detected when it was warm. The dumplings in the wonton and dumpling soup had an odd texture due to being composed of about 50% mushroom stuffing (as far as I could tell) but otherwise they tasted like they were stuffed with the same meat as the wontons, and had the same thickness in the wrapper as well. Overall this experience has given me another criteria to look for when trying to find the east coast style wonton soup- and that is little to no shrimp. I am sure that this is just my immature american palette throwing a hissy fit, but I think I am looking for my surf and my turf to be in separate dishes for the most part.
        I will definitely try out Tea Garden and Turtle Tower- both sound like great options- do you know if the tea Garden soup has those kind of thick Yee Wonton (?) style dumplings or is it more standard? Sorry to be so picky but the girlfriend was really turned off by the shrimpiness of the King Wonton order, and by now I am primarily driven by my own craving for that old east coast style flavor (especially because she has nearly lost all faith in my Quixotic Wonton quest).

        Turtle Tower Restaurant
        631 Larkin St, San Francisco, CA 94109

        Tea Garden
        515 Mission St, San Francisco, CA 94105

        14 Replies
        1. re: The_Eater

          your willingness to explore will eventually be rewarded, and you've identified an important factor -- what's called won ton out here on the pacific side is not what you're seeking, because shrimp is nearly always one of the ingredients. shrimp were once abundant right in the bay and in the local coastal waters, and a significant part of the shrimp fishery was done by Chinese, so that might have always been the case in this little section of the pacific rim.

          the dumpling houses that offer a variety usually specify the different fillings. in a way, won ton is just a sub-category of the dumpling genre. so if you continue your quest, dumplings might turn up results closer to the obscure object of desire.

          1. re: moto

            I enjoy the Won Ton Soup from Yuet Lee (B'way/Stockton). I order the the BBQ Pork soup which has several large slices of somewhat fatty BBQ pork in a rich broth. However, the Won Tons themselves are shrimp (or most so). The melted pork fat adds to the richness of the broth. I suspect that other toppings result in a less-rich broth. Available with or without noodles. I really like the broth - the Won Tons less so.

          2. re: The_Eater

            I think the Tea Garden won tons have pork in them, but I don't remember. In fact, I don't know what's in the broth--it's just really good. They don't have much or any seafood on the menu, so I don't remember shrimp being involved.

            Turtle Tower's soup is a clear chicken broth with rice noodles.

            Turtle Tower Restaurant
            631 Larkin St, San Francisco, CA 94109

            Tea Garden
            515 Mission St, San Francisco, CA 94105

            1. re: The_Eater

              King of Won Ton on Irving strives to do a Guangzhou style won ton noodle soup, with the biggest selling point being that the noodles are hand made and kneaded with a bamboo pole (done offsite somewhere), resulting in a more toothy al dente like texture. Those who have had the real deal in Guangzhou, Macau or Hong Kong will complain that the noodles don't have enough bite, lack that eggy flavor (I doubt KOWT uses salted duck eggs + the same kind of alkali water).

              As far as the traditional Cantonese won ton noodle broth, it is mostly a pork bone based broth cooked with maybe mature chicken, and more importantly dried tilefish, shrimp/shrimp shells as well as shrimp roe. The supreme broth referred to by another poster in this thread, is used by restaurants as the basis of a stock for other uses, and usually has some conpoy, dried shrimps, maybe mushrooms, and yellow chives, but does not have dried tilefish flavor.

              KOWT's broth, to me is a diluted version of the traditional Cantonese broth, and the last time I went, it tasted more like chicken powder essence/bouillion cubes, not very multi dimensional. Perhaps their receipe has since improved.

              Tea Garden, if the original Taiwanese owners are still there, I'm guessing their won tons are Taiwanese version, which are more like "huan duan" (Mandarin pronounciation), closer to the kind in Shanghai or even Sichuan (w/o the spicy). These are mostly pork won tons, thinner, less filling inside, and more skin. The broth is key in this case, and can be a chicken stock, but not multi dimensional in nature like a traditional Cantonese won ton noodle broth (served at the specialist shops).

              95%++ of the time, the Cantonese style won ton noodles across town are drowned in a MSG enhanced broth, or the broth is a watered down one size fits all kind of thing. Even across Chinatown you will find slight variants between restaurants on the wontons themselves, the ratio of pork to shrimp. At some point it becomes a more personal matter.

