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LA Hound looking for SF Chinese Restaurant recs

I'll be up in SF at the end of this month for work and would like to check out any interesting and hopefully tasty Chinese restaurants in SF. Here's some more info:

1. I live in the San Gabriel Valley and frequent restaurants with different types of regional cuisines here: Cantonese, Chiu Chow, Hong Kong, Shandong, Shanxi, Shanghai, Sichuan, Chinese-Korean, Muslim, and Taiwanese.
2. Communicating in Chinese shouldn't be a problem.
3. I'll be staying near Japantown.
4. I plan to get around using Muni (I lived in SF many years ago).
5. I don't care ambiance one way or another. Food is more important.
6. I'm primarily looking for dinner spots. I'll be downtown during the week, but I have only a few days where I can grab a real lunch.

If possible, I'm looking for something I can't find in the San Gabriel Valley. Any leads would be greatly appreciated. Thanks in advance.

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  1. The only thing I've heard of that would be worth going to for someone out of LA is Jai Yun: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/864582

    1. If you can trust a fellow Angeleno, look at this list from David Chan who posts here and has eaten at 6,000 Chinese restaurants in North America:


      Basically SGV and LA is tough to beat except for three restaurants in the Bay Area: Koi Palace, Yang Sing and Jun Yai. I don't know if there's stuff you can't find in SGV but at least it's ranked.

      For general Asian food you can't get in LA, try Burmese food, which has a few options in SF.

      3 Replies
      1. re: ML8000

        I've communicated with David a number of times. He has quite a stomach for food.

        I'm not necessarily looking for the "best" of anything--just something different. For example, a number of years ago, I ate at a Taishan restaurant in the Outer Sunset. It was okay, and it even had a dish from my father's village. I would have never put it in the top 50 restaurants I've eaten at, but I liked it going there because it is something we don't have here in the LA area.

        I'm hoping for something in that vein.

        1. re: raytamsgv

          In that vein, you don't have Hakka on your list. There are a few restaurants with Hakka specialties, most notably Hakka in the outer Richmond. http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/689236

          1. re: raytamsgv

            Difficult task since only you will know dishes from your family's village and specifics like that. If you can get it in SF, you probably can get it in LA.

        2. Old Mandarin Islamic: great lamb dishes

          2 Replies
          1. re: Civil Bear

            I have, alas, not made it to LA/SGV to sample the Asian fare there, but I thought the extremely hot pepper dish at Old Mandarin was memorable/unusual compared to what I can get at home in Vancouver. There is also a dish at Shanghai House that I would cross snake-infested desert for, the pre-order only deep fried salt and pepper pork knuckle with seaweed. Still haven't found that on any menu here and it is a show stopper, as you can see from the attached pic.

            1. re: Civil Bear

              Old Mandarin Islamic has great Peking-style hot pot. Do they have that in SGV? Very unusual, people drive from all over the Bay Area to get it. Great dipping sauce I have not encountered elsewhere. Get the optional leek flower sauce. More esoteric options include lamb liver, testicles, kidneys.

              The cumin lamb at Darda in Milpitas is worth a detour, maybe the drive.

            2. Hakka Restaurant in Outer Richmond is an absolute must. Salt baked chicken, pan fried stuffed tofu, mui choy kau yok (pickled mustard green pork belly), pineapple spareribs (probably the finest in all of SF Bay Area, authentic and non Americanized, contains suen kiu tau/pickled onion? bulbs to enhance the sweet/sour effect but beware of stinky breath), lotus leaf rice/hor yeep faan, and a ton more. Need maybe 2+ visits to get a wider sample of the top stuff.

              Never been myself, but you might want to check out/research Jade Garden which is not too far away from Hakka


              but you need to focus on the wall mirror specials in Chinese that supposedly showcase Shunde/Shun Tak style Cantonese (by way of Guangdong). It probably tastes nothing like the real good Shunde style dishes in Hong Kong, but it's SF, and will have to do. The closest SGV ever got to Shunde style Cantonese (or a brief representation of it) was The Kitchen, a branch out of Millbrae, that shuttered, but perhaps locals got too enamored with dim sum and didn't know how to order the dinner dishes / lack of interest. So with The Kitchen closing and ditto for Bon Marche Bistro, it just goes to show good regional Cantonese can't quite survive there and perhaps can't be appreciated.

