Travel to just about any American city and odds are there’ll be at least one Chinese restaurant (in fact, that’s pretty much a global truism). Convenient, inexpensive, and full of flavor, Chinese food is one of the country’s great adopted cuisines. Sadly, in much of the country it’s still very difficult to find anything other than “Chinese-American” cuisine – sesame chicken, egg foo young, and the like – but that doesn’t mean that great Chinese food doesn’t exist. In San Francisco, for example, there are some truly great Chinese restaurants; here are the top four. Click here for our ranking of the best Chinese restaurants in America.
#4 San Tung
This perennially packed restaurant serves an array of dough-based items like dumplings and fresh-cut noodles (try the shrimp and leek dumplings or dry black bean sauce noodles), but the dish that has people lined up out the door every night are the dry-fried chicken wings. With a sticky-sweet exterior, they’re about as far from Buffalo as you can get and come slicked with spicy garlic sauce bolstered by even more red chile heat. Forego the rice and snag some garlic string beans to balance out all that heat.
The no-frills dining room doesn’t give the impression that this restaurant is any more special than the many others in San Francisco, but one taste of menu items including shrimp and leek dumplings, hot and sour soup, and dry fry beef will have you sold.
#3 Mission Chinese
Chef Danny Bowien’s San Francisco landmark is still going strong, and very well just might be the most famous Chinese restaurant in America today, commanding hours-long waits that are only somewhat assuaged by kegs of free beer for those who decide to stick around. Thankfully, you can order takeout, so it’s possible to enjoy quirky, non-traditional dishes like kung pao pastrami, barbecued pig ear terrine, and an upmarket twist on beef with broccoli that incorporates tender brisket and smoked oyster sauce without being crushed by hipsters. The New York location, which was shuttered by the city’s Department of Health in October 2013, re-opened with much fanfare in a new location last December. Some may think that Bowien is just a flash in the pan (his follow-up restaurant,Mission Cantina, opened to poor reviews), but we think that his star is only continuing to rise.
#2 Yank Sing
Yank Sing, the popular dim sum restaurant in San Francisco’s financial district, was founded by Alice Chan in 1958. There are now two San Francisco locations of this third-generation family-run restaurant, both creating almost 100 items a day to be rolled into the dining rooms for diners to choose from. Both locations are excellent, but some of our Chinese friends prefer this one, where on weekends, the crowd spills out into the Rincon Atrium. Any conversation about San Francisco's best dim sum is dangerous, but you can easily make a case that this is the city’s best. Either way, complementing the merits of Yank Sing's xiao long bao (soup dumplings) is well-tread ground. Thin dumpling skin, pursed plump dumplings, a dash of vinegar, perfection.
#1 Koi Palace
The secret to this perpetually-crowded Hong Kong-style restaurant’s success? Sending their staff to Asia on occasion to learn about the newest dining trends, and then incorporating them into the menu back home. This sprawling Daly City, California restaurant and event space opened in 1996 and has been one of the Bay Area’s top Chinese spots since day one. World-class dim sum is the name of the game during lunchtime, but once dinner rolls around Koi Palace becomes a seafood destination, with entire menu sections dedicated to abalone, crab, shrimp, and lobster. While these preparations are spot-on authentic, there’s plenty of room to be daring: goose intestine chow fun, anyone? We’ll stick with the whole suckling pig, selling for $190, or their legendary Shanghai crab dumplings.