              So it sounds like from both ends of the spectrum, there is no authentic Cantonese won ton noodles to be found, and on the other hand, no East Coast style won ton soups around either... ain't that life.

              1. re: K K

                Think Sam Wo might have them? Haven't been there in 30 years. How about Wing's in San Jose. (I've never been there.) Then there's always Paul's Kitchen in Los Angeles.

                Sam Wo Restaurant
                813 Washington Street, San Francisco, CA 94108

                1. re: Chandavkl

                  Sam Wo might, but good is another matter. I'd much rather go to Hon's Wun Tun House in SF though for the real deal.

                  But looking at Wing's SJ menu http://wingsofsanjose.com/menu.aspx they have won ton soup ($5.95), along with Americanized Sichuan and "Mandarin" cuisine (non Cantonese that is) plus some familiar stuff.

                  Sam Wo Restaurant
                  813 Washington Street, San Francisco, CA 94108

                  Hon's Wun Tun House
                  532 Jessie St, San Francisco, CA 94103

                  1. re: K K

                    Thanks for the link. Obviously Wing's has suffered a change of orientation sometime since 1925 to "Northern" food.

                2. re: K K

                  if you are talking about king won ton and noodle at 1936 irving (20th), two of us just had the worst chinese meal of our lives there. dan dan mien that was essentially soup, noodles, and lettuce, unlike any other dan dan mien i have ever had. (i am accustomed to some kind of flavorful brown sauce with pork in it, not a soup broth for this). and we had "citrus shrimp" that tasted nothing like any citrus, it could have been a salt and pepper shrimp but with no flavor whatsoever. and shrimp wonton noodle soup with the identical vapid broth but passable wontons. there are a bunch of hooters on the menu, including J24 "Look Green Explosion Waist Embellish".
                  they also have Pig Waist Porridge, and Pig Embellish Porridge, Qianlong A Product Tofu Pot, and Fry Gailan Following. And, in the Porridge section, Gourmet Fried Donut. cash only, but a total waist of money. and now i have a terrible msg headache.

                  1. re: markseiden

                    I hate to be that guy who chimes in with "you ordered wrong," but to order dan dan mian (a Sichuan dish) at a cheap Cantonese noodle/rice/porridge joint like King of Wonton is to roll the dice on the outcome of your meal - dice that are rigged against you.

                    1. re: bigwheel042

                      it's noodles and sauce and the sauce is not that much different from what's in mapo tofu. i knew they could make the noodles. i am genuinely confused how this could be *so* different from what i conventionally, and may a hundred times, have had in different restaurants. i mean, it would like ordering xiao long bao and getting har gow.

                    2. re: markseiden

                      Mark, it's possible you were the victim of a linguistic-thingy rather than the victim of a poorly prepared dish (though that may be the case too). Do you remember which of their "dan dan mien" you ordered?

                      King Won Ton has a section of the menu entitled, "dan dan mien" in both Chinese and English. It lists five items:

                      牛肉麵 beef dan dan mein [literally, beef noodles, no mention of dan dan]
                      擔仔牛肉麵 dan jai beef dan dan mein [literally, "dan jai beef noodle"]
                      擔 擔 麵 dan dan mein [same "dan dan" characters as the Sichuan dish]
                      雪菜肉絲湯麵 preserved vegetable w/ shredded pork mein [literally, xue cai (snow vegetable) w/ shredded pork noodle soup, no mention of dan dan]
                      榨菜肉絲湯麵 spicy cabbage w/ shredded pork mein [zha cai (pickled mustard) & shredded pork noodle soup, no mention of dan dan]

                      How any of these relates to the Sichuan dish isn't obvious, but there's a clue in the "dan jai beef dan dan mien." It seems that "dan jai noodles" are a Taiwainese dish named after a should pole the inventor used to haul them around http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dan_zai_...

                      "dan dan" noodles are also named after a shoulder pole used to haul a dish around Sichuan province http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dandan_n...

                      There's a missing link between these two shoulder pole dishes, but if K K catches this thread, maybe he can give some insight-- he's written about the Taiwanese dish and links a Youtube clip he made from a vendor with a minced meat sauce and shrimp stock version: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/4665...