              Might be a couple months too early, but if you are interested, call Hong Kong Flower Lounge in Millbrae (right across Millbrae BART station) and see if they will do HK style snake soup/bisque. A HK expat food and wine freelance writer (and apparently former actor in HK) had it there last year and raved about it (particularly the dried orange peel flavors). Guessing they used American rattlesnake meat.

              2 Replies
              1. re: K K

                +1 for Hakka. Jai Yun, too. Don't forget the infamous Yank Sing downtown if you're on an expense account. Then there's always Chinese hipster food from Mission Chinese Food, something we clearly don't have in L.A., and just a couple BART stops from downtown.

                1. re: Chandavkl

                  Yank Sing's specials such as Peking duck, sea bass, and soft-shell crab can run up the tab quickly, but I usually order standard dim sum items and spend under $25, a bargain given the quality.


              2. Dong Bei Mama in the Inner Richmond (an easy bus ride from J-town, take the 38) is a hidden gem. North Eastern Chinese cuisine. They have several brothy, hot pot dishes served piping hot with burners underneath.

                The online menus aren't reliable (NO, they are not a kung pao chicken type of place), so here are a few recs that I enjoyed. Beef pancake roll, napa cabbage & pork belly stew (delightfully sour!), the cold pig head appetizer (found in the back counter). Their dumplings were fine, but that region isn't so well known for dumplings really.

                If you can communicate in Chinese, I hope it's mandarin because they don't understand Cantonese at all. A lot of mainland China tourists stop by here... seemingly they pre-order for the huge bus group. May be good to check out what they're eating and follow suit.

                Also another favorite is San Tung for Korean-Chinese cuisine. Long lines, everyone loves their dry fried chicken wings.

                1 Reply
                1. re: Keesey

                  Dong Bei Mama is very good but there are comparable restaurants in Los Angeles. I think San Tung is interesting just to see their broad clientele.

                2. If you are going to be in Chinatown, you could give R&G Lounge a shot despite its status. I'd stick with these which have always been favorites for relatives visiting from Hong Kong in the last 20 years:

                  soy sauce chicken (probably the best version in town)
                  steamed clams with eggs
                  beef brisket with turnip in claypot (clear broth version)
                  vegetarian abalone with greens

                  1. Happy Bakery - try the Princess Chicken (and soy sauce chicken as a 2nd choice)

                    Taishan - for clay pots and FREE chicken feet

                    Jai Yun - nothing comparable in SGV (or what a love child of Elite and Joss would look like)

                    Koi Palace - what Sea Harbour would be like if it tried just a bit harder

                    25 Replies
                    1. re: ipsedixit

                      If I went back to Koi Palace I'd want to eat with a regular who knows how to avoid the mediocre and bad dishes.


                      1. re: Robert Lauriston

                        I have no doubt raytamsgv can fend for himself at a place like Koi.

                        1. re: ipsedixit

                          I can fend for myself at places like that too, generally speaking, but when a place executes only certain dishes well, you need a regular to avoid the others. My dim sum meal there was similar, the best stuff gave me the sense that regulars eat really, really well.


                          Unless the problem is that they're inconsistent in general, in which case the savvy regulars have probably moved on.

                        2. re: Robert Lauriston

                          Koi Palace has been at the top of the heap for almost 15 years, which is several generations in the Chinese dining world. I think perhaps you're noticing the first cracks in the facade.

                            1. re: ipsedixit

                              Oh, that's right, they opened the Dublin branch in 2008.

                              1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                Plus aren't they in one of the casinos, too?

                        3. re: ipsedixit

                          Unfortunately, Happy Bakery on Ocean Ave. has burned down.

                          1. re: ipsedixit

                            Happy Bakery (& Deli) unfortunately caught the brunt of the fire from King's coffee/pastry next door very recently and suffered fire and water damage, and is closed indefinitely. My uncle who knows the owner (nicknamed "Brother Ming" in Cantonese, very Infernal Affairs like), said that they will re-open, but don't know when. So in the meantime, R&G Lounge for the best soy sauce chicken...but Happy Bakery did make a smashing one for a fraction of the price.

                            1. re: K K

                              @Melanie and KK

                              That's awful news about Happy Bakery. That was always one of my stops when I was in SF.

                              Is there anywhere else where one can get a decent Princess Chicken (Financial District preferred)? RG Lounge my best option?

