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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: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/890038

          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.

                                        2. Hands down #1:
                                          Koi Palace

                                          R&G (No dim sum), Cityview (Dim sum lunch only) and Great Eastern

                                          Outside Chinatown:
                                          The Kitchen - Asian Pearl

                                          After those you start hitting more small regional places that are more narrowly focused.

                                          I made a list for friend who keep asking me this question..


                                          31 Replies
                                          1. re: Foodnut8

                                            Maybe not Koi Palace unless you're with a regular or someone with pull.


                                            1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                              With Koi, you get far better results hand picking what you want a la carte (and spend less). You can't go wrong with the BBQ, roasts and live seafood.

                                              1. re: Jon914

                                                The seafood was hit and miss. Currently I'd go to Yum's Bistro for Cantonese seafood.

                                                1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                  I love Yum's Bistro too, but what else did you find hit and miss about the live seafood?

                                                  I only see a a "catch of the day" (probably black bass) and lobster noodles - the rest of the seafood mentioned doesn't fall under live. Just curious to hear what else you've had in the past.

                                                  When I go, I always grab the Shanghai-style Crab (deshelled, stir-fried with egg whites and conpoy, legs are deep-fried - $35). They also source some of the best surf clams (gwai-fay-pong - $8/each) I've had around here. Those are two relatively inexpensive live items that are high on the value/tastiness ratio.

                                                  1. re: Jon914

                                                    I've had only the one dinner at Koi Palace since the service was so dreadful, plus the location is very inconvenient.

                                                    The best dishes were great.

                                                    1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                      I can definitely agree on that one - the service is pretty dreadful at the price point. The Dublin location's somewhat better in that regard but has a more limited menu.

                                                      1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                        Koi Palace's location is dreadful? Are we talking the DC spot or have they moved? Didn't you just recommend a spot in Fremont? Did Koi Palace move to Manteca?

                                                        1. re: hankstramm

                                                          For south bay residents like us, a 45 minute drive to either Daly City or Dublin (assuming no traffic) puts it out of our regular rotation. We still try to go every other month or so though.

                                                          1. re: hankstramm

                                                            It's the service that was dreadful. The location is inconvenient for for me since I'm in Berkeley and prefer not to drive across the bridge, but it's not very convenient for tourists staying in SF, either, unless they are driving to SFO and have some time to kill, or are visiting relatives in a nearby cemetery.

                                                            1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                              Yes, the location is not that great unless your idea of a good time is driving to a strip mall in Daly City. Not overly impressed by the food either.

                                                              1. re: nocharge

                                                                To be fair, most of the best Chinese food in the area is in nondescript strip malls in the suburbs.

                                                                1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                  Or as you've stated before, "Much of the best Chinese food is in suburban towns with little else to recommend them except high test scores in the public schools."

                                                                  1. re: Melanie Wong

                                                                    Often they also have above-average Indian food as well.

                                                                  2. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                    Fair enough. No quarrel with that. The interesting thing is that tourists have naively believed that the best Chinese food must be in Chinatown instead of places like Yank Sing, the sadly gone Harbor Village in Embarcadero 4 where wealthy Chinese families would go for Sunday dinner, or suburbs like Millbrae or Cupertino where a Chinese high-tech ex-coleague moved to specifically because there was a Chinese community there. I have had Russian ex-coleagues who have moved to communities based on the existence of a comfortable ethnic environment, so it's hardly more of a Chinese phenomenon than Scandinavian emigres settling in the state of Minnesota.

                                                                    Still, the fact remains that SF's Chinatown is a strange combination of a ghetto and a tourist trap.

                                                                    1. re: nocharge

                                                                      I think your description of Chinatown is not only harsh but untrue. We get very good food there. And don't pay the ridiculous, IMO, prices of Yank Sing. Your mileage obviously varies.

                                                                      1. re: nocharge

                                                                        There are tourist traps in Chinatown, and bad cheap places that some Chinese people go because they're cheap, but there are some places worth going, such as Z&Y and Bund Shanghai.

                                                                        1. re: nocharge

                                                                          Actually some of the best Chinese food is in Chinatown and I feel that people propagate a myth that there can't possibly be good Chinese food in Chinatown. Z & Y for example has excellent Sichuan and is difficult to beat. And saying that Yank Sing is a source of best Chinese food makes my head explode.

                                                                          1. re: Ridge

                                                                            Yank Sing has been serving the best dim sum in SF since Harbor Village closed. Most of the comments I see to the contrary seem to reflect some sort of reverse snobbery, as if dirty bathrooms and rudeness were more important than the quality of the ingredients and cooking.

                                                                            Fort Funston is in San Francisco and is as far from Koi Palace as the Ferry Building is from Land's End.

                                                                            1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                              For me it's all about the food and nothing else. I was extremely unimpressed and very surprised at my last visit to Yank Sing. Maybe it was just an off visit. But almost everything was mediocre. I just don't get it.

