Category Archives: Bay Area

China Live, San Francisco

China Live
644 Broadway
San Francisco, CA

After languishing for years as more and more people flocked to the Richmond and Sunset for San Francisco’s best Chinese food, SF’s Chinatown has seen a resurgence of late. Chong Qing Xiao Mian, Hanlin Tea House, and Mister Jiu’s are among the most notable of the new restaurants that have opened in the last year or so. Now comes China Live, an ambitious houseware store and restaurant with additional plans for a cocktail lounge on the 2nd floor. It’s large, it’s modern, and it’s perhaps the most symbolic statement yet that Chinatown is adapting to the diversification of Chinese food in the Bay Area and the gentrification of the city while still proudly maintaining its Chinese roots.

Given its loud splash in the neighborhood and promise of quality, if pricey, food, I was eager to try out the place. I got that opportunity on Saturday when I went to CAAMfest’s Eat Chinatown short film showing in conjunction with 41 Ross’ current gallery exhibition of beloved Chinatown stalwarts (which you should definitely check out if you’re in the Bay Area by April 9). Since my good friend and I were already in the area, we decided to check out China Live for dinner right after.

We arrived a little before 8PM and stood in line to get a table. When we arrived at the front of the line we were notified that the wait would be one hour, so I put down my cell phone number. Afterwards, my friend and I browsed the attached houseware shop to see their range of interesting items, including whiskey barrel aged soy sauce and dried abalone from Kona.

At about 8:45PM we were alerted that our table was ready and we finally had a seat. Our seat faced the open kitchen where most of the cooking takes place. This included a view of the tanks with live lobsters and crabs, which we were sorely tempted to order, but settled on these items instead:

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Charred Chinese Broccoli at China Live

  • Charred Chinese Broccoli -The first dish we had also turned out to be my favorite dish. I am perfectly content with blanched or stir fried Chinese broccoli, one of my favorite vegetables, but grilling them to a crisp was to a whole new level. I loved play between the crunchiness of leaves with the tenderness of the stems. The mushrooms gave a nice, light umami flavor as well which I liked even more than the regular oyster sauce you usually get.
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Three Treasure Bao Zai Fan at China Live

  • Three Treasure Bao Zai Fan – I’m not sure why they transliterated this dish from Mandarin when it is a classic Cantonese dish, but either way the dish had tasty bits of Chinese sausage, ham, and thin slices of duck. The server presented the dish, poured the soy sauce, and mixed the rice, which was baffling to me as the sauce should have simmered in the (covered) clay pot for another couple minutes before serving. Nonetheless, the dish was still tasty and had some stalks of bok choy to help balance and soak up the richness of the sauce and meats. So all in all it hit the mark on flavor mostly, but definitely missed the mark in presentation.
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Xiao Long Bao at China Live

  • Xiao Long Bao (XLB) – Despite ordering this when I first ordered, apparently the server mistakenly did not put it on the ticket. This meant we continually waited for a dish that apparently was never put in the system! Thankfully, when we asked about them again after finishing the other two dishes, she noted that it would only be another 6 minutes for the next batch of XLB. The XLB skins were decently thin, albeit a bit chewy and gummy, so it wasn’t quite executed right. The soup was rather light, but had a good portion to go along with the tender pork dumpling. The vinegar and soy sauce was on point, however, which helped mask and balance the flaws of the dish.

To go along with our food, we ordered the Chrysanthemum Oolong Tea as well, which was very nice with the balance of floral sweetness of the Chrysanthemum with the nutty earthiness of the Oolong. It was beautifully presented in a clear glass kettle, though I am not sure it really warranted $10 for a pot.

All in all, even a week into the service, there are still a bit of hickups on the service side. Like many San Francisco restaurants nowadays, they are short staffed and I think the frantic energy with the multiple stations, while fascinating to see, also hurts the seamlessness of the service. That said, the food is reasonably good (if a bit pricey) and I’ll return again later to try different dishes when hopefully all the service issues have been ironed out.

