Hong Kong style food in SF
I will be traveling to SF in a few weeks. I have searched the boards for the best Hong Kong style food. So far the most I have come up with is Yuet Lee for HK seafood. I am not that familiar with HK style food other than dim sum. Recommendations needed please.
Thanks in advance.
Yank Sing is worth the price for the best dim sum.
The best HK-style food is in the suburbs. Yum's Bistro for seafood:
Cooking Papa for other things:
Many people recommend Koi Palace in Daly City for both dim sum and dinner, but I would not go back unless I was with a regular.
Its a tricky question because as you have discovered Hong Kong style food can mean dim sum or seafood or BBQ or other dishes. It is tough to find a place that would be the best at all of them. If money is not an issue your best bet might be at Koi Palace just south of SF.
Yes, if you are not very familiar with HK style food, what led you to this type of food initially? Dimsum? Robert provided good suggestions that covers some of the 'HK styles' available in the bay area.
HK style food can mean many styles: dimsum, cha chan teng, dai pai dong, soy sauce western, congee, noodles, seafood, banquet, claypot, roast meat, chiuchow, shundak, poon choi, etc etc.
There are a bunch of Cantonese noodle joints in the various Chinatowns of SF - the ones on Noriega between 19th and 37th Ave. are particularly HK-focused, though most of them have mixed reputations on this board. HK wonton noodles are far from my favorite Chinese noodle style and making the stock at home is likely fairly laborious* (and requires dried flounder, which you may not have an easy time finding outside of California), but these places should give an idea of the style.
*If you are really thinking of making the noodles from scratch...take my advice: don't. Cantonese noodle-making is a highly specialized industry and most home cooks buy noodles fresh from the noodle-maker.
Ming Tai, ABC Bakery Cafe, Won-Tun House all come to mind.
I personally have never tried to make this stock, but I'd imagine most Chinese grocery stores will have the dried flounder and noodles. If you can't find the fish there, try a Chinese herbalist. It looks like some cooks use dried shrimp instead of flounder.
Won ton noodles is a famous iconic bowl that has a lot of sentimental value to many, but it is by far the least interesting to me of all the varieties of egg noodle based Cantonese offerings out there.
I think several trips to Cooking Papa (Foster City is the closest one from SF ) and/or Fat Wong's in San Bruno/Millbrae might be a good eye opening experience, maybe supplemented with a few visits to a high end Cantonese seafood restaurant during lunch, but instead of focusing on dim sum, to order a few plates or bowls of carb based noodle dishes (soup or stir fry or both) and get a taste of the spectrum.
If you are using the generic category of Cantonese noodles, I recommend sampling a broader spectrum to include some iconic dishes/bowls that are very common and popular in Hong Kong (and with expats in SF Bay Area), and favorites
乾炒牛河 (dry fry beef chow fun) - flat sheets of rice noodles, soy sauce, bean sprouts, young yellow chives (not crucial but extra points if it is used), scallion, onion, oil, beef. It's not a fancy dish by any means, but a good typical way to measure wok hay/wok breath and stir fry skills. Not too easy to find a good version but easier than finding a half decent bowl of won ton noodles.
豉油皇炒麵 (soy sauce supreme stir fried noodles) - this is more of a better measurement of wok hay, commonly used by foodies in the know in Hong Kong. Entirely vegetarian in nature, and basically just soy sauce, noodles, sesame seeds, maybe onion, scallion, and bean sprouts. Lots of varying executions/results between establishments. This is the defining dish for chili sauce addicts to have an excuse to use ample chili sauce with....same with dry fry beef chow fun.