                      1. re: hyperbowler

                        thanks for the linguistic analysis. (hm, i've had the dan tsu noodles in a night market in taipei.)

                        i ordered the third, just dan dan mein. (and yes, only afterwards i discovered the same wikipedia article while googling for recipes.) at king wonton there was no meat in the bowl. just noodles, broth, and lettuce. it was not poorly prepared, just entirely unexciting and not at all what i expected. now, the citrus shrimp, that was poorly prepared.

                        hey, while you're providing linguistic first aid, can you clarify what the mystery entries about waist and extension and j24 translate to?

                        1. re: markseiden

                          Mark, here's my go at it (critiques welcome...):

                          The citrus shrimp you ate is listed as orange peel shrimp.

                          G10 豬腰粥 Pig waist porridge [pig kidney porridge]
                          G11 豬潤粥 Pig embellish porridge [pig liver porridge]

                          J44 糖酒炒芥蘭 fry gailan following [ sugar wine (er...rum? according to google) stir-fried Chinese broccoli ]

                          J40 乾隆一品豆腐 qianlong a product tofu pot [Emperor Qianlong (or maybe "dry intense") first rate tofu pot]

                          J46 恙蔥爆腰潤 Look Green Explosion Waist Embellish [Ginger & green onion "Bao'd" pork kidneys (maybe liver in there too). "Explosion" here and on other menus refers to "bao," or "explosive frying" a technique where food is fried quickly at a high temperature.]

                          G12 油條 gourmet fried doughnut [that's a "you tiao," a stick shaped chinese doughnut]

                          BTW, I didn't care for the shrimp wonton noodle soup either: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/8965...

                      2. re: markseiden

                        Actually, Mark you did not order wrong.

                        When this restaurant first opened they did try to focus entirely on Cantonese noodles and food around it.

                        But as time went by, whoever is in charge decided to spice things up with variety to also do various stir fry, and introduce other elements of regional and southern Chinese. After having noodles at traditional Cantonese noodle shops in Hong Kong (that specialize in this stuff) in last two years to understand it better, then coming back sometime last year to try one noodle dish, I can honestly say King of Won Ton are not really putting the effort into their namesake, and it sounds like the regional Chinese and Southern Chinese/non Hong Kong Cantonese side of the menu isn't any better either.

                  2. You're looking for the old style Cantonese won ton which you are unlikely to find at any Chinese restaurant that has opened in the past 50 years. Have you tried any of the longtime places in Chinatown, such as New Woey Loy Goey on Jackson St.?

                    New Woey Loy Goey Restaurant
                    699 Jackson St, San Francisco, CA 94133

                    3 Replies
                    1. re: Chandavkl

                      we went there a few years ago, and the won ton soup w. noodles and roast duck certainly had a rich broth, not fishy/shrimpy at all with the duck fat fortifying it. i.i.r.c. though, the won ton had shrimp in them.

                      1. re: Chandavkl

                        That reminds me I haven't been to Hon's Won Tun in a million years. I lived on it the first year I was in SF when I worked on California Street. Not a rich chicken broth though.

                        Is it still good? It was incredibly cheap.

                        Hon's Wun Tun House
                        648 Kearny St, San Francisco, CA 94108

                        1. re: Windy

                          had lunch today at Hon's Wun Tun House ........ the beef stew and won ton with noodles. $5.50 ...... a medium size bowl with 4 won ton and beef stew with some fat on it ( a good thing ) ........liked the toothiness to the noodles - held their texture til the end. the won ton had shrimp and ground pork I think - thin wrappers ..... the broth was OK with some shellfish flavor ( probably from shrimp shells ) I used some of the chili sauce from the condiment caddy to kick it up a bit. a few chopped green onions for garnish. it was a good rainy day lunch.

                      2. Try super old school Yet Wah. May fit the bill.

                        Yet Wah Restaurant
                        2140 Clement St, San Francisco, CA 94121

                        4 Replies
                        1. re: sfgirl22

                          Are there any Yet Wah's here in the city? The2 I was aware of have closed...don't know about their others...anyone???

