Visit a country inside the city of San Francisco

Established in 1848, San Francisco's Chinatown is the largest and oldest neighborhood of its kind in the country. Drawing more visitors annually than the uber-popular Golden Gate Bridge, this really is a country within a city, twenty-four square blocks of Chinese American culture that has its own distinct hospitals, parks, social clubs, parades and, of course, restaurants.

The smell of Chinese food dominates most of Chinatown, whether it's the sweet waft of fresh egg tarts from Golden Gate Bakery or the savory aroma of stirfry sizzling from House of Nanking. To understand San Francisco's Chinatown is to eat in San Francisco's Chinatown, so trying some dim sum is a must.

Plan for a long stroll, too, keeping your eyes wide open and your ears tuned as if you're a traveler in another country - because, for all intents and purposes, you are.  If you want the full history and cultural context of Chinatown, then don't skip The Chinese Historical Society. If you're an adventurous traveler who believes every trip - even a trip within one's own country - should include something of the mysterious and exotic, then head to Chinatown.



Hunan Home's Restaurant
Photo courtesy of Tom Molanphy

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.

Recommended for Best of San Francisco's Chinatown because: President Obama ate here in 2012 and raved about it.

Tom's expert tip: Longstanding restaurant with well-earned reputation for excellent food.

Read more about Hunan Home's Restaurant →

Golden Gate Bakery
Photo courtesy of Tom Molanphy

Venture through San Francisco's Chinatown for a visit to Golden Gate Bakery, a sweet shop that has customers braving long, out-the-door lines for its incredibly tasty egg custard tarts. In addition to these flaky, custard-filled pastries, patrons can choose from a wide range of other confections, including lotus seed paste cakes, moon cakes, flavored napoleons and classic chocolate chip cookies. The bakery also serves savory favorites like barbecue pork roll and chicken pie. You can't leave San Francisco without experiencing Chinatown, and you can't experience Chinatown without a visit to Golden Gate Bakery, so get in line and wait for that scrumptious egg tart.

Recommended for Best of San Francisco's Chinatown because: Golden Gate Bakery often has a line out the door, so plan accordingly.

Tom's expert tip: Try the egg tarts!

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R&G Lounge
Photo courtesy of Tom Molanphy

Known for its innovative yet traditional Chinese dishes, R&G Lounge is a relative newcomer to the Chinatown restaurant scene, having opened its doors in 1985. While nearly thirty years of experience might seem a long time, in Chinatown, where traditions in cooking run thousands of years deep, it's just a passing second. But R&G's popularity can't be denied, having expanded from one to three floors in that time. Most patrons credit the success on R&G's ability to follow the traditions of Chinese cooking (namely balancing the elements of Wood, Water, Earth and Fire) but adding their own innovations. The simple but sumptuous Chicken Salad appetizer is a great example.

Recommended for Best of San Francisco's Chinatown because: Opened in 1919, it's one of San Francisco's oldest restaurants.

Tom's expert tip: Try their signature salt and pepper Dungeness crab.

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Sam Wo Restaurant
Photo courtesy of Tom Molanphy

For fans of Conan O'Brien, check out his hilarious spoof-commercial of Sam Wo's during his 2007 visit to San Francisco. Although the new Sam Wo is not at the original location - that Sam Wo's closed in 2012 after over a hundred years at that location - the video still describes the quintessential Sam Wo's experience: quick, cheap but satisfying Chinese food. To tell the truth, even if you don't feel like eating at Sam Wo's, just visiting this classic San Francisco institution should be part of any San Francisco visit. And, if you happen to be hungry, check out the menu of "jook," a classic, authentic Chinese porridge dish.

Recommended for Best of San Francisco's Chinatown because: Saw Wo was opened in 1907, right after the San Francisco earthquake, and then re-opened in 2015. It's a San Francisco landmark.

Tom's expert tip: The Combination Wonton Soup ($8.99) gives you the overall flavor of Sam Wo cuisine.

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China Live
Photo courtesy of Tom Molanphy

If you're looking for a more modern and sleek Chinese food experience - with some California-infused attitude - try China Live. This grand 30,000 foot square space belies its name, as Chef George Chen wants guests to witness the skill and thoughtfulness that goes into each and every dish served. From the BBQ station to the Salad station and Dimsum Station, this interactive and experiential food hall is a delight for all the senses. Also featuring a Market Place and Cold Drinks Bar, China Live enables guests to bring goodies home, as well. And for those who want a more upscale experience, "Eight Tables" by George Chen, China Live's fine dining counterpart above the marketplace and restaurant, was recognized as one of TIME Magazine World's Greatest Places in 2019.