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Shiba Ramen, Emeryville

Shiba Ramen
Emeryville Public Market
5959 Shellmound St., Suite 10
Emeryville, CA 94608

About a year ago I was roaming around Emeryville Public Market to see what eateries were there, now that they remodeled to be more of a trendy yuppie food court than an old school public market. During that time I spotted Shiba Ramen. At the time they were operating during their soft opening phase, so the owners had just shut down the stall when I had arrived. However, I still was able to chat with them and got really excited at the possibility of more authentic ramen in the East Bay after eating a number of disappointing bowls in other places in the area.

That said, given that the Emeryville Public Market was just slightly out of the way from where I run errands, I never came back for 10 months. What sparked my desire to come back was when, a couple of months ago, I found out that Shiba Ramen was going to open a brick and mortar location on the ground floor of my office building. When I mentioned that they were opening open a 2nd location there, a Japanese coworker of mine beamed with excitement as she felt that the ramen there was up to her standards. Naturally, I had to go to the Emeryville Public Market again, so I made two trips in the last month to finally taste their ramen.

Each time I arrived, there was only a short line before I placed my order. The menu is fortunately very simple at Shiba, with only about 10-11 menu items on any given day. While they have 7 ramen options so far, I have only tried two and here are my verdicts:

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Spicy Ramen at Shiba Ramen

  • Spicy Ramen – My first visit on a chilly day in late November inspired me to choose the Spicy Ramen. This is their version of the classic Sichuanese dish, dan dan mian. The ramen noodles were very nice and springy, keeping its toothsome bite even after absorbing some liquid. The broth itself was flavorful, but not overly spicy. The ground pork was juicy as well. Overall, I liked the dish.
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Clear Ramen at Shiba Ramen

  • Clear Ramen with Pork Chashu – The second time I went with the classic clear broth, which I think is their Kitakata style of ramen (that is similar, but not as rich as tonkotsu ramen). The broth was definitely lighter than the spicy ramen, but still flavorful, with a bit of pork fat on the top. It was nice at first, but perhaps a little too rich in the end. The eggs were medium boiled and nice to eat while the chashu was a little too dry. The noodles, however, were very nice and toothsome as they were in the spicy ramen. Overall it was good, though with only 1 piece of dry pork, it could have been better.

Overall, I love Shiba Ramen for its good flavors and reasonable price points. I do wish the portions were slightly bigger, however, so I would recommend splurging the extra dollar or two for the add-ons. But that’s a slight quibble when they are, at this point, the best ramen I have had in the East Bay.

No Car? Not a Problem! – #BARTable Asian Food Pt. 2

A year ago I started a project to find Asian restaurants within walking distance of BART stations. I started Part 1 of the series visiting the southernmost stops on the Richmond-Millbrae “Red” Line from Millbrae to Daly City. Unfortunately, a combination of things delayed my ability to write part 2 for the last year, not the least of which was the large amount of Asian restaurants in San Francisco within close proximity to a BART stop. My original plan to include ALL San Francisco BART stops was scrapped because of that.

So below you’ll find BARTable Asian food near the Balboa Park, Glen Park, 24th Street Mission, and 16th Street Mission stations. I’ll note that since there are more Asian restaurants closer to downtown San Francisco, this post will be relatively light.

Balboa Park

As we move north into the city of San Francisco, we first reach Balboa Park station. While Balboa Park is a transit hub for both BART and MUNI, there isn’t a lot of commercial development near the station. However, across the street from the station there are two Asian restaurants.

AJ’s BBQ and Cafe is slightly upscale “turo turo” (or “point point”) Filipino eatery where you can get a range of standard Filipino fare including pancit bihon, kare kare, lumpiang shanghai, and bbq chicken skewers. Like most turo turo places, AJ’s combines value with reasonably tasty food making this a decent stop for Filipino food, especially if you are on the run to somewhere else or picking up something on the way home in the Excelsior (where there are a number of other Filipino restaurants).

Cumin Lamb at Crazy Pepper

Cumin Lamb at Crazy Pepper

Around the corner from AJ’s is Crazy Pepper, a standard Bay Area neighborhood Americanized Chinese food restaurant that mostly does takeout business, but has a number of tables for a nice sit down meal. I got the cumin lamb, which was cooked with a lot of cumin. While tasty, the cumin was a little bit overpowering. The menu also included other standards in a Bay Area Americanized Chinese restaurant including basil chicken and a limited number of dim sum items. I also got the siu mai, which seemed to be resteamed from a frozen or refrigerated item. While the pork flavor was decent, the wonton skin wrapping was a little gummy. All in all, Crazy Pepper does try to differentiate itself with some Dongbei items, but food is average at best.

