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Mar 9, 2013 04:52 PM

Chinese recs in the bay area?

Hi - I have a friend who just moved back to the Bay Area (los altos) to be exact and is looking for the best chinese food (going to daly city / millbrae whatever is fine). I told her i'd ask on chowhound to see what you guys think are the "must try" restaurants?

Any "must try" dish recs would be great as well?

Doesn't matter what kind of chinese food, she's got time and wants to try lots of places.


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  1. You might want to start by looking over some of these threads

    1 Reply
    1. Can she read and speak Chinese (Mandarin or Cantonese)?

      21 Replies
      1. re: K K

        she can speak mandarin although i dont think she can really read

        although i help her with the chinese characters if need be

        1. re: Lau

          OK cool. Here are a few to start with.

          Mountain View (these are mostly out of convenience in MV):

          Chef Xiu (Dongbei style) - good value. I haven't been in a while but it's not bad.
          Chef Zhao (Sichuan) - dan dan mian is the best so far (just don't compare to Hong Kong). Focus on the Sichuan specialties.
          Bamboo Garden - mostly Shanghainese, quite well liked by many in the area. Don't compare any Shanghainese restaurants in SF Bay Area to Hong Kong :-)

          Foster City
          Cooking Papa (Cantonese noodles rice plates congee roasties). At least 85% of the menu is delicious. Solo diner friendly too, so it will require multiple trips to try many things. $20 minimum credit card order to bring extra cash. There is a location in Santa Clara (flagship) but supposedly not quite as good, but convenient if in the area. Santa Clara location has very limited parking. My favorites are pan fried noodles with pork strips, mushrooms, bean sprouts....clear broth beef brisket appetizer, half lean half fatty cha siu, congee, and the broth they use for wonton noodles is made with dried tilefish (and very strong flavor at that, but batch can be inconsistent at times).

          5 Joy - this is a Taiwanese style restaurant focusing on Northern/Shanghainese/with a little bit of Sichuan. It's inconsistent, but a friend who recently went liked the pre order 8 treasure stuffed duck and beggar's chicken. Like with Canto restaurants in HK, need a larger party to sample

          San Francisco

          R&G Lounge - make reservations, bring extra people. Signature salt & pepper crab, claypot dishes are good, soy sauce chicken is excellent, steamed custard with clams, salted fish pan fried pork patties go great with rice, salt pepper scallops, and more. Might get parking validation at Portsmouth Square. Pricey but pretty reliable.

          Old Mandarin Islamic (Vicente) - Islamic Chinese, mostly Beijing style. Bring a few people with you and get the lamb and/or beef hotpots. They also have lamb offal and lamb testes. Get the chive flower dip sauce (flown in from Beijing). Multi layered beef pancakes are great too. Other things may be iffy.

          Beijing Restaurant (Alemany) - supposedly Yao Ming's favorite restaurant when he is in town. Don't go to the Irving street location, not as good. Sour cabbbage pork or fish claypot is fantastic during cold nights. Noodle dishes are tasty. Lots of good stuff here, but skip the boiled dumplings, they are seasoned rather weird.

          Kingdom of Dumpling (San Francisco) - tiny jiaozi restaurant. There are a few other regional Chinese dumpling noodle starch based goodies places around the area, like Pancake House (they specialize in xianbing/xienbing from what I understand, aka "hockey puck pastries with meat inside"), and Shandong Deluxe, and King Of Noodles on Irving. Focus on the boiled dumplings (jiaozi) and cold plate appetizers, maybe a noodle soup dish.

          Ming Kee (San Francisco) - best takeout Cantonese BBQ deli (roast duck, roast pork, cha siu, roast goose, soy sauce chicken that's cheaper than R&G Lounge's and on par or better, soy sauce squab). Ming himself is a Hong Konger, unlike other roasties butchers who are from Taishan/Toishan (and thus a way more salty marinade for the roast meats at other places).

          Hakka Restaurant - Probably the only authentic Hakka Cantonese restaurant in all of California. Please do not send your friend to Ton Kiang. Lots of good stuff at HR...salt baked chicken, basil stir fried (spicy) clams, salt pepper kabocha (pumpkin) or frog, salted egg yolk fried crab or lobster, pan fried stuffed tofu, Cantonese style "sahng tsau gwut" (sweet and sour pineapple spareribs), black bean sauce and pickled mustard greens black bass (pan fried and steamed), and tons more. Since Bon Marche Bistro in Monterey Park is gone, those who want a Hakka fix should come up here.

          Milpitas (South Bay)
          Taste Good Beijing - quite a lot of good things here, might need several trips to try them all. Only restaurant I know of that serves lamb head.

          Other decent jiaozi restaurants include I Dumpling (Redwood City), and Town of Dumpling (San Mateo).