                              Hotel concierges always looked at me funny when I walked back to my room with the stuff.

                              1. re: ipsedixit

                                There are other places that serve wong mo gai, but the seasoning of Happy's princess chicken was pretty unique. Tastes like a bit of shaoxing wine to me.

                                1. re: ipsedixit

                                  That's a tough one....my golden standard is John's Chinese BBQ in Richmond Hill, Ontario (Canada) which replicated a very famous place in Wanchai Hong Kong during the 1980s...

                                  Happy does a very nice version but is nowhere close. So with that said, I'd say venture into one of the Toishanese run Canto BBQ deli's in Chinatown, or a place like R&G Lounge (where they use range chicken that's probably skinnier).

                                2. re: K K

                                  KK, glad to hear this word that they plan to re-open. It has been my favorite for roast meats to-go. Please keep us posted.

                                  1. re: K K

                                    K K, with Happy Bakery & Deli out of commission, can you tell me where I can get roast goose with a similar deal? I liked that I could buy a half for $11....

                                    Appreciate your input and hope you'll be able to tell us when and where they might re-open!

                                    1. re: RWCFoodie

                                      I don't know of many places that do roast goose, let alone do them well, and while I've seen it at Happy Bakery, I've never tried it unfortunately.

                                      In the Peninsula the only place I know of is Champagne Restaurant (Bistro) in Millbrae, but is more expensive. I heard you can also get it at Cheung Hing up the street but I'm not a fan of theirs anymore. Maybe I should suggest to the owner of Cooking Papa Foster City that they try their hand at roast goose (and for San Bruno future location)!

                                      At least Champagne Restaurant offers an alternative to Cheung Hing as roasties to bring to SFO....extra points if it can be brought on board a plane/past customs (it's not liquid), even more points if it is roast goose....not the same as Yung Kee Hong Kong of course. Don't know if SGV/SoCal even has Cantonese style roast goose, but for convenience's sake right now, if raytamsgv is interested, the option is there (walkable from Millbrae BART).

                                      1. re: K K

                                        Thanks - that's what I thought you would say... The roast goose from Happy Bakery/Deli was small but they were very tasty (to me anyway).

                                        Hope you will try to pass along any info you get on if and when they will reopen...

                                    2. re: K K

                                      I think Happy Bakery may have re-opened somewhere on Irving st. My parents came over with a soy sauce wong mo gai chicken and told us the story about the fire at their previous store on Ocean Ave. Sorry, I didn't ask for a cross street.

                                      1. re: Spinal Tap

                                        Would really appreciate some follow-up on this, if possible. The soy sauce wong mo gai is the tip-off, as Ocean's Happy Bakery is one of the few that uses the heritage bird for this prep.

                                        There is a place called Happy Bakery already on Irving St, related to Wing Lee on Clement, but it does not have the roast meats, just dim sum and lunch plate steam table.

                                        1. re: Melanie Wong

                                          copy/paste from most recent Yelp review. the address puts it 1 block from the other Happy Bakery

                                          2191 Irving St. San Francisco, CA 94122 (between 22nd/23rd Ave)


                                          "Hey everyone! Just here to let you know about the grand/re-opening of Happy Bakery and Deli ()! It is now located on: 2191 Irving St. San Francisco, CA 94122 (between 22nd/23rd Ave). The place now offers a larger variety of Chinese foods you can find in other Chinese restaurants. Please support!

                                          P.S. Phone number is still the same! (415) 337-8198. Dine-in AND take out!"

                                          1. re: drewskiSF

                                            Many thanks! That's the address for Toon Kee, which still had its sign up two weeks ago when I was in the area but I didn't go in. Toon Kee had a roast meat counter in the front and a full restaurant in the back. I'm happy they're on their feet so fast.

                                            Now if the Happy Bakery & Deli staff could just act as happy as their name. It's a running joke that they are the unhappiest people . . . but some how despite the constant bickering and yelling at each other, they manage to turn out really good food. As one of my friends quipped, if Happy Bakery were in Manhattan, they'd be in a Seinfeld episode.

                                            1. re: Melanie Wong

                                              Toon Kee? - that was my go-to spot for won ton soup when I have a stuffy head cold. It steams open my sinus congestion.