Glen Park

After Balboa Park station you reach Glen Park station. Glen Park station is near a small commercial and retail area that is the center of the Glen Park neighborhood. Unfortunately, there’s only 2 Asian restaurants in the area.

Basil Chicken Lunch Special at Win Garden

Basil Chicken Lunch Special at Win Garden

The first is Win Garden, another neighborhood Americanized Chinese restaurant. When I asked what lunch special I should get, the server guided me toward their basil chicken. The dish itself was pretty decent, with a flavorful, but not overpowering, amount of Thai basil. However, I did find it a little strange that the plate included a mesclun with Italian dressing. I also ordered some har gow, which were decent, if nothing to write home about. The shrimp was alright but the skin was a bit thick.

The second Asian restaurant is Tataki Canyon. Unfortunately, I didn’t have enough stomach space to go in, but it seems to be a nice neighborhood Japanese restaurant that mainly focuses on sushi and ramen.

24th Street Mission

As you get closer to downtown San Francisco you reach 24th Street Mission station. It is one of two BART stations in the Mission district, a historically working class Latinx neighborhood that has gentrified in the last few decades with young, mostly white, people (first with  artists and hipsters and lately with those who work in tech). Given the community’s demographics, there aren’t a lot of Asian restaurants around 24th Street Mission. However, there are a few.

A 10 minute walk to the 23rd and Bryant intersection will get you to Spice Jar, an eclectic Asian fusion restaurant that has a number of Asian style noodle soups including pho and laksa. Slightly closer to BART is Sugoi Sushi, a neighborhood Japanese restaurant that obviously focuses on sushi. Slightly further afield is Dosa, which has very tasty, if pricey and small, South Asian food. Of course, their specialty is dosa, which are done very well from my limited knowledge of South Asian food.

16th Street Mission

The final stop before the core downtown San Francisco neighborhoods takes you to the northern end of the Mission District. The waves of gentrification in the Mission is more visually apparent closer to this station. Accordingly, there are more trendier Asian restaurants near this station to cater to the number of young urban professionals that now live and/or spend money in the area.

Valencia Street, a street that parallels Mission street just one block west, is where the gentrification is most visible. The original Slanted Door (before its eventual move to the Ferry Building) opened on Valencia Street and since then there have been a number of other Asian restaurants that haven opened up. This includes the San Francisco’s location of James Syhabout’s Hawker Fare serving northern Thai and Lao dishes (more on Hawker Fare as this series heads to Oakland). You can also find Thai up the block at Bangkok Bistro as well. Valencia Street also houses Mau, a hip modern Vietnamese places that serves decent pho and other items. 

Mapo Tofu at Mission Chinese Food

Mapo Tofu at Mission Chinese Food

Moving closer to Mission Street you can drink some of San Francisco’s best boba (and sip on decent Hong Kong milk tea) at Boba Guys. On 18th Street, around the corner from Mission Street, is Yamo, a tiny hole in the wall that served Burmese food before Burma Superstar started Bay Area’s craze for cuisine And around the corner from Yamo is Mission Chinese Food, the much celebrated former Chinese fusion pop-up turned cross-country restaurant chain. While the food is not a good as it once was, I do recommend the Mongolian Long Beans and Salt Cod Fried Rice at Mission Chinese.

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Fish Chowder Noodle Soup at Yamo

And rounding out the 16th Street Mission station are Ken Ken Ramen, which dishes out decent ramen and Japanese style curry, if a bit small on the portion sizes, and Namu Gaji, a Korean fusion place on the corner of 18th and Dolores that serves dishes ranging from dolsot bibimbap (labeled as “stonepot”) to “Korean tacos”. Both places are on the pricier side of things, but nonetheless still have some good and interesting flavors.

So even though you might not be in downtown San Francisco, the stops south of Civic Center still give you a number of options to fill someone’s desire for East or Southeast Asian food. 

