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San Fran Quickie -- China and Southeast Asia!

Hi,

I'm doing a business trip to San Francisco next week. I'd very much appreciate recommendations for "the best":

1) Chinese -- Szechuan, Hunan are faves
2) Southeast Asian -- Cambodian, Lao, Vietnamese, Indonesian if it's worth it there
3) Mexican -- mom and pop, even trucks

Thanks!

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  1. Doing a quick search for any of the cuisines you mention should help you out. But some immediate ideas that come to mind, all in SF proper, are:

    Z&Y - Sichuan/Yunnan in Chinatown
    Burmese Kitchen, Mandalay or BStar - Burmese
    Champa Garden - Laotian in Sunnyside
    Angkor Borei - Cambodian in Mission/Bernal

    62 Replies
    1. re: Dave MP

      Yunnan at Z&Y was disappointing and I'm not sure the current chef even does any of those dishes.

      1. re: Robert Lauriston

        Oops, okay, I am behind the times.

        But it's still good for Sichuan!

      2. re: Dave MP

        Champa Garden isn't Sunnyside. It's closer to Ingleside.

        1. re: Dave MP

          Thank you, and everyone else, for responding. Do you have any opinions about these places?

          (Cambodian)
          Battambang

          (Lao)
          Sontepheap Market (Oakland)
          Lao Market (Oakland)

          (Chinese)
          Jai Yun
          China Village (Szechuan)
          Kingdom of Dumpling (on Taraval)
          Old Mandarin Islamic Restaurant
          Beijing Restaurant (Yao Min's fave!)
          Koi Palace
          Little Sheep Mongolian Hot Pot

          Is there something better than Z&Y for Yunnan?

          Thanks!

          1. re: guanubian

            Lots of these places are very spread out. How much driving are you willing to do and how many meals do you have? Are you dining alone?

            Recent Battambang reviews: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/914107

            Are you looking for any specific dishes from Yunnan or Hunan province? There are a few restaurants with "Hunan" in the name, but aren't any restaurants specifically devoted to those cuisines. Either way, I think you'd have a better time focussing on the cuisines SF has more competition for.

            1. re: hyperbowler

              The Hunan / Henry's Hunan chain specializes in Hunan dishes. Here's a useful blog by a guy who ate his way through the whole menu, he finished ten years ago but the menu has changed little if at all:

              http://greasepig.com/henrys/

              1. re: Robert Lauriston

                My experience at traditional Hunan restaurants is limited to one place (that wasn't very good). Other than the smoked ham dishes, what at Henry's is Hunan in origin?

                My reading of that blog a few years ago was that the chef gave a unique spin on American Chinese dishes, and even offers some inventions such as the Diana's Special Meat Pie, but that there wasn't much that a person interested in Hunan food would seek out.

                1. re: hyperbowler

                  My usual dishes at Hunan are the smoked ham, hot and sour beef, and eggplant salad. They're not variations on anything I've had elsewhere. When the original place opened in 1974, nobody else was making anything like the onion cake or dumplings, or making food as spicy as they did.

                  Has a more traditional Hunan place come along in recent years? Hunan's Home isn't.

                  1. re: Robert Lauriston

                    Not in San Francisco, but Shao Mountain in Fremont is excellent for Hunan. Here's the chowdown report,
                    http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/890830

                    I've heard about a new place that will be opening in the City, trying to get more details.

                    1. re: Melanie Wong

                      @Melanie -- do you have a list off the top of your head of places in fremont that do a certain region/style of chinese food significantly better than in SF proper? thanks.

                      1. re: Dustin_E

                        Darda just past Fremont in Milpitas for Muslim Chinese.

                        1. re: Dustin_E

                          Good question, and I'm not of much help. I started a new thread here,
                          http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/917519

                          For as much as you like Yum's Bistro (I do too!), I'm wondering if you've tried Hakka in the City? Not as much variety, but some outstanding dishes there too.

                          1. re: Melanie Wong

                            thanks for the rec -- i have not tried hakka (but will try to make a point of doing so.)

                2. re: hyperbowler

                  I know almost nothing about Yunnan food and not all that much about Hunan. I've very happily thrown darts at Hunan menus here in NYC and want to explore it more. I like the idea of Yunnan because I'm a Chinese food lover and Southeast Asian food fanatic and I think, coming from a liminal province in the region, that cuisine should serve me well. (I also lose my mind in the presence of durian.)

                  I'm dependent on cabs and public transportation, but somewhat fanatical about this kind of food, so I'll make the effort.

