Dating back to the California Gold Rush of 1849, Chinatown in San Francisco is one of The City’s most popular tourist attractions, and it is full of Chinese restaurants. But is it really the best place in town to eat Chinese food?
San Francisco is one of the world’s great food capitals, and it has no shortage of restaurants serving all manner of cuisine. Among the most popular are Chinese eateries, which can be found all over town.
It might seem counter-intuitive, but it’s true. Some of the best Chinese restaurants in San Francisco are NOT located in Chinatown.
In fact, sometimes the further from Chinatown you get, the better (or at least, the more authentic) the food becomes.
That’s because Chinatown is one of San Francisco’s key tourist attractions, so the restaurants located there tend to rely heavily on the tourist trade, and tourists are here today, gone tomorrow.
Not only that, tourists are not always knowledgeable about Chinese food so they tend to order the same things they order at Chinese take-aways back home.
Prices at Chinese restaurants in Chinatown also tend to be higher and the decor a bit glitzier (or more nondescript – there really ARE 2 extremes).
Where Tourists Seldom Tread
But that doesn’t necessarily translate into better (or more authentic) Chinese food.
Chinese restaurants in other parts of San Francisco – where tourists seldom tread – rely more on word of mouth and the repeat business of local diners. If these restaurants aren’t good, they won’t survive.
A good example is the Financial District, which adjoins Chinatown. There are many excellent Chinese eateries (from fast-food to fine dining) in this part of town because they are frequented mostly by locals, who dine in them at lunch or after work.
Yank Sing (see below) is a key example. It opened to acclaim decades ago, and it still packs them in, proving popular with locals and tourists alike.
There is another factor. Most of the Chinese and Chinese-American residents of San Francisco don’t reside in Chinatown. They live in other parts of The City, and that is where you will find some of the best Chinese restaurants.
Many of the best (if not fanciest) Chinese restaurants are located in what San Franciscans refer to as “the Avenues” – otherwise known as the Richmond (North of Golden Gate Park) and the Sunset (South of Golden Gate Park).
Be careful with directions. San Francisco has both numbered streets (downtown and in the Mission district) and numbered avenues (on either side of Golden Gate Park), and visitors often get them confused.
Clement Street and Geary Boulevard in the Richmond (see Ton Kiang, below) are flush with Chinese eateries serving all manner of regional Chinese cuisine. The same goes for Noriega Street in the Sunset.
So catch the 38 Geary to the Richmond or the 7 Haight-Noriega to the Sunset and follow your nose. It’s always a good sign if there’s a line waiting outside.
Many of the most popular restaurants in San Francisco don’t take reservations. They don’t have to.
Best Chinese Restaurants in San Francisco
Forget what the food critics have to say. The following 10 restaurants have received high praise from diners on TripAdvisor.com.
1. Yank Sing – 101 Spear Street (One Rincon Center), San Francisco, California. Telephone: (415) 781-1111.
- “Our third trip to Yank Sing in San Francisco was again a delight. We booked online via OpenTable and were glad that we did as it was packed on a Sunday at noon. We have eaten dim sum many places, including Hong Kong, and this is as good as it gets. The house specialty is the soup dumplings and they do not disappoint.” – Spooner Girl, Dallas, Texas.
2. Hakkasan San Francisco – One Kearney Street, San Francisco, California. Telephone: (415) 829-8148.
- ”Excellent food in a trendy setting. The service was friendly and attentive. Cocktails were amazing. Food was absolutely delicious with a beautiful presentation. We love dim sum, but this is not your noisy carts bumping into your table kind of dim sum meal. We would absolutely return.” – Pad Stevens, Huntsville, Alabama.
3. E and O Kitchen and Bar – 314 Sutter Street, San Francisco, California. Telephone: (415) 693-0303.
- “We had a group of 10. Get the prawn salad, Brussels sprouts, green beans, and deviled eggs. Trust me … it is amazing… so so so good. The ambiance is awesome and the wine list is creative. I will be here again and again even though I try not to repeat restaurants in San Francisco when I travel here for business.” – Susan B., Charlotte, North Carolina B.
4. Hunan Home’s Restaurant – 622 Jackson Street, San Francisco, California. Telephone: (415) 982-2844 .
- “I judge Chinese restaurants by their hot and sour soup. May not be fair, but that is how I do it. This is the BEST hot and sour soup I’ve ever had. Came here for lunch and was absolutely delighted. The Hunan Chicken was spicy (beware the spice!) and each mean is topped off with hot tea, orange slices and fortune cookie. Very good eats. ” – Frank S., Davidson, North Carolina.
5. House of Nanking – 919 Kearny Street, San Francisco, California. Telephone: (415) 398-2838.
- “I live in a suburb of San Francisco and found this place over 25 years ago. It has been our go-to Chinese restaurant for those 25 years. We have taken all of our friends and family members who visit us to the House of Nanking and all thought it was outstanding. We no longer order from the menu, we ask the owner (Peter) when he is there to order for us. We tell him what type of protein we want (fish, chicken, pork, etc) and he brings out fabulous dishes.” – Phil, Walnut Creek, California.
6. R and G Lounge – 631 Kearny Street, San Francisco, California. Telephone: (415) 982-7877.
- “I did not expect this to be good at all, I just needed to grab some lunch in the Chinatown. Food came out quite decent, especially in the busy tourist attraction area. Price is acceptable since this is at the heart of Chinatown. Service is quite good.” – Eric J, Fremont, California.
7. M.Y. China – 845 Market Street, 4th Floor, Westfield San Francisco Center, San Francisco, California. Telephone: (415) 580-3001
- “Was skeptical before we visited this restaurant as I tend to typically find mall restaurants aren’t that wow – this place has finally proved me wrong. We were promptly seated in this gorgeous and trendy restaurant and our order was taken. Soon enough food began to arrive, along with our drinks including an excellent jasmine green tea.” – David M., UK.
8. Fang – 660 Howard Street, San Francisco, California. Telephone: (415) 777-8568.
- ”I wanted to have Chinese food my last night in San Francisco, and my sister, who lives there, knew about this place. We had soup dumplings, fragrant sauteed chicken, and a salad. We also asked for tea and each received a large mug with a blossoming tea that looked fascinating and tasted delicious. Everything was delicious – much better than the regular Chinese take out you get everywhere.” – Traveling Mom.
9. Ton Kiang – 5821 Geary Boulevard, San Francisco, California. Telephone: (415) 752-4440.
- “While in SF, we drove out to “the Avenues” to Tom Kiang’s for dim sum on a Sunday. Call for reservations or be prepared for a short wait, it gets crowded, but boy is it worth the wait! The trays come out quickly and try not to get too many dishes at the first pass through by the waitstaff. Believe me, they keep coming with regularity! The prices are very reasonable and the food is really great.” Cathy M., Cashiers, North Carolina.
10. Oriental Pearl Restaurant – 760 Clay Street, San Francisco, California. Telephone: (415) 433-1817.
- “There is a special quality to the food that makes the Oriental Pearl a standout. The atmosphere is quiet and refined and the service is of the highest order. If you are in the mood for more than a quick cheap bite then you should make sure you give it a try.” – David Washington, Washington, DC.
Insider’s Tip: Chinese restaurants tend to be packed on Sundays as that is when families tend to dine out together. So it is not the best time try one if you are in a hurry