Famous Bao, Berkeley

Famous Bao
2431 Durant Ave Suite A
Berkeley, CA 94704

Given the preponderance of Cantonese food in the Bay Area, it’s often exciting when a non-Cantonese Chinese restaurant pops up in the city or East Bay. This is especially true when the restaurant has the potential to be really good and more authentic than a Cantonese run place that masquerades as some other kind of Chinese cuisine.

Thus, when Famous Bao opened a couple months ago, there was some cautious optimism. This was the first Shaanxi style restaurant in the East Bay, the brainchild of a UC Berkeley alum at a location just south of the Cal campus. As a bonus, one of the chefs at the restaurant is the restaurateur’s own dad, who is a former chef at the acclaimed Z&Y in San Francisco. And as more and more people ate their, the cautious optimism turned into excitement with the constant stream of international students from China patronizing the place. Finally, Luke Tsai of the East Bay Express wrote a very positive review of the place that was published a couple weeks ago.

After reading the review, my aunt and I decided to give Famous Bao a try. So after a commercial communal kitchen open house we went to last Sunday, we headed up to Berkeley to see if Famous Bao matched to the hype. After waiting about 10 minutes in line we ordered the following:

Bao's Famous Stewed Oxtail Iron Pot

Bao’s Famous Stewed Oxtail Iron Pot

  • Bao’s Famous Stewed Oxtail Iron Pot – The iron pot came first with a few stewed oxtails and a surprising amount of veggies heated with a slightly spicy sauce in an iron pot. All the ingredients mixed well together for a very flavorful and slightly spicy dry pot. The dish comes with a bowl of steamed rice. While it was one of the most expensive dishes at around $11, it was worth every penny. 
Spicy Cumin Lamb Burger

Spicy Cumin Lamb Burger

  • Spicy Cumin Lamb Burger – While the filling was nice with tender lamb, cumin, and onions; I did not like the dry bread. I could see how these sandwiches are all the rage in China, with its ease of portability and cheap prices. However, I probably wouldn’t order these again.
Spicy Beef Hand-Pulled Noodles

Spicy Beef Hand-Pulled Noodles

  • Spicy Beef Hand Pulled Noodles – Famous Bao’s version of Biang Mian was very good. I loved how the chewy long wheat noodles, hot spicy oil, and tender beef all melded together. The noodles weren’t totally hand made (they seem machine cut), but that is a little quibble when these noodles were clearly kneaded, stretched, and cooked just right. I would definitely go to Famous Bao just for a bowl of noodles.

Vegetarians should not fret either as pretty much all the dishes they make have a vegetarian option. In fact, I hear the class version of Biang Mian simply has scallions and hot oil.

All in all, this was a really good intro to Shaanxi for me and the East Bay. I just can’t wait for more quality non-Cantonese Chinese restaurants to open up in Oakland and Berkeley. It would certainly free me from long trips to New York, LA, or even the South Bay.

Baby Cafe, Oakland

Baby Cafe
358 11th Street
Oakland, CA 94607

Over the past couple months Oakland Chinatown has seen a small wave of new food retail spaces that seem to cater to Millennial urban professionals. While the majority of these new establishments are purveyors of boba, with four new boba shops in the past few months, the trend of new, hip eateries are spreading to Hong Kong style cafes (茶餐廳) as well.

The current leader of Hong Kong style cafes in Oakland Chinatown is Shooting Star Cafe, which has had a new glitzy vibe since it opened a decade ago. With its decor and decently made food, it has drawn a consistent crowd of diners, especially those who are young. However, with a change of ownership and a little bit of remodeling, formerly lackluster Hong Kong style cafes Cafe 88 and Yummy Guide have reopened with updated decor, better food, and higher prices, probably in hopes of gaining the business of young Chinese clientele that live and/or work around Oakland Chinatown.

