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A day in Chinatown (I'm a local)[San Francisco]

I've been thinking about planning a few culinary adventures this year right in my hometown. I've lived here for nearly 20 years and have only ducked in and out of some neighborhoods never getting much of an authentic experience.

My first attempt is a day in the heart of Chinatown.

General plan is...
Take MUNI to Chinatown
Reflexology
Dim Sum
Shop
Late lunch (duck would be nice)
More exploring and walking
Cocktail hour
Dinner
Cocktail Lounge
Go home

Recommendations would be great. Just to clarify though...I've lived here for 20 years and consider myself pretty adventurous and knowledgeable about our restaurants. So, even though Great Eastern might be your favorite dim sum, ideally I'm looking for something a little less obvious.

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  1. We usually get dim sum in the Richmond but when in Chinatown we go to Happy Chinese on Powell between Pacific and Broadway (next to the fire station). It's not a huge place and, although we're not Chinese, we're always treated very well --- especially when we order chicken feet :) And we really like the food.

    2 Replies
    1. re: c oliver

      thanks, co! I'm ready to try dim sum at Happy Chinese.
      1326 Powell Street

      I still like Dol Ho for dim sum
      808 Pacific

      Late Lunch: have roast duck at Kam Po Kitchen
      801 Broadway

      1. re: Cynsa

        We went to Dol Ho for years. Like HC more and it got to the point that the cart ladies were just too surly. And we're not particularly sensitive to that.

    2. Sounds like a fun day! Would you be by yourself?

      A useful thread from a few years ago: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/822325

      Waverly St. -- north part has good architecture, look up
      Portsmouth Square, St. Mary's square

      Shopping : Wok shop; Mow Lee for Chinese sausages
      Snacks: Bok Tong Go at Louie's Dim Sum http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/915548 ; Ross Alley for fortune cookie factory;
      Wandering shopping: fight for space at grocery stores or meat shops

      7 Replies
      1. re: hyperbowler

        Nope, hoping my wife is as excited as I am.

        Good call on the Ross Alley fortune cookie factory. I've been meaning to check it out.

        Will try to fit in some of these other great ideas...thanks.

        1. re: jacksonkev

          Go easy on the carbs and fried items lest the day get cut short after dim sum!

          Lai Hong is good for menu dim sum http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/866408, but cart dim-sum recs in in Chinatown:
          http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/913394

          Cantonese fried chicken at New Woey Loy Goey http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/9097...

          1. re: hyperbowler

            I never eat any fried dim sum items!

          2. re: hyperbowler

            Definitely The Wok Shop http://www.wokshop.com/store/main.php

            I ALWAYS go in there. Walk slowly down the right side of the store all the way to the back and then just as slowly back up the other side. She has everything!

          3. This sounds fun! I'm wondering if you're committed to having the first meal be dim sum. Could it potentially be a different sort of Chinese breakfast place? I don't really have anywhere specific in mind, but it could open up some new options.

            Comstock Saloon isn't Chinese, and it's just on the border with Chinatown, but it could be good for Cocktail Hour.

            If there's room, you could try Cool Tea Bar for boba tea. It's mentioned here: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/913021 and is also getting good reviews on Yelp. I've been meaning to try it but haven't been yet.

            New Woey Loy Goey would be fun for dinner. Lobster could be a good choice. I loved the pork chops I had there: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/909754

            For dim sum, I liked Lai Hong Lounge the two times I went, so if you haven't been there, it could be a good choice. Though I feel like there could be some more interesting options.

            Definitely agree w/ the recs to visit the Wok Shop!

            Dave MP

            18 Replies
            1. re: Dave MP

              Agreed...any breakfast option is fine with me. Not sure about options and thought it would be good to start strong instead of fishing around hungry and half asleep.

              Good call on Comstock Saloon. I was thinking about Li Po for cocktails...never been but it looks like fun too.

              My reflexology research hasn't turned up much. I may save the time and walk around and explore instead.

              1. re: jacksonkev

                A suggestion would be to have Chinese breakfast - rice porridge and the youtiao (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Youtiao). The "clean" flavor of porridge and the fried dough balance each other out. I don't have suggestions where to get it though since I just eyeball places for freshness.

