Chinatown’s 5 Best Restaurants Include Michelin Stars, an Anthony Bourdain Favorite and More
The spiciest soups, the tastiest pot stickers, fried Dungeness crab and a lifetime of spectacular dishes
San Francisco’s Chinatown is the oldest in North America and the largest outside of Asia. Though it’s not the only SF neighborhood offering superior Chinese cuisine — we see you, Clement Street — it is a historically and culturally significant part of the city with incredible options for dim sum, noodles and more. Head to these restaurants to enjoy what Chinatown has to offer.
House of Nanking
Why you’re here: You want to sample some of the Bay Area’s most celebrated Shanghainese cuisine, even if that means waiting in line.
What you’re ordering: While there is an à la carte menu for diners wary of handing over control, House of Nanking’s claim to fame for the past 35 years is that the staff orders for you. You’ll provide your preferences, then see your table filled with classic dishes like fried pork potstickers served with their homemade peanut sauce, house noodles smothered in secret black sesame sauce and their famous crispy honey beef alongside bok choy.
Why you’re here: This Chinatown staple is highly regarded for its Cantonese cuisine, so much so that Anthony Bourdain (may he rest in peace) had to try it when he visited San Francisco.
What you’re ordering: The signature dish in this three-story seafood spot is salt and pepper crab, in which a whole Dungeness crab (a San Francisco specialty) is battered and fried to perfection. Other key picks include bird’s nest soup, geoduck sashimi and lychee martinis. R&G is often packed, but the energy helps make it a memorable place to have a meal.
Empress by Boon
Why you’re here: The tasting menu here is opulence defined. The elegant interior decor, along with a breathtaking view of Coit Tower, add to the five-star experience.
What you’re ordering: The power of Cantonese gastronomy is on display at chef Ho Chee Boon’s restaurant, emphasizing seasonal ingredients, artful plating and careful technique. Dishes are along the lines of delectable scallop and caviar rolls, perfectly stir-fried quail and the unique uni fried rice. The martini cart is a welcome new addition, though the extensive wine list can otherwise provide a worthwhile pairing.
Why you’re here: You want to eat where prominent San Francisco locals eat.
What you’re ordering: A subdued exterior offers a low-key entrance to this renowned spot for Sichuan cuisine, famous for its heat. Chef Lijun Han balances spice and flavor to create a perfect, delicate burn that’s more numbing than it is painful. Dishes like chilled beef tendon, spicy duck blood and anything in their flaming chili oil should be front and center on the restaurant’s Lazy Susans, but it’s also worth timing a visit to try their limited handmade dumplings, and ordering ahead to try soup served in a coconut.
Chong Qing Xiao Mian
Why you’re here: It’s San Francisco, so it’s probably a little cold out. Have some soup!
What you’re ordering: Here, variety comes in the form of ingredients and regional point of origin in China. The wonton soup with chicken broth is a fan favorite, while the namesake Chongqing numbing spicy noodle dish will be pleasantly familiar to fans of Sichuan cuisine. Lovers of ramen and phở should definitely consider adding the food at this casual eatery to their repertoire of soups.
Why you’re here: It’s a restaurant! It’s a bar! It’s a private dining venue! Whatever you need — including a shop and an event space — China Live probably has it.
What you’re ordering: The first floor restaurant is organized like a food marketplace, with eight stations offering fusions of Chinese and Western cuisine. Although menus rotate seasonally, you can expect dishes like Peking-style oven-roasted duck, pan-fried pork dumplings and sesame soft serve or mango shave ice. Upstairs at Eight Tables, diners can enjoy chef George Chen’s tasting menu, derived from Si Fang Cai, which means “private chateau cuisine.” This upscale menu also changes with the seasons and makes for a great night out.
Why you’re here: Chef Brandon Jew’s James Beard award and Michelin star are no accident.
What you’re ordering: Mister Jiu’s food showcases the bounty of California, the culture of Chinatown and the flavors of Canton all in one. The tasting menu rotates throughout the year, but sourdough scallion pancakes are a staple, and you can’t sleep on the Dutch crunch BBQ pork buns (note the two classic San Francisco bread types in these dishes). Afterwards, head upstairs to Moongate Lounge for a lunar-inspired experience and clever cocktails.
The Secret to Great Cocktails? Find Out in The Spill.
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