                          1. re: ChowFun_derek

                            There was a rumor that it was closed for remodeling, but as of late January, there was a For Sale sign in the window. I'll miss them--- they were the first place I ate peking duck with mandarin buns.

                            1. re: hyperbowler

                              Darn! They made the best potstickers ever. I mean ever. I used to eat them all the time at the branch on Pier 39 when I worked there (several lifetimes ago). They were my benchmark potstickers. A few years ago I went to the Yet Wah on Clement to see if the potstickers stacked up to my memories, and they did (and how often does that happen?).

                              1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                The Yet Wah in San Rafael is still open and has the same - great - pot stickers. Thin-skinned, crispy, gingery, most. They remain my standard for pot stickers. Nowhere else comes close.

                        2. Have never seen thick-skinned Eastern style WTs flled with bbq pork here but at least there are thick skins with very fine chopped/ground? pork fillings at 5 Happiness, Geary nr 6th Ave SF. Go early in the evening or else put up with maybe overcooked soft noodles.

                          Order the Won Ton soup with bq pork. At least the bbq pork will be in the soup if not in the noodle. Maybe that will get you near your heart's desire. Not the same but closer.

                          1. You might want to try Wo's Restaurant near the Beach. The wontons do not have any shrimp/seafood and the skins are thicker. The broth is flavorful and likely chicken/pork based. Good luck!

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: sporky

                              according to Yelp they have closed...pity I would have liked to give them a try...

                              Wo's Restaurant - CLOSED
                              4.0 star rating
                              81 reviews Rating Details

                              Category: Restaurants Chinese Chinese [Edit]
                              4005 Judah St
                              (between 45th Ave & 46th Ave)
                              San Francisco, CA 94122
                              Neighborhood: Outer Sunset
                              (415) 681-2433

                            2. This is my magic soup, too. Haven't been able to find it in San Francisco since Hong Kong Cafe on Church and Pot and Pan on 9th Ave. closed.

                              In addition to the origami-like wrapping, I'm looking for filling that doesn't have shrimp in it -- I'm allergic.

                              1. Since I posted this, a new restaurant opened up on Haight and fillmore called Wonderland chinese. Their wontons are pretty much exactly what I wanted to find back when this original post went up...super meaty chicken broth, thick noodled wontons with pork inside etc. The dish comes with all kinds of extra things like shrimp and a big thing of cabbage thrown in there, but you can just order it without any of that. The only thing missing at this point to simulate the old school greasy hangover chinese places on the east coast are the endless supply of fried wonton chips at the table and the shredded pork things floating at the bottom of the bowl. honestly though, I can live without those - as this soup hits the mark pretty much dead on otherwise.


                                7 Replies
                                1. re: The_Eater

                                  I agree the wonton soup at Wonderland is good (be sure to order "no MSG"). I think the wonton soup at Tai Chi on Polk near Broadway is even better, they're more generous with the wontons and chicken, and the broth is excellent (order "no soy sauce" if you prefer your broth clear).

                                  1. re: Crabpaws

                                    I looked forward to trying Wonderland but the won ton skins were way too thick. The lemon chicken I saw on another table looked good so I ordered it and could not eat it, chicken very tough.

                                    How I miss Mike's Chinese Cuisine, 16th/Geary .. his food was the best.

                                    1. re: walker

                                      i agree, Wonderland's wontons are not ideal.

                                      1. re: Crabpaws

                                        I'll have to try Tai Chi - sounds promising. I dunno what you're talking about with this "order no MSG" business - MSG may be bad for you, but it is undeniably delicious!

                                        1. re: The_Eater

                                          A lot of people don't want to ingest MSG. Wonderland cooks some dishes with MSG. If you don't want it, make sure to tell them.

                                          1. re: Crabpaws

                                            I know, I was just joking around - thanks for the tips tho.

                                  2. re: The_Eater

                                    Hello The_Eater,

                                    Thank you for coming back some 3.5 years after your original post to give an update on your quest. I'm happy to know that you finally achieved success. I'm originally from the Northeast, so I know exactly what you are talking about with this type of wonton soup, the endless supply of fried wonton chips at the table, etc. I now live in another part of the country and I miss those old school, Northeast US Chinese food places. Thanks again for the update.

                                  3. Eater: You write nicely, but things would be easier to read if the text were divided up into paragraphs.