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New remodel for Baby Cafe

Baby Cafe is the restaurant that took over the old Yummy Guide space. Yummy Guide was previously a very basic Hong Kong style cafe known for its very inexpensive food. As some might guess, the food quality matched the low prices at Yummy Guide. When I saw that Baby Cafe opened in this spot, I was hopeful that the quality would be a bit better so I would have more decent options for lunch. Since it has opened I have been there twice, ordering the following:

Wonton and BBQ Pork Noodle Soup at Baby Cafe

Wonton and BBQ Pork Noodle Soup at Baby Cafe

  • Wonton and BBQ Pork Noodle Soup – The wontons were noticeably better than when they were at Yummy Guide, though still a bit pork heavy. The broth was light but still flavorful though the noodles were cooked a little too long in my opinion. The BBQ Pork slices were mostly moist and flavorful. Overall it was a solid lunch option at a reasonable price.
Hainanese Chicken Rice at Baby Cafe

Hainanese Chicken Rice at Baby Cafe

  • Hainanese Chicken Rice – A standard at Hong Kong style cafes, this version had pretty moist chicken that matched well with the ginger scallion sauce. Unfrotunately, the rice could have used a bit more chicken fat as it was fairly dry and lacking in flavor. At lunch, however, they did serve it with the soup of the day and a hot drink of your choice which made this a pretty reasonably lunch option.
  • Hong Kong Style Milk Tea – Of course, I had to try their Hong Kong style milk tea. Like most places they served the milk tea with evaporated milk. The milk tea was pretty good, though the tea was not a strong as Shooting Star Cafe.

All in all, my initial thoughts are that Baby Cafe is a lot better than the space’s former occupant. However, it’s still not at the level of Shooting Star Cafe. That being said, the quality is good enough and prices are slightly better to be a good alternative for Shooting Star Cafe. I look forward to more lunches at Baby Cafe and hope they continue to improve.

San Tung, San Francisco

San Tung
1031 Irving Street
San Francisco, CA 94122

For decades San Tung has drawn crowds from the Bay Area and beyond almost entirely due to the reputation of its Dry Fried Chicken Wings. Over the course of my life I’ve eaten at San Tung a few times, though curiously never once now that I actually live in the area. That’s mostly due to two things: 1) its distance from my home in Oakland makes such a trip rather long and potentially arduous, and 2) newer and generally better Chinese restaurants have popped up since in the Richmond district.

However, a good friend of mine recently moved to the Inner Sunset, just a few blocks away from San Tung. That gave me a perfect opportunity to go try San Tung again and to see if the current food matched the fond food memories of my youth.

We came there around 1PM on a Sunday afternoon. As usual, there was a pretty decent line with a number of names already written on the white board. However, it didn’t take too long to get a table, about 25 minutes max. We sat down and browsed through the menu, settling on these few items to eat:

  • Pork Dumplings – As it’s implied by the restaurant’s name, the dumplings are more toward the thicker skin dumplings of Shandong province. As a person who generally likes the thinner skinned dumplings from southern China, I loved that the skins here weren’t too doughy. The filling was pretty tasty and moist too that matched well with dipping sauce mix of soy sauce, chili oil, and vinegar.
Walnut Shrimp at San Tung

Walnut Shrimp at San Tung

  • Walnut Shrimp – My friend wanted a shrimp dish and zero’d into this Chinese American favorite. The shrimp was cooked just perfectly and I’m glad they put just the right amount of mayo based sauce. It’s probably one of the better versions of the dish I’ve had, and this is a dish I’m generally not that fond of.
  • Mushrooms, Bamboo Shoots, and Snow Peas – This simple stir fried dish was a nice balance to the large amounts of meat we had. It was perfectly tasty but not something I’d say is an absolute must order.
Dry Fried Chicken Wings at San Tung

Dry Fried Chicken Wings at San Tung

  • Dry Fried Chicken Wings – At the end came the glistening glow of the dry fried chicken wings. Lightly sauced with a sweet and slightly spicy sauce, they were just as good as I remembered it. Perfectly fried, the meat was juicy inside while having a slight crunch outside.

So after all this food, I would say that San Tung is just as good as I remembered. Now, there are better Chinese restaurants in the area, especially in the Shandong cuisine that the restaurant name implies they specialize in. However, they are still a reliable favorite and there’s no shame in going back just for the chicken wings from time to time.

