Back when dinosaurs roamed the earth, popular Asian supermarkets like 99 Ranch, Marina, or HMart didn’t exist. But Chinese food did, and as a home cook, you needed to go somewhere to find all the “foreign” produce and supplies you needed to make a decent Chinese meal at home. So my family and I traveled to San Francisco’s Chinatown every Saturday afternoon from the suburbs to do just that. That tradition of sorts continued every weekend into my early teens, and I haven’t really been back regularly since. You see, all the popular, modern, and frankly better Chinese restaurants planted themselves either outside of Chinatown or even outside of S.F. altogether, following younger, newer immigrants into the suburbs who wanted bigger houses and better schools. And with items like bok choi and ramen easily accessible at almost any neighborhood grocery store, Chinatown got a bit left behind. That’s why you’ll see either tourists (Grant Ave.) or older Chinese folks (Stockton St.) in the area these days. And to be honest, if you’re looking for exceptional Chinese food, you won’t find it here.
However, I was recently inspired to scope out some notable exceptions. So I dragged my family and friends to Chinatown for a short food crawl. After visiting a few bakeries, dim sum shops, and the like, we had two clear cut winners. (And Golden Gate Bakery was not open, so no classic Egg Tarts this time around. 😦 )
We LOVED Kam Po Kitchen (801 Broadway & Powell in San Francisco). Why? Just look at the pics! Beef Chow Fun, Wonton Noodle Soup, Hong Kong Style (crispy) Tomato Beef Chow Mein, Gai Lan (greens) with Oyster Sauce, and some exceptional Roast Duck made for a terrific traditional Cantonese lunch. I equate places like this, where they have roasted meats hanging in the window, to a Chinese deli. The food is casual, unfussy, affordable, comforting, and delicious. Ironically, places that do this type of food well are not as easy to find around the Bay Area anymore. We also spotted locals lining up out the door to grab some roasted meats to go. If you’re in the area, skip the kitschy tourist traps on Grant Ave. and head up here. It’s worth it.
If you’re wanting some grab and go dim sum, Dim Sum Bistro (675 Broadway St, S.F.) was our favorite of the places we tried. They had fresh, tasty items like Steamed Chive and Shrimp Dumplings, Shrimp & Pork Siu Mai, Sesame Balls filled with sweet red bean paste, and my childhood favorite, White Sugar Cake (which is really hard to find these days). Seating is very limited, and frankly, you’d be better off just getting it to go instead. It’s crowded and there’s nothing in the way of ambiance here.
The Chinatown of my childhood really hasn’t changed much. And in the case of these delicious delicacies, that can be a very good thing.