乾燒伊麵 - mostly a vegetarian based noodle dish, the noodles are called E-Fu noodles and are basically deep fried, dried, then rehydrated with superior broth or can be stir fried or sautéed/braised. The common version is vegetarian (mostly), but one can add crab or seafood to make it tastier and fun. Very unhealthy carb dish, but still somewhat iconic (though less so than the others)
撈麵 - Lo mein. This is basically brothless egg noodles (broth usually served on the side). And frankly the best way to measure the quality of the egg noodles, particularly if made with bamboo pole and you want to be able to taste the texture. Think of it as basically Cantonese pasta al dente. The toppings can vary and you choose. Some like the traditional braised beef brisket and tendons because the brisket gravy also makes the noodles taste good (in place of using lard, which some old school places do in Hong Kong). Braised/stewed pork knuckles is also a nice one, but not easy to find in SF Bay Area. Then in places like Lau Sam Kee in Hong Kong they have black booktripe and goose intestines you can pair it with. Wontons and their larger cousin (shui gow) are also safe bets. Unfortunately unavailable in SF Bay Area is the classic dried prawn roe, sprinkled over the brothless noodles. Guess one's next best thing would be to get the spaghetti with bottarga at La Ciccia, but that's a completely different animal. The benefit of ordering brotheless noodles is that you get a side of broth that is more concentrated and heavier in flavor, and not diluted from adding won tons, brisket etc.
Clear broth brisket noodles - in HK there are specialty shops that focus on clear broth brisket alone (not many). In SF Bay Area nobody specializes in it, but some do it better than others (e.g. Cooking Papa and Fat Wong's)
Noodles you can essentially pick at Cooking Papa (egg noodle, ho fun rice noodle etc).
At CP/FW, they also have a lineup of fish broth based noodles, which I believe is more of a Shunde Cantonese influence. It's quite creamy white and refreshing, but you have to simplify the toppings/proteins to go with it, or else the flavors will clash. They also serve the fish broth noodles typically with a thinner slightly chewy rice noodle, like a much thinner udon, yet very slippery and hard to pick up with chopsticks at times, but is a good pairing with this style of broth. It is definitely worth trying to add further to one's perspective.
Then there is pan fried noodles. My personal favorite is 肉絲煎麵 - pan fried noodles with young yellow chives, shitake mushrooms, bean sprouts, pork strips. Another excuse to use chili sauce when appropriate. The noodles are crispy, and should be golden browned on both sides, and made to look like a placemat, beneath the topping. If a restaurant is super high end or willing, they should serve the noodle separate so you control the amount of topping (and moisture). Some prefer the sauce and flavor to penetrate the noodle, and some light it crispy. You would be surprised how different this dish tastes from restaurant to restaurant.
The stir fry noodle dishes can be ordered practically anywhere in varying consistency, from the blue collar noodle/rice plate shops to high end dim sum seafood restaurants. Some will have fancier preps/ingredients.
For wonton noodle soup, KK's post in this thread will give you a good idea on what makes a bowl of wonton noodle soup great:
The thread also has lots of recs for around the bay area.
Charles Yu's post on the Hong Kong board linked in that thread also has great information.
There are also beef stew noodle soup, fried noodles, lo mein, ho fun (wide rice noodle), mai fun (narrow rice noodle), etc. let us know what type of noodle u want to try.
I made wonton at home before. just get the skin and fresh noodles from the grocery stores and you can make great quality fillings yourself. for the broth, grab some dried tile fish while you are here and u can use that to make broth the traditional way. though if i am making it at home, i am perfectly happy with any good stock.
as a side note, the best tasting type of noodle used in wonton noodle soup is made with a bamboo pole. though most noodle out there these days are not done this way any more because its too laborious and costly. and the traditional art is dying because younger people don't really want to do it any more. its obviously not practical to make noodle this way at home
Making the noodle for wonton noodle from scratch the old fashion way is a work of love. Bourdain had a segment in his episode in Hong Kong where it showed an old master making noodles with a bamboo pole. its beautiful and poetic.
An important question is your geographic bounds. When you say San Francisco, do you mean anywhere in the metropolitan area, anywhere in the city itself, or anywhere in the vicinity of downtown/Chinatown. It's an important question because most of the best choices are suburban in places like Daly City, Santa Clara, Fremont, Foster City, etc. Narrowing yourself to San Francisco limits you more, and if you're talking downtown, your choices are really cut down. In any case I wouldn't put Yuet Lee with the best in any event. If you're talking downtown/Chinatown your best choices are R&G Lounge and Lai Hong Lounge. Further out in the city someplace like Hong Kong Lounge would be an excellent choice.
Thanks for the outstanding post. That helps me alot.
My friend tends to like stir fried noodle dishes. I have had alot of experience with "Chinese" food but having difficulty identifying what's from HK and what's not.
