Mission Chinese Food, San Francisco

Mission Chinese Food
2234 Mission Street
San Francisco, CA 94110

Two weeks ago there was a coincidental alignment of events that made for one interesting Sunday. In what might be a once in a lifetime coincidence, a lunar eclipse happened on the same day (and night) of the Mid-Autumn Festival and the Folsom Street Festival. Given that I live in the Bay Area now, it led to a long and adventurous day of cultural exploration and examination.

My original intention was to have a decent size Cantonese style dinner with a few friends. However, at around 6PM my friends and I were not anywhere near Chinatown, the Richmond, or the Sunset so we walked to the closest decently tasty Chinese restaurant: Mission Chinese Food. Now, I know some of my readers will point out to me that Mission Chinese Food is not actually Chinese (in terms of authenticity), which is true given that even chef/owner Danny Bowien himself says that the food is more homage than anything. However, the flavors were at least Chinese enough that it seemed like a decent option given my absolute insistence on having Chinese food for a Chinese holiday.

We arrived at the restaurant around 6:30PM and were able to be seated immediately, the first time that has happened to me at Mission Chinese ever. After sitting down, we quickly browsed at the menu options especially given that some of us didn’t even have lunch that day. A few minutes later we ordered the following:

Braised Pea Leaf and Pumpkin Soup

Braised Pea Leaf and Pumpkin Soup

  • Smashed Cucumbers in Garlic Sauce – The cucumbers had a nice crunchiness with a perfect amount of vinegar in the dressing. Could have been a bit spicier, however.
  • Braised Pea Leaf and Pumpkin Soup – I really liked the soup as it became a light and refreshing palate cleanser after eating all the other meat and sauce heavy items we ordered. I love pea shoots so that was a great bonus and the pumpkins were in very thin slices giving it a lighter, more melon flavor than if it was cut in chunks and cooked in the broth.
Mapo Tofu at Mission Chinese Food

Mapo Tofu at Mission Chinese Food

  • Ma Po Tofu – While the Ma Po Tofu did not have the distinct ma la taste, this version was still pretty good with a nice level of spice and a sauce that was held together very well by the firm tofu chunks.
Kung Pao Pastrami at Mission Chinese

Kung Pao Pastrami at Mission Chinese

  • Kung Pao Pastrami – One of the dishes that the place is known for, it melded the pastrami, peanuts, celery, and potatoes pretty nicely. It had a tiny kick of heat, but I wanted a little bit more.
  • Cumin Lamb Ribs – While not a juicy as the tender ribs I had at Fu Run (in my previous blog post), these were still pretty well done. The meat was decently tender and the cumin added a nice hint of spice without being too overwhelming.
  • Thrice Cooked Bacon and Rice Cakes – While the rice cakes were stir fried well, for me this was probably the most disappointing dish as I neither could get a taste of the bitter melon (which I suppose could be a good thing) nor did I feel any real heat of the Sichuan pepper supposedly in the dish
  • Market Greens – Interestingly enough, the market greens turned out to be a wheat noodle dish with diced pieces of mustard greens. I actually really loved the dish even if it didn’t quite seem like a dish of greens as I originally hoped.

All in all, the food was good, albeit I do agree with Michael Bauer of the San Francisco Chronicle that the quality seems to be going down (perhaps because Bowien spends more time in New York?). Regardless, tasty meals can still be found at Mission Chinese, even without the use of mouth numbing Sichuan peppercorns. If you have never been, I would also recommend the salt cod fried rice, which was fantastic on a previous visit.

However, even a good bowl of salt cod fried rice can’t beat the end of the night. As we got a ride from the Mission back to SoMa we saw the incredible lunar eclipse with it’s deep “blood moon” shade of red. We finished off at my brother’s house, where we at delicious slices of Kee Wah white lotus seed mooncakes and played with his wonderful dogs. So even if the plans didn’t turn out the way I envisioned, the important part is that I still was able to dine on good food with great friends, and those are the experiences you really keep.

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