                                              1. re: Cynsa

                                                We stopped yesterday to see about a roast goose (or 2) - waited in line for about 20 min or so, were told no roast goose today... We ended up with a soy sauce chicken. I have no frame of reference but it was very juicy and flavorful and I would wait in line again.

                                                On the continuing quest for roast goose: Our friend, who speaks Cantonese (Mandarin and Shanghainese), inquired about roast goose availability. She was told that they don't always get geese and the best thing would be to call ahead. It was unclear whether they would reserve one ahead of time or not. She also asked about whether they truly are the reincarnation of Happy Bakery & Deli and was told that this is true.

                                            2. re: drewskiSF

                                              According to Tasting Table, Happy Bakery's new name is Ming Kee.

                                              1. re: Melanie Wong

                                                Makes sense because Ming Gei/Ming Kee is a better translation from their Chinese name. No more confusion over whether you can get egg tarts and bread there.

                                    3. How about Bund Shanghai on Jackson, a few doors down from Grant, in Chinatown. I've never had anything there that I didn't really, really like.


                                      8 Replies
                                      1. re: c oliver

                                        We had a pretty weak meal at Bund Shanghai on a visit a couple of years ago. Maybe it was just an off night but there were no real standouts and a couple of misses. The xlb weren't even very good. We've certainly had better Shanghainese in both SF and Vancouver.

                                        1. re: grayelf

                                          I'm sorry to hear that. We've only had lunches there but that shouldn't matter. Tell me your fave Shanghainese in SF.. We need to get back to YVR. Did a house exchange a few years ago and really loved it but then life intrudes and we haven't been back.

                                            1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                              Oh goody! Now if they'll just do lunch :) But that's ANOTHER thread.

                                              1. re: c oliver

                                                Get nine people to go with you and they will

                                                1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                  What if four or five people paid double? :) J/K

                                            2. re: c oliver

                                              Jai Yun is for sure the best Shanghainese I've had anywhere (never been to Shanghai, alas) but it's not really fair to compare it to other places :-). Shanghai House has a couple of dishes I love and several that are very good. I enjoyed the xlb and sugar puffs at Shanghai Dumpling King but I see on another thread it has taken a turn for the worse. We are pretty spoiled with Shanghainese options where I'm from.

                                              1. re: grayelf

                                                Thanks. 'Though I crave going to Jai Yun, the logistics for us, especially living 200 miles away, is just a little daunting.

                                        2. How's LA set for Shandong / Korean-Chinese restaurants?

                                          Unfortunately the best one here (Great China) is closed due to a fire.

                                          1 Reply
                                          1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                            There's quite a few of both, but no idea if they are better, as good, or worse than the stuff up in SF.

                                          2. Thanks for all the recs, everyone. I'll try to work out my food itinerary and go to as many places as I can. Once again, my thanks to everyone for your suggestions and comments.

                                            4 Replies
                                              1. re: Melanie Wong

                                                I went to the following restaurants: Dong Bei Mama, Hakka Restaurant, Koi Palace, and Jade Garden. I went with some friends who didn't always share the same curiosity about foods that I have, so we had to make some compromises. Here's what happened:

                                                Dong Bei Mama

                                                It was very busy because of some tour bus patrons. Their menu is a mix of Northern, Sichuan, and Cantonese dishes. Overall, it was quite good. We ordered the following:

                                                * Pan Fried Pork Buns (aka sheng jian bao): not very good--too much bread, not fried enough, lacking flavor.
                                                * Sliced Beef Pan Cakes (aka beef roll): pretty good
                                                * Spicy Chicken Cold Noodle: Nice, cool counterpoint to the warm dishes.
                                                * Dong Bei Fried Pork: Deep fried, battered chunks of pork in a slightly sweet sauce. Decent, but not spectacular
                                                * Lamb Ribs with cumin: Very tasty, rich lamb dish. It went very well with the cold noodles.
                                                * Dry Sauteed String Beans: Good.

                                                Hakka Restaurant

                                                They were extremely busy, especially for a Monday night. We ate in the dining room on the second floor. Service was a little spotty. I liked the food a lot, but I don't have experience with Hakka cuisine. It's definitely different. Here's what we ordered:

                                                * Fish Fillet w/ House Special Sauce: Very tasty
                                                * Frog Fried w/ Salted Yellow Yolk: Very tasty, but I wish there was more frog. It had too much filling (accompanying deep-fried vegetables). Surprisingly, it wasn't that salty.
                                                * Spicy Salt & Pepper Eggplant w/ Bean Curd: Good combination of ingredients.
                                                There was another dish, but I forgot to write it down.

