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Old Chinese Hole-In-the-Wall on Embarcadero in SF?

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My dad's in town and wants to take us to a restaurant he remembers from at least 10 years ago... he says it's a hole-in-the-wall Chinese restaurant (seats 15-20 people) near the Embarcadero. There wasn't a menu; the chef would feed the guests. No reservations, so a line would form outside.

Is this ringing a bell for anyone? My dad would get a huge kick out of going there.

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  1. How does Jai Yun sound. New location, takes reservations varying prices for dinners chef's choice. Alternative House of Nanking, menu optional.
    Jai Yun Restaurant
    680 Clay St
    (415) 981-7438
    House of Nanking
    919 Kearny St

    1. Based on the description, it sounds like it could have been the House of Nanking although it's not really that close to the Embarcadero.

      1 Reply
      1. re: nocharge

        Has to be House of Nanking. It's six blocks from the Embarcadero, been there since 1988, there's been a line since the second month they were open, no reservations, prior to expansion it was that size, and while there was always a menu Peter Fang usually preferred not to share it. I think the chef is usually at his new place Fang these days but his family still runs it.

        There was never a line at Jai Yun, reservations were required, and the old location was twice that size.

      2. Thank you both! It sounds like it might be House of Nanking.

        2 Replies
        1. re: sannasca

          And be warned, HoN, while it might amuse your father, gets pretty low rank around here. I think the complaint was "that brown sauce they put over everything"... I've only been twice (once more than enough) and it was kind of a trip.

          1. re: sannasca

            I suspected it was HON but thought you might try Jai Yun because it's better.
            David Chan recommendations on Chinese restaurants in the United States.... the man who has eaten at more than 6,000 of them
            10. Jai Yun, San Francisco, California
            Besides being one of the best Chinese restaurants in the U.S., it is also the quirkiest. It's located a half-block outside of San Francisco Chinatown, close enough to describe it as being in Chinatown. It is highly controversial as it elicits both extremely positive and extremely negative comments. There is no menu at Jai Yun. Rather you tell the chef how much you want to spend (e.g., $35 per person, $50, $100, etc.) and he'll provide you a selection of small plates of his choice, based on the ingredients he has purchased for the day. The chef is from Nanjing, and his cooking reflects a variety of eastern and northern Chinese locales. The high praise tends to come from true food fans, while the negative comments are more likely from the less sophisticated. Either way, there's nothing else like it in the United States.

          2. Definitely sounds like House of Nanking, though your dad needs a geography lesson. Jai Yun was bigger, and never had a line. HONK was as tiny as your dad remembers before it expanded into the neighboring space. It actually did have a menu, but it was traditional to let your server (or owner Peter Fang) choose for you.

            Actually, House of Nanking was pretty good when it first opened, but the owner discovered that novice HONKies loved his Shanghainese red sauce and started drenching everything in it. It's been said he fills Coit Tower with red sauce and pipes it underground to his restaurant.

            3 Replies
            1. re: soupçon

              A few years ago it was still possible to eat well at House of Nanking if you chose the right dishes, but I haven't been since he opened Fang.

              It was great when it opened but the crowds that followed Patricia Unterman's rave review were a bad influence.

              Jai Yun is arguably the best Chinese restaurant in town but prices start at $80 a person.

              1. re: Robert Lauriston

                HON is also in every guide book to SF, in every language, so you get backpacking tall blonde swedish girls who are looking for guidance about what to do that evening. It's terrible, terrible, I tell you.

                I think I must have visited when there was still a menu (early 90's?), and it was actually decent.

                Here's a good writeup on Fang by ol' RwOrange, worth read, just for yuks
                http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/655282

                1. re: bbulkow

                  House of Nanking has always had a menu, Peter Fang just didn't always show it to people. Ordering from the menu presented the danger of getting two almost identical dishes, which the waiters (after they expanded and had waiters) would not warn you about.

            2. Yeah... I was all about to report back tonight on our meal at Jai Yun until I learned about the prix fixe price...

              3 Replies
              1. re: sannasca

                price is too high or too low? report report!

                1. re: Cary

                  Way too high, I'm afraid. We went to Chung King on Jackson Street instead. We had the Peking duck (lovely, crispy, salty, rich) on steamed buns, sauteed bok choi (solid), Peking (I think?) spare ribs (too sweet, fried and artificially red for me, but a hit with a few of our party), black bean clams (awesome), ma po tofu (very good, but lacking the sichuan peppercorns I love in that dish).

                  So it wasn't the magical experience of a hole-in-the-wall where the chef decides what you'll have, but the food was excellent and the price was right.

                  1. re: sannasca

                    Glad you liked Chung King. We always go here for our CNY dinner. Tina, the owner, is very flexible and accomodating. (For example, we order the stuffed rice chicken WITHOUT shrimp, for my non-seafood eating DH and MIL.)

                    Chung King Restaurant
                    606 Jackson St, San Francisco, CA 94133
                    Phone:(415) 986-3899