The Far East in the Far West: San Francisco's Best Chinese Restaurants
By Tom Molanphy
San Francisco Local Expert
Sometimes, the urge to have Chinese food strikes, and nothing will satisfy you until you get it. Whether it's the desire for a tangy sauce or the need for a crispy crunch, Chinese food is unique and often can't be resisted. Although there are many, many different cuisines in San Francisco, including the zesty Italian of North Beach and the sizzling Latino fare of the Mission, the history of Chinese cuisine is a long and prosperous one in San Francisco. Whether that's because of the relative proximity of San Francisco to China in comparison to the rest of the U.S. or the large local population of Chinese Americans, one thing's for sure: San Francisco has a fantastic selection of Chinese restaurants.
When the urge to eat stand-out Chinese food grabs you, count on 10Best to point you in the direction of San Francisco's best Chinese restaurants. We understand the desire to have a great meal, and we work hard to bring you the top places to eat in San Francisco. We vet restaurants carefully for quality, and when we recommend popular eateries like Dragon Well or tell you that Great Eastern gets good reader feedback, you can believe it.
From Chinatown to Richmond District, we'll make sure you get - and eat - what's best.
Shangri-La Chinese Vegetarian
Vegetarian restaurants can be expensive in the city, but Shangri-La is a good option if you want excellent Chinese food at a reasonable price. Shangri-La has been around since 1978 and doesn't do vegetarian as a gimmick; everyone who works there believes in the benefits of a vegetarian lifestyle. In fact, they take the approach that food is the same as medicine and proudly proclaim that statistics show those who follow a vegetarian diet have longer, healthier lives. Shangri La uses only fresh garden vegetables, bean, nuts, tofu and whole grain products for their dishes, including the very popular Veggie Chicken Soup boiled in a nutritious broth of Wolfberry and Lotus Seeds. ((415) 731-2548)
Tourists, locals, and critics alike sing Ton Kiang's praises. Ton Kiang features a specific cuisine, "Hakka" cuisine, which makes it a very unique restaurant in terms of Chinese cuisines. The Hakka people traveled all over China and picked up all kinds of regional influences for their dishes. Hakka cuisine (regional fare influenced by Indian dishes) is the restaurant's signature, but you'll also find a variety of other styles. Begin with a fresh spring roll and chicken wonton soup or even beef and fish-ball soup. Main courses include crab in black bean sauce and plenty of tofu and vegetable dishes. Best of all, the dim sum is known as some of the area's best! (415-387-8273, 415-752-4440)
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. The Sesame Chicken is also very popular, featuring a succulent white meat deep-fried to perfection and lightly coated with a spicy sweet sauce. The thoughtful design of the restaurant, open and airy with long wooden banquettes along the walls, invites people in and makes them want to stay. ((415) 753-2900)
Mission Chinese Food
Although locally respected restaurant critic Michael Bauer of the San Francisco Chronicle feels the service and quality of Mission Chinese has slipped, this restaurant started at such a great height, it could afford some slippage. Founder Danny Bowien was met with such critical and commercial success when he opened Mission Chinese in 2009 that he soon opened another restaurant in New York City. Some feel Mission Chinese has suffered from his absence, but his original dishes mixing traditional Chinese with California innovation still make this restaurant worth visiting. From the Sour Chili Chicken to the Stir-Fried Pork Jowl, you'll find Chinese-inspired dishes here that you can't find anywhere else. But get there early - the line forms quickly at this restaurant that's especially popular with Mission neighborhood locals. (415-863-2800)
Lucky Creation Restaurant
If you've been up and down the alleys of Chinatown, and the egg rolls and dim sum are all starting to taste the same, drop by Lucky Creation for a different take on Chinese. Their orange chicken alone will make you bite twice to believe it's really not chicken...! It's a fun place to take meat-eaters who dislike vegetables, too; their Fried Honeyed Walnuts & Taro Cake will make even the most ardent meat-eater happy. If you're looking for a special ambience, though, this is not exactly the place, as it's no better or worse than many other small Chinese restaurants in Chinatown. ((415) 989-0818)
Hunan Home's Restaurant
Chinese food enthusiasts flock to Hunan Home's Restaurant for award-winning cuisine that's reputedly "the best kept secret in Chinatown." The extensive menu features all the traditional items you expect to find, including classic Kung Pao chicken, Mongolian beef and eggplant with spicy garlic sauce. Diners particularly love the chicken with orange peel, prawns with honey walnuts, pot stickers and, of course, hot and sour soup. Attentive service rounds out an authentic and satisfying dining experience. Opened in 1983, Hunan Home's has remained a favorite for travelers and locals alike. Owned and operated by the Yuan family, the restaurant has stayed remarkably consistent over the eyars. (415-982-2844)
Dragon Well creates comfort through simplicity. Owners Gary and Christina Tan offer pure, unadulterated Chinese dishes that ably satisfy, including kung pao chicken and steamed butterfish. If you like consistent, family-run establishments, Dragon Well is a great choice. If you're looking for a prelude to the meal, consider vegetarian potstickers or sauteed pea shoots, both wonderful additions. Although you won't find extravagant decor at Dragon Well, you'll be thrilled by the great food. A real crowd-pleaser is the Tea-Smoked Duck, which is steamed then wok-smoked with Pu Erh tea and served with hand-made buns and hoisen sauce. Dragon Well also offers one of the most satisfying gluten-free menus in the city. (415-474-6888)
Great Eastern is so appreciated for its authenticity that you're likely to find a large clientele of native Chinese folks enjoying the cuisine. Seafood is always top-rated, as you'll see with lobster sashimi and prawns prepared a number of ways. Other dishes feature everything from duck and quail to abalone and pork. Dishes offer good value, and reservations are accepted for large groups. With its location on Jackson Street in the hear tof Chinatown, Great Eastern is a great spot for lunch or dinner (or both) as you wind your way through the large crowds and shops of this fascinating neighborhood. (415-986-2500)
San Tung Chinese Restaurant
A hidden gem of San Francisco's Sunset district, San Tung Chinese Restaurant boasts a menu that consistently impresses locals and visitors alike. The most popular item by far is the original dry-fried chicken wings, but other patron favorites include the shrimp and leek dumplings, hot and sour soup, string beans and black bean sauce noodles. In addition to these innovative creations, the menu features beloved Chinese dishes like chow mein, Mongolian beef and garlic chicken. Located near Ninth and Irving, the energetic heart of the Sunset District, a visit to San Tung can include some of the bars and other nightlife hotspots of this underappreciated but vital neighborhood. (415-242-0828)
On the hunt for top-notch Chinese food? Check out Yank Sing, one of the city's most popular spots for authentic Asian fare. Although the restaurant serves many popular dishes, they are especially known for their deem sum. Yank Sing has over 100 varieties of deem sum (with some 60 varieties served fresh everyday). Deem sum carts laden with enticing, freshly made offerings make their way to each dining room table, affording patrons such must-have options as spring rolls and pot stickers, barbecued meats, Peking duck and soft-shell crab. For those seeking quick noontime eats, the combination lunch is a terrific option. (415-957-9300)
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.