Great China, Berkeley

Great China
2190 Bancroft Way
Berkeley, CA 94704

Great China is well known and well regarded for its Peking Duck. Given that my cousin loves Peking Duck, it was a no brainer to celebrate his graduation from UC Berkeley at Great China.

We reserved a table of 9 well ahead of time so we didn’t have to wait the arduous hours long waits that usually befall walk in diners. Once seated we promptly looked at the various options at the menu as well as searching favorites of other diners. In the end we ordered 3 Peking ducks and these other dishes:

  • Double Skin (兩張皮) – This dish of mung bean noodles mixed with shrimp, sea cucumbers, pork, assorted vegetables, hoisin sauce, and Chinese mustard was pretty good. The saltiness of the sauce matched well with the heat of the mustard creating a very nice appetizer to start off the meal.
Peking Duck at Great China

Peking Duck at Great China

  • Peking Duck (北京片皮鴨) – Without a doubt, this was the best Peking Duck I have ever had. Unlike most Cantonese seafood palaces who seem to just cook crispier versions of roast duck, Great China roasts their duck more in like with how they do it in Beijing. This process leaves super crispy skin and moist meat after the fat has rendered in the cooking process. The thin pancakes were great as well and goes much better with this dish than the mantou buns founds in Cantonese restaurants . We finished at least 2.5 dishes of the duck (which doesn’t come cheap at $37.95 per order).
  • Mongolian Beef (蒙古牛肉) – The Mongolian Beef was solid, if not too memorable. I loved that this version wasn’t overly sauced and sweet, unlike other restaurants, but it was also a fairly simple, if decently well made, dish of beef, sauce, and onions.
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Mei Cai Ko Ro at Great China

  • Mei Cai Ko Ro (梅菜扣肉) – I loved Great China’s version of this classic pork belly dish. While other restaurants use meat that is too heavy on the fat, I feel like Great China had the meat cut with a perfect fat to meat ratio. The meat was tender as well and the dish was balanced by the decent amount of preserved vegetables in the dish.
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Walnut Prawns at Great China – to be avoided

  • Walnut Prawns (核桃蝦) – On the other hand, the Walnut Prawns leave much to be desired. There is way too much batter on the shrimp and the sauce is a neon yellow gloopy mess that is too sweet for its own good. It was the only dish that was barely touched by the whole table.
  • Sauteed Snow Pea Leaves (炒大豆苗) – The snow pea leaves, however, were beautifully stir fried with garlic. I’m a big fan of snow pea leaves and I loved how the kitchen made sure that the leaves were cooked just right with the perfect amount of garlic.

In the end I was certainly not disappointed by the much hyped Peking Duck. In fact, my grandfather’s wife from Mainland China even said it was very good and very authentic. I can see how this one dish creates hours long waits every evening. In fact, the duck was so good I took a few duck carcasses back home with me to create some delicious broth.

 

Looking Back to 2015, Looking Forward to 2016

A little over a year and a half ago I wrote a post reflecting on my first year of serious blogging and places I looked forward to dining in during the coming year. I didn’t do a similar post earlier this year, but I figured today was the perfect time to do it since a calendar year ended a few days ago.

Upon reflection, 2015 has been a year of “firsts” for me. It was my first time eating Dongbei cuisine from Northeastern China (what some of you may have learned in textbooks as Manchuria). It was my first time blogging about Thai food. Most importantly for me, however, it was my first time traveling to Hong Kong.

It’s undeniable that my trip to Hong Kong left a lasting impression on me; so much so that Hong Kong eateries make up a majority of my 2015 list of most delicious eats. It makes sense given that, in a way, it was my journey home, home to where my parents were born and home to the culture they raised me in. That’s not to diminish the other wonderful non-Hong Kong places I ate at throughout the year. It’s just to remark about on my year-ending list full of “firsts” that my first trip to Hong Kong makes the biggest impression.