                  1. re: guanubian

                    I was so disappointed in the Yunnan dishes at Z&Y that I read up on the cuisine and got the impression that it's famous mostly for dishes that depend on perishable ingredients that aren't available elsewhere.

                3. re: guanubian

                  How are you getting around? Are you eating alone or with other people? Where are you coming from?

                  Jai Yun is not suitable for a solo diner (I don't think he even allows solo diners). It's also very expensive (think tasting menu prices), which your dining companions might not be up for if they aren't really keen on Chinese cuisine.

                  If you're using public transit, I would focus on places like Z&Y (Chinatown) and Battambang (Oakland, but right across from a BART station). Burmese is a must, I think, since it's strong here and very rare elsewhere. Vietnamese can be quite good (Bodega Bistro, Turtle Tower).

                  The two Lao markets you listed are in the middle of nowhere public transit-wise, but if you have a car, they're also only a few blocks from ground-zero of the Oakland Mexican scene (http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/728770). Fruitvale itself is accessible by BART. I suppose you could take a bus (the 1 International) or taxi from there to the markets. Note finally that a lot of these places close early-ish. A good portion of the places in Fruitvale are closed by 8 p.m. and the neighborhood is not particularly nice for walking after dark.

                  1. re: Ruth Lafler

                    Hi,

                    I'm getting around by cab or public transit.

                    I will be a solo diner on the weekend and joined by one or two companions on days during the week.

                    Thank you for raising Burmese to the fore. I didn't know it was strong there and I absolutely crave well-done Burmese cuisine. In NYC, where I'm coming from, it is, and for some time has been, non-existent. What in your opinion is the must-have Burmese? So far three names have been mentioned: Burmese Kitchen, Mandalay and BStar.

                    1. re: guanubian

                      If Burmese is of special interest to you, I suggest that you go to Little Yangon in Daly City. It's barely across the city limits from San Francisco. You can take the bus there or take BART to Daly City and walk to the restaurant. Here's more about it.
                      http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/664413

                      1. re: Melanie Wong

                        If Little Yangon's too much of a schlep, go to Burmese Kitchen.

                        1. re: Melanie Wong

                          Thanks, Melanie. This is a great suggestion.

                          1. re: Melanie Wong

                            What are the dishes that you particularly like at Little Yangon? When we ate there about 6 months ago, we didn't think it was any better than our other favorite options (Burmese Kitchen, Mandalay), but I wonder if we just didn't order the best things?

                              1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                Yep, I've read that discussion. Seems like people like the food here, although it's a bit mixed. But my question is: What are the dishes that are particularly good at Little Yangon that are better than what I can get at my regular spots in SF? What are the reasons why someone would suggest this place over others?

                                  1. re: Dave MP

                                    I think all of the dishes I liked at Little Yangon were the best versions I've had.

                            1. re: guanubian

                              BStar is the more fusiony sibling of Burma Super Star, which has several branches. The consensus seems to be that Burma Super Star is coasting on its popularity. If you have time, I'd trust Melanie's suggestions.

                              1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                Here's a link to grayelf's post on Little Yangon (and other attractions),
                                http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/885048

                              2. re: guanubian

                                You're right about he void of Burmese in NY, but many of the popular places here had their moment, and are no longer all that good. The Tea Salads are really the only fairly safe dish you'll find, and the rest will be so-so with hints of the greatness that made Burmese a popular phenomenon in SF.

                                Then there's strangeness like Mandalay's self name Mandalay Chicken, which is essentially Chinese lemon chicken nougats made with another flavor. It's a highly regarded dish for some reason.

                                One place I am curious about is Yamo.

                                1. re: sugartoof

                                  Sad to hear, but given said void of Burmese food in NYC, I may well be delighted with Burmese that is merely solid. Obviously I'm looking for the best bet, but I might perceive good to be great.

                                  1. re: guanubian

                                    Since Melanie linked to our Little Yangon mini Chowdown, I'll bob in to say a couple of things as a fellow tourist mad for Burmese. Burmese Kitchen seemed to take a dip after four or five great meals there over several trips. Mandalay has done us proud for both lunches and dinners but you *must* take care to only order the actual Burmese dishes -- the staff will help if they see you are sincere, or crib from the many posts. Burma Superstar was a bust for us -- down at heels, cramped, lineup even at 2 pm on a weekday but most importantly, indifferent food. That was one visit, mind. I'm still thinking about that marinated shrimp dish at Little Yangon, so I think it will be on the list again for November. It really is close to the BART station.

                                    I'm also obsessed with nam khao and Lao sausage. I was lucky enough to try both at Vientian in Oakland several trips ago and now find it's a must visit. It is I fear rather challenging to get to even by car, alas. We are considering checking out the new Champa Garden referenced above as an alternative...

