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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.