                                                                              Fort Funston is about a 10 minute drive from Koi palace. It's a straight shot up highway 1.

                                                                              1. re: Ridge

                                                                                For a mediocre meal at Yank Sing, order siu mai, stuffed mushrooms, turnip cake, and any deep-fried items except the taro dumplings.

                                                                                For a bad meal, go to the takeout window.

                                                                      2. re: nocharge

                                                                        Koi palace is not that difficult to get to and the Dim sum is the only I have tasted in the Bay Area that approaches the quality of Dim Sum I have had in Asia. Nicest thing about Daly City is Fort Funston which makes for an awesome post Dim sum walk.

                                                                        1. re: Ridge

                                                                          For a place that's only about 4 miles from the SF city line Koi Palace is all but inaccessible from SF on public transit. The nearest BART stations are 30 minute walks away and if you know an easy way to get there on SamTrans without a long wait, I'm all ears.

                                                                          1. re: bigwheel042

                                                                            Yeah public transportation in the Bay Area is not very good. We drive there.

                                                                            1. re: Ridge

                                                                              Heck, when I lived in dogpatch I drove to the mission. Standing around waiting for the 22 bus just wasn't fun, even if it was a straight shot. I love the SF bus live maps we have now, if we had that a decade ago I might have felt differently.

                                                                            2. re: bigwheel042

                                                                              Here's Google Maps:


                                                                              I've had longer trips for good food in the NYC area.

                                                                              1. re: c oliver

                                                                                This link appears to go from the De Young to Cal Sciences. Most people would walk that :-)

                                                                                1. re: bbulkow

                                                                                  I was afraid the link wouldn't open accurately. I started from Union Square and then filled in the address for KP. Not the easiest but, as I said, I've done worse.

                                                                              2. re: bigwheel042

                                                                                The SamTrans 122 bus starts at Stonestown mall in SF and also stops at Colma BART and it stops on Gellert Blvd. directly in front of the mall where Koi Palace is located.

                                                                                Buses run every 30 min during the day.


                                                                                There are always cabs available at the DC and Colma BART stations and it wouldn't be terribly expensive for a fairly short ride.

                                                                                1. re: pamf

                                                                                  About $10 with tip by cab. Possibly cheaper with offers from Lyft or Uber.

                                                                                  1. re: wolfe

                                                                                    If you're down with illegal services and unknown drivers, you can try asking people hanging around the BART station for a ride. That should be even cheaper.

                                                                                  2. re: pamf

                                                                                    Thanks for the tip on the 122 - that's a decent option if one happens to be on the west side of SF (and times it right).

                                                                                    Obviously a cab in both directions from BART is an option, just not usually a very appealing one for one meal. Too much of a hassle when there are places maybe 80% as good in SF or within walking distance of Millbrae BART.

                                                            2. My personal picks:

                                                              "Best of Show:" Koi Place, Daly City
                                                              Best in Chinatown: Z&Y (Sichuanese)
                                                              Best Cantonese in Chinatown: Great Eastern

                                                              Dim Sum: Koi Palace, Great Eastern, Hong Kong Lounge, Yank Sing (hold onto your wallet)

                                                              Shanghainese: Shanghai House, but Bund Shanghai in Chinatown will do if you don't want to trek to Outer Richmond.

                                                              Also of note for regional cuisine but a bit out of the way: Xi'an Gourmet, Old Mandarin Islamic, Shandong Deluxe (hand-pulled noodles and a few Xinjiang specialties), Dongbei Mama,

                                                              It's worth a quick BART trip to Oakland Chinatown for Classic Guilin Rice Noodles.

                                                              If you are looking for Taiwanese, avoid Taiwan Restaurant on Clement., I've heard good things about Taste of Formosa but haven't actually tried it. Spices and Spices II are Taiwanese/Sichuanese and worth checking out.

                                                              1 Reply
                                                              1. re: soupçon

                                                                for straightup taiwanese (stinky tofu, beef noodle soup, 3cup chicken, etc.), taste of formosa is the only choice in SF.

                                                                spices is good, but not completely taiwanese

                                                                1. re: scoopG

                                                                  Last Yelp review dated end of last month. Why, have you heard something about closing?
                                                                  (415) 876-6898
                                                                  Great chowdown.

                                                                  1. re: wolfe

                                                                    Yup, they are still open. Do a search and you'll find a few posts about what to order there.

                                                                2. Recently tried China Bee in San Mateo which has pretty decent Taiwanese food (shredded tofu, salad, pork chop rice, beef noodle soup, even sticky rice rolls).

                                                                  I loved the beef & tendon noodle soup at A&J in Cupertino but it seems to have closed in the last year.

                                                                  Vien Huong in Oakland has great chow jew/Teochew ho fun which definitely reminds me of Taiwan -- my favorite noodles growing up.