                                    1. re: grayelf

                                      I've heard really mixed things about the SF Champa Garden, but they just opened so may get their act together soon.

                                      1. re: grayelf

                                        +1 for grayelf's caution about Mandalay and the caution that "you must take care to only order the actual Burmese dishes".

                                        A friend was recently a guest at a dinner there at which none of the classic dishes were ordered: no Balada with curry dipping sauce, no Tea Leaf salad, no Samusa soup.

                                        From what he told me, the person ordering did so from the more Chinese side of the menu. He was terribly unimpressed and to add insult to injury, he didn't pay close enough attention to the parking meter and got a $64 ticket...

                                        1. re: RWCFoodie

                                          And don't forget the wonderful pepper soup at Mandalay. I'd go back just for that!

                                          1. re: grayelf

                                            Tks grayelf for the reminder - I had forgotten about that pepper soup!

                                            1. re: grayelf

                                              I finally got back to Mandalay after a few years hiatus. The tea leaf salad is still the best out of them, Burmese Kitchen, Burma Superstar, Inya Lake, and Little Yangon. The samosa soup was good but is best at BSS by a long mile, IMO. I also enjoyed the noodles in the Mandalay House Noodles but I thought the lemongrass overpowered the overall dish.

                                        2. re: guanubian

                                          That's the thing. None of the SF Burmese places are really solid right now. Order carefully or you can end up with a meal that tastes like mediocre versions of other Asian cuisines, so it's not even as if you benefit from the new experience. Instead the food will taste familiar, yet lacking. Specials on the menu can lead you astray.

                                          My suggestion is to go with a very limited order in mind.

                                          1. re: sugartoof

                                            Some Burmese places have a bunch of Indian and Chinese dishes on the menu, which from what I've read reflects the everyday diet in Burma. Generally one could find better versions of those dishes at an Indian or Chinese restaurant, but that doesn't mean the restaurant is bad.

                                            It's similar to going to a Sichuan place with a bunch of standard Chinese-American dishes on the menu, you just have to order the right things.

                                            1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                              How is it similar? If those dishes are a part of Burmese cuisine, they're not including dishes out of their expertise, so much as we're just used to superior versions elsewhere. If it means the majority of the menu will be sub-par, including supposed specials (Mandalay, I'm looking at you), then it certainly is a reflection of whether a restaurant is good or bad. There are a lot of places in the Bay where we specify they're worth visiting for a single dish or a few dishes - I think Burmese needs be approached that way.

                                              The defense of Szechuan places that can't execute the majority of their menus is another topic entirely.

                                              1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                Robert is totally right about this. Due to its location, Burma cuisine has some of its own dishes, but borrows heavily from Indian, Chinese and Thai cuisine in everyday life.

                                                1. re: Tripeler

                                                  That Burmese borrows from Indian, Chinese, and others isn't in contention. These dishes make up a large part of their menus, but they're not the equivalent of watered down Americanized Chinese food dishes.

                                                  1. re: sugartoof

                                                    Nan Yang, the Bay Areas first Burmese restaurant, put Chinese items on their menu to satisfy American customers:

                                                    "Fearing that not enough people would come to an exclusively Burmese restaurant, Chu divided the kitchen into three parts. A Chinese cook does the standard Chinese dishes, a chef from Hong Kong the seafood, and Chu and his family the Burmese food."

                                                    http://insidescoopsf.sfgate.com/blog/...

                                                    Which of the "Chinese" items on Burmese restaurant menus reflect China's influence on Burmese cuisine, and which were added in the US to appease the local clientele, I don't know. I'm fairly certain i know where the Mongolian Beef and Sesame Chicken on Mandalay's menu come from...

                                                    1. re: hyperbowler

                                                      Which is it? Burmese Cuisine has Chinese influences, or Burmese Restaurants added Chinese items foreign to their cuisine to satisfy Americans? It's not both.

                                                      1. re: sugartoof

                                                        Chinese stir-fries and Indian curries are part of the everyday cuisine in Burma.

                                                        Some restaurateurs who might prefer to specialize in uniquely Burmese dishes add Chinese and Indian dishes to appeal to a broader audience.

                                                        I'm pretty sure some restaurateurs also offer Chinese and Indian dishes because they and their Burmese customers like them. Burma Superstar features poodi on their T-shirts.

                                                        1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                          Once again, the idea that Americans are excusing mediocre food by intellectualizing these dishes as outsider dishes, or pandering to Americans borders on offensive. It's food that fits within the Burmese diet. The reality is, about 75% or more of what Burmese places put on their menus and serve, isn't very good.