                Then stop for "big" dim sum along the way at places like Good Mong Kok. By big I mean the ginormous sized pork buns or sui mai you can get at to-go or hole in the wall dim sum places. I like the pork buns at Good Mong Kok, but they sell out early (~11am). Good way to snack your way through Chinatown!

                  1. re: jacksonkev

                    Also for shopping, I'm a HUGE fan of Ming Lee Trading Co @ 759 Jackson St. The upstairs smaller shop has tons of Chinese snacks and candies, but I am obsessed with the downstairs. Take the doorway next to the candy entrance and go down the steps into a very large (for Chinatown standards) Chinese shop with all sorts of dried goods.

                    I go here for all my obscure sauces, spices, noodles, whatever. It's reminiscent of stores in Hong Kong like Welcome and very spacious and clean (again, Chinatown standards). Good stop if you're interested in looking at food items :)

                    1. re: bobabear

                      I will check out Ming Lee for sure!

                1. re: jacksonkev

                  The reflexology place across the street from Great Eastern and Z & Y is good. We go there once in a while.

                  My recommendation: Go to reflexology before dinner at Z & Y.

                2. re: Dave MP

                  I was going to mention New Woey Loy Goey -- and Dave MP has already linked to my post about the place above.

                  So you know, I did return with a group and the followup visit was just as good.

                  1. re: pauliface

                    I just have to comment that every time I see that name it makes me smile :)

                    1. re: c oliver

                      Back in the 60's (before it had a "New" in the name we called it "Gooey Louie," which we would sing out to the tune of "Louie Louie" but I had a GF who had a classier name for it. She just called it "That Huey Dewey Louie place."

                  2. re: Dave MP

                    Comstock Saloon makes a nice cocktail, but one you could get in many of the better cocktail bars in SF. If I were arranging a day in Chinatown, I'd get a cocktail at the Empress of China bar, which is on the top floor of the building on Grant. The late-afternoon views of Coit Tower are more remarkable than the cocktails, but the slightly dusty opulence of the pavilion decor makes it a worthwhile stop.

                    Happy hour is 3 - 6 p.m., 50% off drinks and apps. I'd get a drink but no food there.

                    http://empressofchinasf.com/bar.html

                    1. re: pane

                      Wow....that's what I'm talking about! Thanks!

                      1. re: pane

                        Thanks for starting this thread, very good resource. So much fun playing tourist in one's hometown! As an actual tourist, I've spent a bit of time in C'town, though it's been a while since we've eaten there. The salt and pepper squid at Utopia used to be outstanding. Maybe Bow Hon for the raw fish salad? Even if you don't eat at Dol Ho, you could get some of their hot sauce to take home. We had quite a nice tea tasting at one of the tea shops on Grant (Red Blossom, maybe. It was quite modern looking inside).

                        The Chinese museum is worth a fiver http://www.chsa.org/visit/ Also maybe the Buddhist temples (there's one on Waverly or see http://www.yelp.ca/search?cflt=buddhi... ). Don't forget the kite shop! http://www.yelp.ca/biz/chinatown-kite...

                        Have fun.

                        1. re: grayelf

                          From what I've been told recently, Bow Hon has taken a severe nose dive for raw fish salad & should probably be avoided (a shame as years ago it was terrific). Other places outside of C'town get good ratings (Kirin for example in the Richmond district).

                          1. re: RWCFoodie

                            Thanks for the downturn warning, RWC, sorry to hear that.

                            1. re: grayelf

                              Yes, I was sorry to hear it too... Have great memories of enjoying it there.

                            2. re: RWCFoodie

                              Ditto the clay pot dishes. Utopia Cafe is looked on as the best choice for those nowadays.

                          2. re: pane

                            +1 for Empress of China!

                            I did exactly that once.
                            Decided to check it out at dusk.
                            We had a couple of lovely cocktails as the light changed.
                            Views are excellent.

                            And 'dusty opulence' is the perfect description. I could do no better...

                            We did not try the food either.

                        2. peking duck at z&y is great, and they are open in the afternoon.

                          1. Thanks for all of the great recommendations so far. It's hard to pick and choose...so, I'll probably let my stomach and feet decide day of but here's my early plan...