As far as geographic limits, it would be preferable to stay in the actual city of SF itself; however, I would be willing to travel for anything extraordinary.
If you plan on staying several days to more than a week in SF, I suggest you try to cover the following (in additional to noodles) to get an idea of some iconic Hong Kong foods, as "best" represented by SF Bay Area, although still somewhat limited
BBQ/roasties - BBQ pork/cha siu, roast duck, empress chicken or soy sauce chicken etc. For SF I would recommend bringing your Hong Kong friend and go to a neighborhood deli like Ming Kee on Ocean Ave. Dine in, bring cash, and order entrée plates of roasties (have him do it). Ordering roasties rice plates will not guarantee you the best quality...better if you get individual plates of them. If you are lucky Ming may have roast goose available, but results vary. Soy sauce chicken here is excellent and a signature. Your other option is Koi Palace (Daly City) for super high end versions where you pay more. If you can drum up enough people in your party, preorder a whole suckling pig with crispy skin...quite the decadence. Otherwise you could get a plate of suckling pig crispy skin...pricey for a small amount, though a drop in experience vs the whole piglet.
Cheung Hing on Noriega is a local favorite, but the butchers are not from Hong Kong, but Toishan/Southern China (the marinade is a lot more salt heavy in the animal proteins). Ming himself is a Hong Kong expat.
Seafood - an integral part of Hong Kong dining culture. Live/fresh from the tanks. Hong Kong has access to a myriad of choices, plentiful local seafood, and people are willing to pay for quality imported from all around the world (e.g. razor clams from Scotland/Ireland, grouper from Saba off the coast of Borneo/Malaysia, Alaskan King Crab)...but here in SF Bay Area our available choices are incredibly small in comparison. Koi Palace has the best variety of all the dim sum seafood restaurants, but your mileage could vary. Yum's Bistro in Fremont does some of the best crabs and lobsters. Steamed fish? Most places can do it, but can be a mixed bag. You can try the more downscale seafood restaurants in town, e.g. KL on Balboa, Brother Seafood on Irving, check what's in the tanks, ask what's on the white board (assuming your friend reads Chinese and knows how to order). The trick is to find seafood that is of good quality, in season, and a restaurant with a chef that knows how to prepare and suggest multiple ways to you that suits the needs. S&T on Noriega could be a decent option for mid end seafood.
Stir fry - kind of hard to categorize...these aren't exactly small plates, but aren't big plates either. Wok stir fried food can be sometimes hearty, but really hits the spot. Very typical blue collar grassroots level neighborhood style eats even in Hong Kong, and the best is finding a place that has good wok stir fry skills AND seafood. Salt pepper fried squid, pineapple spare ribs / sweet & sour pork (the best is no excess goopy sauce like the Americanized version), soy sauce supreme stir fried prawns, salt pepper spareribs or porkchops, maggi duck tongues, ginger scallion crab or lobster, black bean sauce clams. Basically affordable hot good stuff that washes down brilliantly with an ice cold Tsing Tao beer. And if the stir fry is seafood themed, what better way to end the meal than with the vegetarian soy sauce supreme fried noodles dish (best habit to have). Cooking Papa does a little of this to some degree, but Yum's Bistro really has the best stir fry skills in town to do high end and low end under the same roof. Brother Seafood has some decent stir fry dishes as well. Part of it is also the attitude, and the vibe that comes from the food, which is hard to explain. The rest is
Claypot dishes - quite a bit of variety here. You can easily find them at the affordable Cantonese restaurants across the Sunset district. Stuff that is a must with plain rice.
Congee / jook / porridge - a carb group of its own. Cooking Papa and Fat Wong's does pretty good congee. If you want to kick it up many notches, get a whole Dungeness crab or lobster or geoduck congee at Koi Palace, but you will need more people to partake and finish.
Hong Kong café/Hong Kong style western and fusion mixed in with Cantonese - kind of hard to explain this style of food, but is not too different than yoshoku or western food that is localized for Japanese. The best contender right now in SF is Smile Café on Taraval. Really eclectic stuff, and maybe your Hong Kong friend will feel totally at home here. Focus on the dishes that are a tad more fusion. Not too much in the way of noodle dishes. Be adventurous and you may find something interesting.