                                                Koi Palace

                                                Many others have already written about how wonderful this place is, so I'll just mention the dishes ordered.

                                                * Crab meat and fish maw soup: Fantastic! There were big chunks of crab. The flavor was incredible.
                                                * Stir-fried scallop with bacon: Scallops were delicious. Bacon was, well, bacon. But I think the bacon was too strong--it overwhelmed the flavor of the scallops.
                                                * Smoked sea bass: This came out after a long wait because we didn't realize we needed to order 45 minutes in advance for it. But it was well worth the wait. The fish was done perfectly, and the flavoring was strong enough to give it a great flavor but not overwhelm the fish. It melted in my mouth. Wonderful.

                                                Jade Garden

                                                I don't know much about the Shun Tak cuisine, so I was in the dark more than usual. The decor is pretty much forgettable. Service was very good. There were only two of us, but my eating partner wasn't quite as adventurous as I was. I really liked the food. We mainly ordered from the "Country Style" portion of the menu (i.e. house specialties). I'm sure some of them were taped on the wall as well. Here's what we ordered:

                                                * Hot and Sour Soup: A decent rendition--it was great for that cold, windy weather in the Outer Richmond.
                                                * Stuffed Long Green Pepper: Jalapeno peppers cut lengthwise and stuffed with fish paste. The dish was cooked properly--well enough to bring out the flavor of the pepper but not too much so that the pepper became limp. My friend really loved it. He called it a "Chinese Chile Relleno".
                                                * Steamed Fish Fillet with Japanese Yam: This was my favorite dish. Fish fillets were steamed on top of slices of Japanese Yam. I think some dried scallop was sprinkled on top of the fillets. The flavor was richer than the standard Cantonese ginger/green onion/black bean style of steaming fish. I'll try to reproduce this dish at home someday.
                                                * Chairman Mao Red Rice Pork: I'm pretty sure this isn't Cantonese, but darn, it was absolutely delicious. It consisted of large chunks of pork with skin, fat, and meat that were braised in a deep, dark, rich sauce. Imagine bacon in 3 dimensions but braised such that it melted in your mouth. My cholesterol count must now be in orbit around Mars right now, but it was worth every bite.

                                                I'd like to thank everyone for their recommendations. I wish I had a chance to order more of the specialty dishes, but there's only so much you can do when the rest of your party wants to stay with mostly familiar dishes. If I get the chance, I would like to explore the menu at the Hakka restaurant more. There were some very interesting dishes, but my stomach just isn't big enough for all of them at one meal.

                                                1. re: raytamsgv

                                                  Great report, thank you. When you make it back to Hakka, be sure to order the braised pork belly (kau yuk). So far, you and I are the only chowhounds to check out Jade Garden.

                                                  Do you feel you accomplished your goal of exploring different dishes than you've had in SGV?

                                                  1. re: Melanie Wong

                                                    Yes, it was quite fun trying to figure out the dishes at the Hakka restaurant. Jade Garden was also worthwhile. There's always an instance of apprehension when the dishes finally come to the table, but that's part of the experience, I think.

                                            1. In japan Town, check out the hand pulled noodles at San Wang. For spicy and unusual, Mission Chinese on Mission Street.

                                              1. OP, now that you're trip is over and you've had some good food, I'm curious why you came looking for Chinese food. My limited experience with the SGV is that it's Chinese food heaven. Granted SF has really good Chinese food but seems like you could have had more fun doing non-Chinese. Any thoughts? In NO way am I being critical, but just curious.

                                                3 Replies
                                                1. re: c oliver

                                                  It was curiosity on my part. SF has a large Chinese population, and I was wondering if it was large enough to sustain specialized Chinese cuisines. I'm also curious how Chinese cuisine adapts to local conditions.

                                                  1. re: c oliver

                                                    Raytamsgv said in the OP he was in SF for work, so I think that's why he came up. I think he wanted to check out the food scene while he was in SF.

                                                    1. re: Tripeler

                                                      Sorry, I didn't phrase that well. What I meant was why Chinese food instead of something else. OP answered and I get it :) I still get Chinese food in NYC even though SF is overall better!