                            Dim Sum or Poridge
                            Good Mong Kok Bakery, Delicious Dim Sum, Dol Ho (old school), Lai Hong Lounge (if we sit down)

                            Shop
                            Wok Shop, Fortune Cookie Factory, Ming Lee Trading Co, Red Blossom Tea

                            Late lunch (duck would be nice)
                            Kam Po Kitchen

                            More exploring and walking
                            Waverly St. Architecture, Tin How Temple, Chinatown Kite Shop

                            Cocktail hour
                            Empress of China (3-6 happy hour...views)

                            Dinner
                            New Woey Loy Goey,

                            Cocktail Lounge
                            Li Po

                            Go home and sleep like a baby.

                            15 Replies
                            1. re: jacksonkev

                              Thank you for posting this great thread.

                              I am totally going to steal this day and do it myself on an upcoming weekend!

                              There's nothing better than a vacation in your own town.

                              To that end, I'm wondering:

                              Do any of you know and love the Adah Bakalinsky book "Stairway Walks In San Francisco?"
                              It might be interesting to annotate one or more of those walks with Chowhound-approved food stops that are on the route.

                              1. re: pauliface

                                There are no businesses on the stairway walks I've taken, and most of them begin and end quite a few blocks uphill from the nearest significant food destinations.

                                Many of them are uphill from North Beach and/or Polk St., so there are lots of great options for food and drink. The ones uphill from Castro, less so.

                                1. re: pauliface

                                  I keep a google map that overlaps my food todo and likes list with the walks from Adah Bakalinsky book "Stairway Walks In San Francisco" I'd post those maps, but she deserves to have people buy her books!

                                  Unless I altered her paths, here's my suggestions at a quick glance based on what people tend to talk about on here and/or my own interests. All of these are either on her walks or a block or two from.

                                  Walk #1 is the only one that includes lots of Chowhound-worthy restaurants. The others are mostly in residential neighborhoods, and if you're lucky, have one or two destination spots. Most have no businesses whatsoever.

                                  Walk #1, which includes FiDi, a bit of Chinatown, North Beach, and Telegraph Hill. To name a few, it contains Wayfare Tavern, Empress of China, Bocadillos, Naked Lunch, and Cotogna along the way, and encompasses the area where R&G is. Yank Sing is right near the beginning of the walk.

                                  Walk 2, Telegraph Hill, includes Albona

                                  Walk 20 (the one including the Seward Slides depending on edition) is just next to Firefly

                                  Nob Hill walk would include Tonga Room (if that's your thing...)

                                  Greens is an easy step away from the Marina walk

                                  Pizzeria Delfina and Troya aren't far from the walk that includes Alta Plaza Park

                                  Anda Piroshki and Avedano's are right next to one of the Bernal Walks

                                  Anchor Brewing company (M-F daytime tours) is on the Portero Hill walk)

                                  All Season is on the Diamond Heights walk, making this a great Dim Sum/walk combo

                                  The Ferry Building is a good starting point to do the Mission Bay walk in her newest edition

                                  1. re: hyperbowler

                                    Wow! So it's already been done!
                                    This is truly the best sightseeing book for our city.

                                    I agree, don't post the maps.
                                    I will annotate my book with your suggestions.

                                    Thanks, HB!

                                    1. re: hyperbowler

                                      Where is there a stairway walk near Mission Bay (which is about two miles from the Ferry Building)? It's all flat around there until you get to Potrero Hill.

                                      1. re: hyperbowler

                                        I'd rather eat where I walk, than walk where I eat. I hope to find some undiscovered gem where I happen to be walking, riding, driving like the little diner in Colorado Springs that I spied on a cab ride back to the Antler's Hilton.

                                        1. re: hyperbowler

                                          Definitely, pauliface--- the book is a treasure, and, a great way to experience neighborhoods on and off the beaten path.

                                          Robert: She exhausted SF's stairways in her previous editions and added a completely flat walk because she's fond of the recent changes to Mission Bay. It's a pretty walk.

                                        2. re: pauliface

                                          I agree, great book for exploring SF hoods. For visitors, I always recommend that they walk from Ferry Bldg to Filbert steps up and over to N Beach/Chinatown. It's a great view of the bay from Telegraph Hill and easy access to all of the hoods that are hard to park in. Then you can explore to your heart's content without worrying about the meter.

                                          1. re: rubadubgdub

                                            Great tip on the Adah B. book. I will have to see if I can find it when I'm in town. 1-2 months to ship it in Canada :-(. Any book stores left near Union Square?? My experiences in SF are limited to Aadvark (love), Wm Stout (may have it) and Green Apple (kinda far).