So without further ado, here are the most delicious places I ate (and reviewed) for my blog in 2015:

Muslim Lamb Chops at Fu Run

Muslim Lamb Chops at Fu Run

  • Fu Run (Flushing, Queens, NY) – My first foray into Dongbei cuisine was magnificent! My cousins and I loved the grass jelly noodles as well as the amazing and succulent cumin lamb.
  • LKK (North Point, Hong Kong Island, HK) – Technically not a restaurant, but a street stall that sells arguably the best egg waffles (雞蛋仔) in Hong Kong.
Afternoon Tea - a favorite on my mom's side

Afternoon Tea – a favorite on my mom’s side

Dim Sum at Ming Court

Dim Sum at Ming Court

  • Ming Court (Mong Kok, Kowloon, HK) – I’ve eaten at a number of Dim Sum restaurants this year (see Elite, King Hua, Sun Hing, and Dragon Beaux), but this 2 Michelin star restaurant at the Langham Place hotel was the best dim sum I had, hands down. Yes, even better (though certainly not cheaper) than Tim Ho Wan.
  • Pho Ngoon (San Gabriel, CA) – I also had my first taste of northern Vietnamese food in 2015. Let me say that I love northern Vietnamese just as much as southern Vietnamese, especially the Pho Cuon.
  • Yat Lok (Central, Hong Kong Island, HK) – You think roast duck from a Chinese BBQ joint in the US is good? You haven’t had roast goose from Yat Lok that perfectly balances crispy skin with juicy meat.

As you can see, it’s been a fantastic year of food adventures!

2016

This year, I want to continue my pattern of breaking new personal boundaries when it comes to experiencing various Asian cuisines and dishes. Fortunately for me, one of my first trips will be to Macau where I will get the pleasure of tasting Macanese food, which borrows from the cuisines of Guangdong and Portugal.

However, there’s a ton of restaurants I do want to try and blog about in the coming year that include cuisines I’m already familiar with. Given my desire to explore new foods but also refine my palate in cuisines familiar to me, here are 5 restaurants on my list for 2016:

  • Chengdu Taste – Sichuan cuisine is enjoying a renaissance in the US thanks to the large number of Sichuanese people moving to the States. Chengdu Taste is among the very best of these newer Sichuan restaurants and I’m eager to finally have a taste (especially with the convenience of 4 locations now with its rapid expansion).
  • Lung King Heen (龍景軒) – The first Chinese restaurant to receive the highly prized 3 Michelin stars. While it’s definitely pricey, with 2 trips to Hong Kong this coming year I’m sure I’ll be able to save some money to eat here this year.
  • Private Party – The kitschy and potentially problematic Communist theme aside, I’ve never had Beijing style hot pot so it’s definitely high up on my to-try list. It’s especially interesting given that you can grill skewers in the center of your hot pot contraption as well!
  • Thip Khao – Keeping with the theme of “firsts”, the first time I had Lao food was a few weeks ago. During my trip(s) to DC this year I hope to taste more delicious Lao dishes
  • Tita’s Kitchenette – While I have grown up in San Diego and gobbled many plates of Filipino food, astonishingly enough I have never eaten in National City before, one of the centers of Filipino cuisine and shopping in the US. This year I hope to take a bite at one Filipino place my brother and sister in law highly recommend.

Hopefully I’ll be more successful than May 2014-May 2015, where I only ate and blogged about 1 of my wish list restaurants. Only time will tell if I’ll keep this New Year’s Resolution.

No Car? Not a Problem – BART Pt.1

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.

BART Map (Richmond-Millbrae line in Red), courtesy of Bay Area Rapid Transit

BART Map (Richmond-Millbrae line in Red), courtesy of Bay Area Rapid Transit

Peninsula

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.

Millbrae

Dim Sum at Hong Kong Flower Lounge

Dim Sum at Hong Kong Flower Lounge

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.

Just 6 of the MANY Asian options around Millbrae!

Just 6 of the MANY Asian options around Millbrae!

San Bruno

Spam Masubi & Loco Moco at Jake's Hawaiian BBQ

Spam Masubi & Loco Moco at Jake’s Hawaiian BBQ

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

Pancit Bihon and Kare Kare at Max's of Manila

Pancit Bihon and Kare Kare at Max’s of Manila

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!

Colma

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.

Daly City

Mohinga and Rainbow Salad at Little Yangon

Mohinga and Rainbow Salad at Little Yangon

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.

Shaved Snow at FrosTea

Shaved Snow at FrosTea

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.