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Jan 17, 2013 08:31 AM

Uncle's Restaurant (Waverly Place) changes hands again, going the Sichuan route. [San Francisco]

The venerable Uncle's Cafe at Clay and Waverly Place has changed hands again (it did a couple of years ago). Windows are currently papered over, but a new sign proclaims it "Ma La Xiao Guan -- Szechuan Cuisine" A posted ABC notice of change in ownership identifies the new owner as "Spicy King (CA)".

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  1. Just confirmed the people behind the Uncle Cafe makeover are the people from The Pot Sticker. Don't yet know if they are expanding or just moving.

    1. I remember Uncle's Restaurant. They used to have pies on display near the window, especially their egg custard pie.

      1. Well, pane and I ate at Spicy King last night. We took one for the team, because it was not a good meal.

        Ma po tofu was a vegetarian version. We asked if they had a version with meat, and they said no. They also seemed confused by the notion that such a thing existed. Bad sign for a Sichuan restaurant. We ordered the dish anyway. It was served in a gravy, and I've actually had versions of this dish that were like it in the past. There were black beans, and a good amount of Sichuan pepper, but the sauce was really one-dimensional. It reminded me of what I might get in a mediocre food-court in China. So, not Americanized. Just not very good. And unfortunately, I thought it was the best dish we tried.

        Dan dan noodles were swimming in a broth which seemed to be just the leftover water that wasn't properly drained. There was a tiny bit of meat on the top (about 2 Tb) and the sauce was peanut based below. Not much spice, but a decent amount of Sichuan peppercorn. Salty and otherwise bland.

        Baby bok choi in garlic was super salty, and again, was reminiscent of what I'd expect from a food court, not a sit-down restaurant.

        The plate-ware and decor are nice, and the service was fine but not knowledgeable. Prices are reasonable, and the menu is huge. As we walked by Pot Sticker afterwards (they are about 1 block away, both on Waverly Pl), we noticed that the two menus are identical. Not sure if there's any difference in food quality between the two places, but I will probably be staying far away from both.

        For dessert, we ventured to Cool Tea Bar, but they were out of boba. Got a jasmine milk tea w/ pudding. Not bad, but not too good. I think they use real milk, which might be a good thing depending on what you like, but I wouldn't make a special trip for this place.

        5 Replies
        1. re: Dave MP

          Not much to add to DMP. To me, the over-salted and omni textured quality of both the dan dan noodles and ma po tofu made them seem like Chinese Chef Boyardee products--if you told me both dishes slid out of a can and were reheated for a couple of minutes after we ordered, I'd believe you.

          At least in the case of the ma po tofu, missing the meat left off what I think Thomas Nash spoke of in the ma po thread as the balancing quality of textures. The components in both dishes seemed more like afterthoughts than the careful balance of elements that is, I think, the key component of excellent Chinese cuisine.

          Also, it was surprising that neither of the servers (we asked two) had heard of ma po tofu with meat. They did actually have a second version, with fish, but we didn't order it.

          1. re: Dave MP

            That's disappointing. It's under the same ownership at San Mateo's Spicy Empire which is regarded as quite good.

            1. re: Melanie Wong

              FWIW I had a very good version, to me at least, of water boiled fish or sho zhu yu at Pot Sticker last Tuesday. It had some additions that I liked (Napa cabbage, cilantro and various peppercorny looking beasties in addition to the yellow hua Jiao that added an interesting flavor or three to the proceedings). Enough ma la and spice level, while not da la, was more than lip-tingling. And that was for a white chick :-). Nice large portion for $15.95 too. First time I've been charged for takeout boxes though ($0.60). I plan to go back for that next trip, as the leftovers were ideal pre-airplane food the next day, working very well drained and eaten room temp.

                1. re: soupçon

                  I've seen it in four colours: yellow, green, red and brown. Dunno if it's different varieties, drying process, maturation, ???. I tend to enjoy the yellow and green ones the most. Hate when you get old stuff that tastes dusty and doesn't tingle enough.