It’s no secret that the best Asian food in the United States, regardless of cuisine, is almost always in suburban areas that are only in reach with an automobile. Westminster, the San Gabriel Valley, Annandale, Milpitas; these are places that do not conjure up plentiful options of reliable and efficient mass transportation, especially be rail, even if they may have some of the best Vietnamese, Chinese, Korean, or Filipino food you’ve ever had. However, that’s not to say that there is no good Asian food within walking distance of mass transit lines. After all, anyone who knows where good Chinese food is in New York City can direct you to take the 7 line all the way down to Main Street, where the sight and smell of food from all regions of China can overwhelm the senses.
Therefore, I challenged myself this Autumn to eat Asian food that is only accessible to mass transportation. In particular, I decided to take an adventure and go to every station along the Richmond-Millbrae Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) line, only eating at Asian food establishments within 15 minutes walking distance. This is part one of my travel-eating challenge, and for those who use BART to travel, I hope this can serve as a guide of where to go and what to eat even when you find yourself stranded in Daly City.
Part 1 of this series focuses on the cities on the San Francisco Peninsula south of the city and county of San Francisco. There are 5 stations on the Peninsula on the Richmond-Millbrae line: Millbrae, San Bruno, South San Francisco, Colma, and Daly City (San Francisco Airport is another peninsula stop, but on the San Francisco Airport-Pittsburg/Bay Point Line). I chose to start here first because it was the part of the line I was least familiar with and it meant that I could finish the series in the East Bay, where I live.
The start/end of the line in Millbrae brings a plethora of options. Millbrae has been a leading center of Chinese food in the Bay Area for a while, so it’s no surprise that there are dozens of Asian options to walk to from the station. One of the closest Asian restaurants to the station also happens to be one of the oldest: Hong Kong Flower Lounge where they serve good dim sum at lunch. Of the several dim sum/seafood palaces I’ve been to in Millbrae, Hong Kong Flower Lounge is probably my favorite.
Further up north on El Camino Real you can walk to Hot Pot Garden, which does all you can eat Cantonese hot pot, and Ben Tre, which does decent Vietnamese food at reasonably Bay Area prices. For dessert you can head to Honey Berry where you can have a light and fluffy roti bun. To note, all these restaurants are within just a 5 minute walk from the station.
If you want to head a little further out you can go to “downtown Millbrae” along Broadway. There you can find The Third Eye, an Indian and Himalayan restaurant with great reviews and Broadway Bistro, a Hong Kong style cafe that leans more toward Chinese style western cuisine with a number of steak and pork chop dinners to chose from. If for some reason none of these options tickles your fancy you can just walk to Safeway, where they have a dedicated produce section to Chinese vegetables like Chinese Broccoli and mustard greens. The dedicated section for Chinese greens is the surest sign of how Asian Millbrae is, and given the plethora of options you’ll never go hungry around this BART station.
Of course, not all BART stops are created equal, especially in the more suburban areas. The next station up the line brings us to San Bruno, where there is no Asian food in walking distance aside from the options available at the Tanforan Mall, which has an entrance right in front of the BART station.
Now, just because it is a mall doesn’t necessarily mean it has bad Asian food. Yes, the mall has its Panda Express and Sarku Japan, serving all the Orange Chinese and Teriyaki Beef you can order. However, their is also a Jake’s Hawaiian BBQ in the mall, where I had a great spam masubi and a loco moco that made me feel like I was in Hawaii for a split second. At the same mall food court is probably the only BART accessible Jolibee where you can order Filipino fried chicken, sweet spaghetti, or pancit palabok for pennies on the dollar. It’s certainly not the best fast food, but it’s definitely different than all the other options you have there. If you want a more refined, sit down experience, however, you can go up the escalator to Saigon Cuisine which serves decent Vietnamese food.
South San Francisco
Even though San Bruno may not have the best Asian options by BART, at least it has options. At South San Francisco you only have one: Max’s of Manila, which is a seemingly long 12 minute walk alongside the cars zipping down El Camino Real at 45+ miles per hour.
Max’s may be the only option, but it is a good one in my opinion. While I did not have their popular fried chicken, I did like their pancit bihon and kare kare, which has decently, but not overwhelmingly, fatty oxtail. If I had more money and more stomach room I would have tried the crispy pata or bangus, but I suppose this means I need to take another trip to South San Francisco soon!
While the sole option in South San Francisco is a good one, I can’t say the same about any of the options I tried in Colma. Disappointment was around every corner, from the Hawaiian Drive in that sold spam masubi with concerningly thick and gelatinous sauce to the OK Pho which served phở and egg rolls that were literally just “okay”. They were both lacking in much flavor or presence.
However, I will say that I never did try Pampangas, the take out Filipino place near Hawaiian Drive In that unfortunately was only cash only. the food certainly smelled and looked delicious, and was the only Asian restaurant in the area that had something resembling a line.
Colma may have a dearth of good options, but that certainly is not so for the last stop in the peninsula (and the end of the line during nights and Sundays). Daly City not only has a number of different options, but all of them are reasonably good as well.
My friend and I first stopped for lunch at Little Yangon, a Burmese place with good mohinga, a tasty but different rainbow salad (compared to other Burmese restaurants in the area) that had warm noodles and a nice, tangy sauce, and a refreshing faluda for dessert. Service was a bit slow, however, so be sure to be extra patient in the restaurant.
Given that Daly City has a large Filipino population, naturally you can find good Filipino food around with Maynila probably being the closest place to the station. While it’s bare bones, Maynila does decent lumpiang shanghai and chicken skewers, even if they are not to the level of Fil-Am cuisine (which is further afield and not as accessible).
For a mid-afternoon dessert my friend and I got some shaved snow with delicious “popping boba” at FrosTea. Like other modern boba shops, it had some board games for people to play, which was a nice way to end a round of eating and the first part of my Asian restaurant adventures on BART.