                                                        2. re: sugartoof

                                                          Why can't it be both? Burmese restaurateurs don't need to make menu decisions in unison.

                                                          Have you had Mongolian Beef in Burma lately?

                                                          1. re: Melanie Wong

                                                            I haven't....Have you?

                                                            In the case of Monogolian Beef, several of it have included it on the menu, but I'm lost on your point over if they did it in unison or not. Can you explain?

                                                            1. re: sugartoof

                                                              Here is your question:
                                                              "Which is it? Burmese Cuisine has Chinese influences, or Burmese Restaurants added Chinese items foreign to their cuisine to satisfy Americans? It's not both."

                                                              Maybe I don't understand your question, as I don't understand why it has to be one or the other when we're talking about a multitude of restaurants. I see both in action.

                                                              1. re: Melanie Wong

                                                                My point may not have been clear, but I'm reacting to two conflicting excuses for why we're suggesting restaurants where the majority of their food is mediocre. It's more damning that it's not a single restaurant, but a multitude of them, and it's not like you can write off every Chinese or Indian dishes as the antithesis of Burmese Cuisine, or expect the average patron to distinguish between those dishes and Samusa Soup.

                                                                1. re: sugartoof

                                                                  I don't see them as conflicting so can't help you there.

                                                                  1. re: Melanie Wong

                                                                    Did you want to explain your point about eating Mongolian Beef in Burma, or why distinguishing between one restaurant and a phenomenon makes a difference? I really couldn't follow, but you were joining in for a reason, I'm sure.

                                                                    1. re: sugartoof

                                                                      hyperbowler's post is quite clear to me, but you seem to have some objections to it that are beyond my comprehension.

                                                                      Bumese has Chinese influences and its own style of Burmese-Chinese - I agree. Burmese restaurants in the US may also serve dishes such as Mongolian beef that are Chinese-American and so I wondered if you had found this dish in Burma to support your point.

                                                                      If your issue is that we should not recommend any restaurant where the majority of dishes are mediocre, then this would be a pretty silent board. To me one great dish can trump all. But I know not everyone feels that way, but this is Chowhound.

                                                                      1. re: Melanie Wong

                                                                        I've already said one dish can trump all, and said it very clearly. I believe that should be the approach to Burmese. I don't see the disclaimer made often enough with Burmese.

                                                                        It's not just the Americanized dishes you can write off as the problem, it's literally the majority of the menu, including specialties.

                                                      2. re: sugartoof

                                                        There are many restaurants where you can eat badly if you order the wrong dishes, e.g.:

                                                        Chinese or Indian dishes at Mandalay
                                                        Chinese-American dishes at China Village
                                                        Thai dishes at Champa Garden
                                                        pasta at Tommaso's
                                                        fancy preparations at Tadich

                                                        It's the same general rule: you have to know what to order to eat well.

                                                        1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                          That list strikes me as full of very individual opinions to you, not known rules of thumb....though yes, a pizza place is about the pizza.... It's not beyond a Chowhounder to find the one edible thing on a menu at a subpar restaurant and celebrate it if it's worthy.

                                        3. re: guanubian

                                          Those are all good except Koi Palace, which should be more consistent for the price.

                                          Sontepheap and Lao Market are grocery stores.

                                          Z&Y has two Yunnan dishes on the menu but they're not very interesting compared with their Sichuan dishes.

                                          1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                            Right, those two are markets. I guess I mentioned them because they might sell prepared foods or even have small eateries inside. And also I'm intrigued by the notion of "Hmong sausage"!

                                            1. re: guanubian

                                              I don't recall anything at those markets that was ready to eat. The sausage is raw.

                                              You can get the Hmong sausage at Lao restaurants.

                                          2. re: guanubian

                                            jai yun is great if you have companions who can handle the prices.

                                            kingdom of dumpling is great. worth the trip? depends.

                                            koi palace is good. worth the trip? depends.

                                            if you're into driving for chinese food, yum's bistro in fremont is worth looking into.

                                            1. re: Dustin_E

                                              I'll take Yank Sing over Koi Palace for dim sum.

                                              http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/7321...

                                              http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/5843...

                                              I would not go to KP for dinner again unless I went with someone who had connections.

                                              http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/7096...

                                              1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                i actually feel somewhat similarly, but i think KP is well-known and highly-regarded enough that the op should consider giving it a try and making up their own mind.

                                                1. re: Dustin_E

                                                  I think you hit it with your "it depends" comment. When you factor in the inconvience for a visitor with limited time, Yank Sing is clearly a better choice. And Yank Sing is highly regarded in its own right.