Bring Your Appetite to San Francisco's Potluck of Asian Restaurants
By Tom Molanphy
San Francisco Local Expert
Do you love Asian food? We do too, and that's why we dedicate ourselves to finding the best places to enjoy Asian cuisine in San Francisco. We've diligently scouted out the top eateries, and we've listened to our readers and their reviews of San Francisco restaurants. We share the places that get great buzz, like Tonga Room Hurricane Restaurant & Bar, and we showcase the ones that have proven themselves over time, like Slanted Door.
With so many fantastic restaurants to choose from, be sure to take the time to set your expectations for your meal. If you're only in San Francisco for four days, for example, you have four chances to find that signature meal that could very well be the most memorable experience of your trip. By offering many different Asian options in our list below - from Chinese to Japanese to Vietnamese to Korean to Thai - we've increased your odds of finding that fantastic meal. And offering restaurant recommendations to friends back home who plan to visit San Francisco is one of the best gifts you can give.
We also point out good neighborhoods for Asian restaurants in San Francisco - Nob Hill, for instance. When the craving hits, we'll make sure you get your fix!
Thep Phanom Thai Cuisine
A delightful atmosphere, friendly staff (in traditional Thai attire), and intriguing menu all contribute to the popularity of this Thai restaurant. Chef Pat Parikanont opened Thep Phanom Thai in the lower Haight Ashbury taking the name from a Thai angel. The menu offers a host of can't-miss dishes, including fried quail, honey-dressed duck, and fragrant seafood options, carefully spiced and impeccably prepared. Adding depth to the exotic, accomplished cuisine is a well-chosen wine list. Casual ambiance is customary in the relaxed, Victorian-home setting. Once the relaxed meal is over, you don't have to go far to find excitement: famous Haight Street is right outside. (415-431-2526)
Yukol Place Thai Cuisine
Yukol Place offers tasty Thai food in a simple setting with a quiet, relaxing atmosphere. Start with a fresh salad or a bowl of coconut soup to get the tastebuds acclimated. If you're there already, calamari salad with its zesty dressing packs a punch that's sure to please. To get a real sense of Thai flavors, try the Green Mango Salad with spicy tamarine sauce, grilled prawn, onion, coconut meat, apple and cashews. The standard pad Thai is also a good choice, and authentic Thai desserts give your sweet tooth a subtle, delicious treat. If you're looking to impress (affordably), Yukol is a must. (415-922-1599)
Tonga Room Hurricane Restaurant & Bar
The Tonga Room offers drinks, dancing, great Asian cuisine, and a festive atmosphere, including a simulated tropical rainstorm that shakes things up every twenty minutes. Expansive windows provide views of the bustling streetscape, and live music and dancing take place nightly. The popular restaurant and bar also host a well-attended happy hour with its own special buffet. If you're there for dinner, consider one of the "Tonga Traditions," such as Mongolian Beef Beef Tenderloin with Oyster Mushrooms and Crispy Rice Noodles in an Oyster Glaze. Order up a tropical cocktail, see what tasty treats are available, and relax after a long day. (415-772-5000)
An elegant decor sets the scene for delightful meals at this Korean restaurant. Delicious dishes come standard, and portions are served with a generous hand. For a bit of spectacle, full meals are prepared on a grill in the middle of the table, and food is divided among guests. The menu offers a number of choices, although barbecued meats and vegetables are consistently favored. But if you happen to have someone in your party not that much into BBQ, get an order of Bibimpop, a mixed vegetable dish with bean sprouts and mushrooms served over rice that should please just about anybody. (415-563-7664)
Nanking Road Bistro
When you need a break from Chinatown but still want yummy Chinese food, head to Nanking Road Bistro. Don't let the empty seats fool you - they do a tremendous catering business, so the restaurant is almost a side-venture. The consistent quality of the sweet and sour soup symbolizes their dedication to fresh ingredients cooked just right. After kicking off your meal with that signature soup, try their Sizzling Atlantic Salmon Filet & Asparagus, served with a black bean and garlic sauce and sake wine in a hot iron pot. Once the meal is over, you can head down Ninth Street straight into Golden Gate Park for an invigorating walk. ((415) 753-2900)
If you want an Asian restaurant with plenty of space and attentive service, Yamo's may not be for you. But if you'rw willing to sacrifice some of the atmospheric frills that accompany most residents for an excellent, thoughtful meal, then try Yamo's. Located in the city's ultra-hip and busy Mission District, Yamo's is a cramped place where take-out is the best plan. Be sure to sample the unique and popular tea-leaf salad. Noodles can be served either hot or cold. If you are able to find a seat, it's a delight to watch the cooks work their magic on the hot stoves. ((415) 553-8911)
House of Nanking
If you want a truly unique Asian dining experience, head to House of Nanking. But be prepared to put yourself into the hands of head chef/owner Peter Fang, who since 1988 has down his best to get patrons to ignore the menu and allow him to determine what's the best meal of the day. The service is brusque but effective, with servers not shy about trying to get the tables turned-over for the next group waiting in the very long line. But the unorthodox approach rarely fails. The Famous NanKing Sesame Chicken is a must order - even if it earns you a glare from Fang. ((415) 421-1429)
Mission Chinese Food
Locals swear this is the best Chinese food in the city - and the line out the front door every night supports that. Although some local restaurant critics have said the quality may be going downhill, Mission Chinese is still incredibly popular and offers one of the more interesting Asian menus in the whole city. Where else can you start off your meal with Beer-Brined Sichuan Pickles? Or Tea-Smoked Eel? If you like spicy, there are several dishes that will sizzle your tongue, including the always popular Ma Po Tofu. If you're willing to wait for a table and fight some crowds for your dinner, Mission Chinese is worth checking out. (415-863-2800)
High ceilings and awesome Bay views establish a unique atmosphere at this well-received waterfront venue. Style and spectacle are grounded, though, by Slanted Door's authentic country Vietnamese dishes, which get a California kick from local ingredients. Taste the results in the catfish claypot, crispy peppercorn duck, shaking beef, spicy squid and mesquite-grilled pork chops. Spring rolls also come highly recommended, and great cocktails and scrumptious desserts are worth indulging in. And with a world-famous chef/owner like Charles Phan in charge (author of the fantastic cook book "Vietnamese Home Cooking"), you'll get quite a crowd. And don't forget to keep an eye out for celebrities! (415-861-8032)
About Tom Molanphy
The only thing that Tom Molanphy loves more than the food, art, music, and culture of San Francisco is sharing it with others. San Francisco never gets old for Tom. Tom has lived in the San Francisco Bay area since 2000. He teaches writing, journalism and literature at the Academy of Art University in downtown San Francisco. His latest book, Loud Memories Of A Quiet Life, is available through Outpost19.
Read more about Tom Molanphy here.