          Yum's Bistro - out of the way, but the chef there is legendary amongst Cantonese expats. Master of crab, lobster, seafood, stir fry, and lots of classical old style receipes. Order from the white board or pre-order in advance from the last page of the menu. This is a restaurant requiring several trips, and bring several folks with you, and be very patient since the kitchen is small and he only has one assistant.

          Daly City
          Koi Palace - Basically the Elite/Sea Harbor of NorCal, but maybe operating at a higher level. Ridiculous crowds at dim sum, so come early. Probably the best dim sum in all of Northern California, but can be a tad heavy on MSG. Dinner? Lots of choices, not sure exactly where the strengths are beyond seafood but they are quite versatile. It's going to cost some money though.

          Shanghai Flavor Shop - they are most well known for Shen Jian Bao and probably the best in town. Some people prefer going somewhere else for this but to be honest those places don't specialize in this. SFS is very divey and literally "elbow grease" on the table. Not a date kind of place. I haven't been in a while but a friend says they are still good.

          1. re: K K

            Thanks K K, this is very helpful!

            1. re: K K

              How does Bamboo Garden compare to the places up in Millbrae like Shanghai Dumpling Shop? Most of the Shanghai places in the South Bay I've tried are mediocre (or worse), not even comparing to HK/China standards. Some places can do OK on a single dish (XLB, san-jeen-bao), but they can't execute basic dishes beyond the buns.

              As for Koi Palace, their strengths beyond seafood would be the BBQ, especially the suckling pig, pork cheek and pei-pah squab (meaty squabs by Bay Area standards). The choi-bong-hai (what they call Shanghai Crab - the prep where they stir-fry a live crab's meat with egg whites + conpoy and then fry the legs separately) is one of the yummier dishes you can order straight off the menu and better than what I had at a Shanghai place in HK.

              1. re: Jon914

                i love that preparation of crab

              2. re: K K

                When K K talks you better listen! Can't imagine anybody knowing more about Chinese restaurants in the Bay Area. The only thing I would add is a few dim sum by day, H. K. style seafood at night places, like the Hong Kong Lounge/Lai Hong Lounge locations on Geary and in Chinatown, and the concentration in Millbrae which includes Mayflower (formerly H K Flower Lounge), Zen Peninsula, the Kitchen, South Sea Seafood Village and Asian Pearl. One thing to note is that unlike Los Angeles and New York, you can find good Chinese food almost anywhere in the Bay Area, not just a concentration like the San Gabriel Valley or Flushing, since the Chinese themselves are more spread out. Consequently, Bay Area Chinese food lovers tend to patronize nearby places since they don't have to travel real far. There aren't too many people in the Bay Area who cover the waterfront like K K does. So you might want to narrow the seardh to a more specific part of the Bay.

                1. re: K K

                  Second on Old Mandarin Islamic for hot pot. From conversations I've overheard, people go there from all over the Bay Area.

                  Koi Palace, I won't go back:


                  1. re: K K

                    Great list, KK, with quite a few of my faves in there. No Oakland entries? I really liked Peony.

                    As for SF Chinatown - there's only one other go-to place for me besides R&G Lounge - Great Eastern.

                    1. re: klyeoh

                      Have you tried dim sum at Lai Hong Lounge in Chinatown?

                      1. re: klyeoh

                        A few comments.

                        Awww shucks Mr Chan, far too kind. Don't really consider myself covering the waterfront, just trying out the good to really good places (and have encountered some really bad ones along the way and ones that have fallen from grace) and sticking with the ones that are still decent.

                        Jon, I haven't been to Bamboo Garden really! Friends have been pushing me to try it out and just based on impressions of others it seems acceptable. But as you already pointed out, South Bay is lacking in certain kinds of Chinese food. I rarely eat Shanghainese anymore...and I detest Shanghai Dumpling Shop/King in Millbrae (Shanghai Bistro is better but it's also on and off experience). Little Shanghai used to be the darling (San Mateo) but I thought the last few visits were pretty horrendous (then again I have different standards). Though my mother spotted several staff from Koi Palace eat at LS a couple years back. One really has to set expectations accordingly. The worst is coming back from Hong Kong and eating Shanghainese or Sichuan there (or even local Cantonese), then eating it again in SF Bay Area, or having Taiwanese or Japanese in Taipei and coming back to what we have or wanting to satisfy those cravings locally....haha (very bad move). Better to flock to Southern California for certain regional Chinese, Taiwanese, or Japanese and Korean!

                        I remember walking into Old Mandarin Islamic for takeout on a foggy cold Sunday summer afternoon (around 3 pm) and the local Cantonese speakers were having their afternoon the form of fiery red spicy hotpots (lamb and beef). I think it is also a testament to the fact that there aren't many other hotpot options in that part of the immediate area, let alone Cantonese style Da Been Loe/hotpot (unless one goes to say, Hot Pot Garden on Taraval near 20th, run by the owner of Pho Garden).

