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Aug 8, 2013 04:41 PM

First trip to SF, looking for the best chinese food

Hi all. I'm coming in from Austin which really lacks in Asian food in general, so I'm looking for some great Chinese while I'm there. I've seen lots of Dim Sum suggestions but other than that I'm at a loss. Many say that the best chinese is actually outside of Chinatown, but what would y'all suggest?? I'm used to more taiwanese style chinese if that helps, but really like all of it. :)

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  1. This is a frequently asked question. These should get you started and you can narrow it down by location.

    6 Replies
    1. re: c oliver

      Thanks. I've ready many of them already and keep coming up with R&G and Great Eastern in Chinatown. Which I guess confuses me since many are saying not to go to chinatown for the best chinese. Thoughts on this?

      1. re: mlmccuan

        One thing you should realize is that the superior alternatives to Chinatown can be over an hour drive from that area.

        This post linked below gives you a sense of the diversity of high quality Chinese food available in the Bay Area. It really comes down to what specific type of dishes/cuisine/style you want, how much you want to spend, and how far you're willing to travel:

        1. re: hyperbowler

          Great link. I'd missed that one. Thanks.

          1. re: hyperbowler

            mentioned in that thread, for places not in SF Chinatown, but inside city limits, and very worthwhile for an out of town visitor with limited options at home -- Beijing Restaurant, and Hakka Restaurant, representing very different regions and style of food.

        2. re: c oliver

          Is this question this hard anywhere else?

          I am far enough away to want a simple answer, and close enough to want a complicated one. I know. First world problems.

          1. re: Shrinkrap

            Actually yes. Like the best Chinese food in the SGV. Or inumerable threads in NYC. And on and on.

        3. "Best" is nearly impossible to quantify. If you're willing to take a train for a bit, I'd highly recommend the (cash-only) House of Pancake, which is aways from downtown, but easily accessible via the L-Taraval streetcar, which departs from downtown and drops you in front of the restaurant (after about a 25 minute ride).

          Why I'd suggest it:
          - the food is excellent, showcases a few types of dishes that it does well, and the technique overall is good
          - there are quite a few options per category (hand-pulled noodle, pancake, dumpling) which allows you to order a couple choices per category and compare
          - no note if you're coming solo, but it's a very casual, low-key and affordable restaurant that would be suitable either with a group of 6 or just by yourself
          - the Beijing style cuisine is not something you can find everywhere; certainly I would not be able to find many of these dishes in my hometown

          If you go, I'd recommend the egg-and-onion pancake and the zha ziang mian.

          More details:

          1 Reply
          1. re: pane

            Yeah, I would have put it "what do you mean by 'Chinese food'?" It's an extremely broad category and means different things to different people.

            You mentioned R&G and Great Eastern. They are both Cantonese/Hong Kong-style seafood specialists. But a couple of doors down from Great Eastern is Z&Y, which is Sichuan, and across the street is Bund Shanghai (Shanghainese).

            You can have a fine meal at any of those if you pay attention to what their specialties are and ignore the 100+ Chinese dishes that are there because people -- especially tourists -- expect them to be there.

            Unless you're a connoisseur and/or have a specific interest in high-end or regional Chinese cuisine, I think the options in Chinatown are good enough that you don't have to go trekking miles out of your way.

          2. Thanks everyone for your help! I think I'm gonna try out R&G and see how it goes. A friend mentioned to me that I needed to try Burmese food while in SF. Im really not familiar with this. Is it a must try while there??

            27 Replies
            1. re: mlmccuan

              If you like Asan food I was going to suggest branching out to other asian cuisines while you're here (Thai, Vietnamese and yes Burmese). There's so many great options. Burmese is worth it if you have the time. I'd just do the classic option and try to get to Burma Super Star. I order three things there: Tea Leaf Salad, Rainbow Salad and Samosa Soup. That's really all you need if you ask me. If you want to venture into other options I would get some Thai food at one of the many spots mentioned here often... Marnee Thai, Thai House Express or Lers Ros Thai.

              1. re: virtualguthrie

                I really love all Asian food in general. Im just half Chinese, and its the most laking style of food in Austin so whenever I travel its the main thing I look for. I do love thai and korean though. Ill be there for 2.5 days. So hard trying to fit in all the places I want to go.

                So far my list is:
                Michael Mina - boyfriends cousin is a chef there
                Saturday farmers market
                Oysters - either swan oyster or hog island

                and maybe izakaya sozai, tartine bakery, mission cheese, or an other asian place like thai, korean or burmese

                Too many options!

                1. re: mlmccuan

                  Quick warning: be prepared to wait 2+ hours for a seat at Swan's.

                  1. re: mlmccuan

                    Lers Ros for thai. talked about a lot on this board.

                  2. re: virtualguthrie

                    Rainbow salad is quite similar to tea leaf salad.

                    1. re: Robert Lauriston

                      I don't think they're similar. Tea Leaf Salad is a lettuce based dish seasoned with Burmese Tea Leaves. Rainbow Salad is a noodle based dish (to tea leaves) and a light oil based dressing. The only real similarities is that they are both called salads and they share some ingredients like the nuts, fried garlic etc...