                                            1. re: grayelf

                                              You can get it in SF.
                                              City Lights in North Beach should have it.
                                              You could also try Books Inc, closest to Union Square is 601 Van Ness.
                                              Why not call ahead and see if they have it, then reserve a copy and pick it up when you get here?

                                              1. re: pauliface

                                                Any book store will special order just about any book if they don't have it.

                                                There's a Borders near Union Square as well. Alexander Book Company is on 2nd if you prefer an independent retailer. Most Chowhounders end up near the Mission at some point, where there are plenty of bookstores along 16th, and 24th.

                                                1. re: sugartoof

                                                  There is no Border's anywhere now.

                                                2. re: pauliface

                                                  City Lights then drinking at Vesuvio is perfect.

                                                  1. re: bbulkow

                                                    Thanks for the tips -- there was a book store along Powell that closed but looks like Borders is there now. I would prefer to buy from an independent seller if poss but good to know it is nearby. And since we haven't been to City Lights in years and never Vesuvio, why not?

                                                    1. re: grayelf

                                                      The Borders closed, it's now a shoe store (DSW). There aren't much books stores left near Union Square. There is Chronicle Books over at the Moscone Center (but they sell only their books), and I think Alexander Book Co. on 3rd & Market. Book Passage over at Ferry Terminal building has a decent selection.

                                        3. Cocktails would be:

                                          15 Romolo (probably the best actual cocktails)

                                          Vesiuvo ( don't have a selection, but they have that beat atmosphere - get the irish coffee on a cold day )

                                          Li Po Lounge - actually chinese style - I have never been in there and always wanted to, based on the neon. Can't actually recommend it!

                                          Comstock is reputed to be good of course, I never really liked the previous inhabitant of that space so have an irrational dislike.

                                          7 Replies
                                          1. re: bbulkow

                                            Comstock did a major restoration / remodeling of that space, it doesn't look or feel much like the old SF Brewing Co.

                                            1. re: bbulkow

                                              Li Po is a dive bar. I wouldn't go so far to call it "Chinese style" even with some decor accents. In keeping with the Chinatown theme, it's a great choice. Buddha Lounge is nearby, and both serve Mai Tai's

                                              Comstock has nothing to do with the last place. They kept the fans and built out seating into the brewing part that used to be a barber shop. Drinks are good, and strong. Food didn't wow me. It has the feeling of a place where consultants were brought in to design the menus, and they've all moved on to other projects.

                                              1. re: sugartoof

                                                Carlos Espinas was the chef at Comstock from the time it opened until this month.

                                                1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                  That explains that. My guess is he was barely there in the months working up to leaving too.

                                                2. re: sugartoof

                                                  Is Li Po the place that is known for their martinis?

                                                  1. re: chocolatetartguy

                                                    Don't think so. If it's known for anything, it's Mai Tai's, dice games and dance parties, and even that is making it sound more exciting than it is. I poked my head in a few weeks ago, and it looks like the shady characters have been replaced by tourists, and couples past their prime, all attempting to have wild dates. The place looks like a fantasy from the street, but the drinks are typical dive bar drinks, at best.

                                                    You might be thinking of Mr. Bing's. I wouldn't say they're known for anything.

                                                    The

                                                  2. re: sugartoof

                                                    Yes, let me say "chinatown style" not "chinese style"

                                                    I know comstock has nothing to do with SF Brewing Co. I hold an irrational grudge, which is the only reason I haven't been in.

                                                3. is Tosca too North Beach and not enough CT for cocktails?

                                                  1 Reply
                                                  1. re: Cynsa

                                                    Was thinking about Tosca but we'll save that for my North Beach day...

                                                  2. A bit of a drift but still Chinatown-centric...are there any Chinese American diners (serving both American meals and Chinese) left besides Pacific Court and New Lun Ting Cafe (aka Pork Chop House)?

                                                    2 Replies
                                                    1. re: ML8000

                                                      In Chinatown, ABC, Cafe Honolulu, Little Garden, New Regent, Washington Cafe.

                                                      1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                        I'd call those "sai chan" houses, serving Hong Kong-style Western food, not truly segregated offerings places like Jackson Cafe, Sun Tai Sam Yuen and Uncle's used to have. .