                        A safe rule of thumb is that if a restaurant's dim sum is good, their dinner can't be that bad. But if the dim sum is not good, I wouldn't want to bother with dinner. With that said, recently went to The Kitchen and found their dim sum absolutely horrendous, Asian Pearl when I went late last year was still very good. It's also shocking to see that their lunch menu on the tables still show both restaurant names, despite the rumors of them going their separate ways, yet the food tasting like day vs night...

                        Zen Peninsula...unfortunately last 2 dim sum visits were downhill, but was still decent before that...I think the slump is starting so may take a while for them to come back up. Koi Palace last 4 visits has been very consistent, and the stuff comes to your table piping hot particularly if you mark them on the checksheet. They are very weak on some dessert items (e.g. mango pudding and tofu fa) and the dragon beard candy is average at best (but an effort nonetheless). There are a few surprises like 中山橄欖角蒸排骨陳村粉 which is a steamed pork spareribs over a plate of Chan Chuen Fun, a Shunde variant of ho fun noodles that bear a strange yet uncanny resemblance to Vietnamese banh cuon in terms of texture and thinness and is fairly slippery smooth. I forgot to ask if KP makes their CCF in house or if outsourced, but it is the "in" thing now in Hong Kong, particularly for using it to soak up delicious sauces (like Huaotieo liquor sauce steamed flower crab with chicken lard at The Chairman).
                        I haven't tried the BBQ yet, but the cha siu looks like the definition of temptation once it is sliced and plated.

                        Klyeoh I virtually don't get into Oakland anymore so I have no idea what's good over there. Last time I went to Peony was in 1997 and it was decent then. Now, I have no idea.

                        1. re: K K

                          Ha! I only wish I had the time to read all your restaurant reviews.

                          1. re: K K

                            interesting re: shunde style 陳村粉, never heard of it. weird name (chen village noodle?). I actually was looking up some shunde style cuisine for my next HK visit the other day b/c someone told me shun de river seafood restaurant is good and that i should try it

                            1. re: Lau

                              陳村粉...yes Chen Village ho fun. It is because they say a man named Wang Dan 黃但 from Chen Village in Shunde learned techniques of making ho fun from Foshan area called 西樵 Xiqiao (mountain) and adapted it to his version. Locals apparently called it Wang Dan Fun 黃但粉. The other "legend" is that the noodle came about from Panyu, Guangdong from a specific area that was once called Chen Village....who knows, but it is from around there. The characteristics of this noodle is that it is thinner, softer, a bit more smooth/slippery, and better mouthfeel/texture than ho fun or cheung fun skins.

                              River Seafood should be good, but Shun De Kung in Jordan should be better (they import live river fish and fresh water buffalo milk from up there).

                              1. re: K K

                                oh yah? thanks for the rec, ill include it on my list

                            2. re: K K

                              Lau's friend might want to consider one of the South Bay's greatest strengths, Little Saigon in San hotbed of authentic Vietnamese food, maybe like going to the OC in Westminster...though there may be things Westminster may be better at, but can't really go wrong. Start with the Lion Plaza food court, then explore some of the better broken rice plate options at the specialty restaurants, Bun Bo Hue, Saigon/Northern style pho, maybe one of the banh cuon specialty restaurants (including a chain from SoCal), pho ga, and maybe one of the more well known banh mi shops, and there should be some good places doing Chay (Vietnamese vegetarian) and Che (dessert) shops, as well as places that do decent hu tieu, banh beo, canh bunh, Nam Vang (Phnom Penh/Cambodian version of noodle soup as served in Vietnam), 7 course beef etc etc etc. Note, some of these options I'm still finding time to explore...I'm sure this will need its own thread for your friend, but just to give you to give her a heads up this is what's available :-)

                              For Korean, quite a few good options in Santa Clara area along the El Camino Real. Don't compare it to Korea town in LA or the good places in the OC...but for NorCal it's the highest concentration of good Korean restaurants.

                              1. re: K K

                                ahh that's a good idea, which banh cuon chain is it from socal? (i know little saigon really well now)

                                  1. re: K K

                                    ah yah i know where this place is well actually they have several locations. ive been meaning to try them, but pho tau bay has been so far superior to every banh cuon place ive been to that its been hard for me to go anywhere else

                              2. re: K K

                                Agreed that Koi Palace is pretty consistent on its dim sum. The dessert items you pointed out are the weak links (their tarts are better if you like a flaky pastry crust), and some of the more ordinary stuff is only just OK. But that's more than made up for but the stuff they do well (like the sticky rice) and the fact that they're willing to reinvent the menu and try out new things. Their chili sauce by Bay Area standards is yummy (we've even bought it home).

                                BBQ and some dim sum photos...

                                1. re: K K

                                  Peony dim sum was bad last time I tried it a year ago. It had been the best place in Oakland Chinatown for DS but unless someone tells me it has improved, I wouldn't bother.

                              3. re: K K

                                This post was just linked to a current thread. I can see a Bay ARea roadtrip just around this.