Recommended for Best of San Francisco's Chinatown because: China Live might not follow in the footsteps of the more traditional Chinatown restaurants, but it's hard to argue with their delicious offerings.

Tom's expert tip: Don't pass up the Stone Oven Roasted Duck Peking with Seasonal Fruit Glazes.

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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. Although the atmosphere of this restaurant is cramped and divey, the staff take great pride and care in making dishes that you will swear is real meat. Their orange chicken alone will make you bite twice to believe it's really not chicken...! The pan-fried noodles are crisp and light, and the clay pot selections are impressive and tasty. This is a fun restaurant to take that lifelong meat-eater to.

Recommended for Best of San Francisco's Chinatown because: Lucky Creation is growing in reputation as one of the best vegetarian restaurants in the city.

Tom's expert tip: Even the most die-hard meat lovers will love vegan pork buns!

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Z&Y Restaurant
Photo courtesy of Tom Molanphy

If you like your Chinese food Szechuan spicy, Z&Y Restaurant will satisfy that urge. Just the names on the menu might make the weak sweat: Spicy Beef Jerky, Tiger Skin Jalapeno (with Preserved Egg ) and Hot Spicy Tofu soup are just the beginning. But this is not wild spicy for wild spicy sake. Chef Han, a Michelin-starred chef who was also the former executive chef of San Francisco' s Chinese Consulate General, is traditionally trained and understands how to use spice so it draws out instead of overwhelms all the other flavors.

Recommended for Best of San Francisco's Chinatown because: Many Chinese celebrities and dignitaries choose Z&Y Restaurant when they visit San Francisco.

Tom's expert tip: Z&Y Restaurant offers a "Combo Family Special" package for $128 that features six different dishes, including a fantastic Fried Rice with Black Truffle.

Read more about Z&Y Restaurant →

House of Nanking
Photo courtesy of Tom Molanphy

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.

Recommended for Best of San Francisco's Chinatown because: House of Nanking has been recognized nationally and worldwide as a "must-visit" Chinatown restaurant.

Tom's expert tip: Be sure to order the chicken in Tsingtao beer sauce, a surprising mix with tangy but yummy results.

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Empress by Boon
Photo courtesy of Empress by Boon

Empress by Boon is San Francisco's newest, must-visit destination in the heart of Chinatown. Using fresh ingredients from local sources such as the restaurant's farm based in Gilroy, Michelin-starred Chef Ho Chee Boon produces distinctive contemporary dishes infused with Cantonese flavors. The expansive restaurant with carefully designed dining areas occupies an iconic location in San Francisco's Chinatown with striking city views. Reimagined by Chef Ho and team, the space embraces modern design elements creating a welcoming atmosphere. If you're looking for a Chinese cuisine experience that is both contemporary and rich in tradition, be sure to book a table at Empress by Boon.

Recommended for Best of San Francisco's Chinatown because: Empress by Boon has the potential to be a luxurious Chinatown mainstay for many years to come.

Tom's expert tip: The prix fixe menu starts at $78 and features rotating specialities such as Iberico Ham Shanghai Xiao Long Bao and Steamed Zucchini-Prawn Dumpling with fresh Australian Black Truffle.

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Mr. Jiu's
Photo courtesy of Tom Molanphy

Created with equal parts intellect and love, the beautiful Mr. Jiu's restaurant could be described as the brain and love child of talented chef/owner Brandon Jew. Featuring amazing Cantonese staples that are made in-house, Mr. Jiu's is an excellent option for diners who want a more slow-food approach to many of the other restaurants in Chinatown. Using local and seasonally available ingredients, the dishes exude a California vibe but stay entrenched in good traditions. The main restaurant is in a large banquet hall, so group meals are ideal. This is a serious place for serious foodies; the restaurant even published its own cookbook, "Mister Jiu's in Chinatown: Recipes and Stories from the Birthplace of Chinese American Food."

Recommended for Best of San Francisco's Chinatown because: Mr. Jiu's is one of the hardest reservations in all of San Francisco.

Tom's expert tip: If you want a more intimate experience that includes fantastic cocktails, book a spot at the Moongate Lounge, just above Mr. Jiu's.

Read more about Mr. Jiu's →


Meet 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...  More About Tom