                        1. re: wolfe

                          And just for reference, here's a rainbow salad.

                        2. re: virtualguthrie

                          Maybe I'm thinking of ginger salad? There's one dish that's basically tea leaf salad without tea leaves and another that's a vegetarian version.

                          I'd go to Mandalay rather than wait in line for Burma Superstar.

                          1. re: Robert Lauriston

                            The lines at Burma can be ridiculous. I've been to both and I do prefer Burma. I feel like the food is a bit more refined.

                            1. re: Robert Lauriston

                              That being said, give the Rainbow Salad a try, it's delicious.

                          2. re: virtualguthrie

                            I concur with Lers Ros and Thai House Express, assuming you meant the place at Geary and Larkin (which recently changed its name to House of Thai to distinguish it from the OTHER Thai House Express). I'd submit that Burmese Kitchen would be a better option than Burma Superstar; it's just as good, IMHO, closer in, and no long line.

                            1. re: soupçon

                              We've eaten at Burma Superstar's sister restaurant, B Star B and thought it was great.


                              1. re: c oliver

                                B Star is nice (or was when I went a few years ago) but it's not so much Burmese as modern pan-Asian.

                                1. re: Prabhakar Ragde

                                  Good to know. And we also haven't eaten there in a few years.

                              2. re: soupçon

                                Burmese Kitchen's the second-best I've had after the inconveniently located Little Yangon. Tea leaf salad, mohinga, egg curry, sour leaves, fish cake. The menu's not confusingly padded with Indian or Chinese dishes the way BS's and Mandalay's are.

                                1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                  Little Yangon is very good and I would agree the best I have had, but the Daly City local make it hard suggestion for Tourists.

                              3. re: virtualguthrie

                                If you decide to go to a Burmese Restaurant I would urge you to go to Mandalay.
                                Do stick to the recommended(by C.H.'s) dishes.
                                Here is link to the threads about this.

                              4. re: mlmccuan

                                Please, please, please try a sichuan place like Z&Y (Dongbei Mama, Spices). If you're posting in chowhound - interested in yummy wherever it takes you - you should sample tastes beyond Hong Kong.

                                The board always recommends 3 different burmese places. Pick whatever's closer & easier. Get the tea leaf salad.

                                1. re: bbulkow

                                  I actually like Sichuan a lot. I looked at z&y initially but it's so hard narrowing everything down. Likely only able to do 2 Asian meals while Im there :(

                                  I may just go with what's more convenient between R&G, Z&Y, Thai house express and lers ros. Prob skip Burma if the wait is awful, since I'm in SF for such a short time.

                                  Yall have been a big belp! Anyone have tips on the waits/best time to go for these places?

                                  1. re: mlmccuan

                                    AFAIK, all the places you've targeted take reservations except Burma Superstar. Mandalay does too. Why not book?

                                    1. re: grayelf

                                      z&y can be iffy on reservations. went with a group in december with a reservation. went with the same group a couple months ago. my friend tried to make a reservation and was told they don't take them. i called the next day and had no trouble getting a reservation.

                                      1. re: grayelf

                                        Mandalay only takes reservations for parties of 6 or more. Even then sometimes it doesn't matter that you've made them. That wouldn't stop me from dining there though.

                                        1. re: chezwhitey

                                          Interesting about Mandalay -- we've made reservations there several times for smaller groups but I think only at lunch. The other times we had six or more.

                                      2. re: mlmccuan

                                        The can be waits at R&G. Factoring in logistics, I think Z&Y is the clear choice.

                                        1. re: mlmccuan

                                          Z&Y is my favorite! Our approach is to get there early on Saturday. If you get there at around 5:30 there is usually no wait. But after 6 the line to get in gets pretty long. Another tip- get there a couple of hours early and go to the foot reflexology place across the street. Then you will be super relaxed for dinner.

                                    2. This is probably partially out of date, but it gives an idea of the diversity of great Chinese food in the Bay Area:


                                      1. I have to mention this one. We have had a sentimental attachment to Great Eastern for many years in spite of and way before the Obama stuff. One time we were in the basement with all the aquariums bubbling away and suddenly the house ladies starting getting hysterical, loud and running around for some reason... what was happening was all the fish were dying and floating belly up in the tanks! All the fish eventually did end up DOA. We don't know why or what happened but it was quite a scene and one that will go down in our family history!

                                        4 Replies
                                        1. re: specktaker

                                          What's the Obama stuff you are referring to at Great Eastern?

                                          1. re: mlmccuan

                                            President Obama stopped in at Great Eastern for take-out dim sum when he was in town for a fundraiser last year.


                                            1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                              Eh. I wouldn't take that to mean anything. Last time he was here he ate at Stubbs... Some of the worst BBQ in austin

                                              1. re: mlmccuan

                                                Nobody said it meant anything other than the restaurant was in the news and acquired a certain curiosity factor.