Category Archives: Chinese

My Favorite Chinatowns

It’s been months since I wrote a blog post, since the pandemic has really made my normal blog staples, reviewing different restaurants, virtually impossible. I thought about writing a blog post on what restaurants are open to outdoor dining, but I am wary about tacitly endorsing dining, even outdoors, in the midst of a new surge and plateau of cases in much of the US.

So instead, I figured I would write about my personal favorite Chinatowns in North America that I’ve been to, why I like them, and which of my favorite restaurants are still open for takeout. The order is loosely based on my preference but don’t fret, even if I left yours out, I still love all Chinatowns.

San Gabriel Valley (LA), CA

Kaya (Coconut Jam) Pastry at Longo Seafood
Kaya (Coconut Jam) Pastry at Longo Seafood in the SGV

I admit, I am a little biased given that I have traveled to the San Gabriel Valley (aka the “SGV” or “626”) since I was a kid, as it was often the area where we could get better dim sum and Chinese groceries that were harder or more expensive to find in San Diego. That said, the SGV is one of the largest “Chinatowns” in North America encompassing hundreds of square miles and dozens of different cities just east of Los Angeles and can probably be divided into 2: the west San Gabriel Valley centered in the cities of Alhambra, Monterey Park, Rosemead, and San Gabriel, and the east San Gabriel Valley around the communities of Diamond Bar, Rowland Heights, and Walnut.

Unlike historic Chinatowns in San Francisco or New York City with their dense streets and small alleys, the San Gabriel Valley is filled with sprawling suburbs centered on commercial corridors jam packed with Chinese strip malls along Valley Blvd, Garvey Ave, Colima Rd, and other streets. Partially because of such vastness, over the last 50 years the SGV has been an area where successive waves of immigrants from Hong Kong, Taiwan, and mainland China have been able to settle and set up new businesses. This allows a continual wave of new competition and trends from China to emerge, which also keeps old standbys on their toes to better their offerings or potentially be replaced fairly soon.

It’s also a fairly young place, with a pretty dynamic and ever evolving Chinese American culture that help popularize emerging Asian American trends in the United States like boba/bubble tea 20-30 years ago. (yes, bubble tea has been in the US for that long!) This Fung Bros “The 626” video typifies how this culture was like 10 years ago.

So where are some of the places to order takeout in the best Chinatown in North America? See below:

  • The Bay Cafe – One of the SGV’s better known and regarded Hong Kong style cafes serves a good Hong Kong milk tea and a cornucopia of other great Hong Kong staples. Order on DoorDash or Uber Eats
  • Bistro Na’s – Michelin starred Bistro Na’s in Temple City serves self proclaimed “imperial court food” that is nonetheless vary delicious, like the Crispy Shrimp and Na’s Spicy Chicken. You can order online via their website, DoorDash, or Grubhub
  • Elite Restaurant – One of the SGV’s best places for dim sum is now open for takeout again on DoorDash
  • HaiDiLao Hot Pot – Takeout hot pot you say? Yes, it exists (and I can report that it’s really doable if you got a pot and burner/hot plate at home) and you can order from this popular, and expensive, Chinese chain on virtually all the delivery platforms.
  • Mian – Chengdu Taste’s sibling restaurant with a tasty assortment of noodles is available for takeout on Uber Eats
  • Sea Harbour – Constantly evolving and standard setting Cantonese and dim sum specialist Sea Harbour is open for takeout. Given them a call at 626-288-3939
  • Savoy Kitchen – This perennial chicken rice favorite is available to order togo. Just give them a call at 626-308-9535
  • Yin Ji Chang Fen – The San Gabriel outpost of this Guangzhou style rice noodle roll chain accepts orders on DoorDash and Uber Eats

Richmond (Vancouver), BC

Lamb Fried Dumplings at Yue Restaurant
Lamb Fried Dumplings at Yue Restaurant

While great Chinese food can be found nearly all over Vancouver, the best in the Lower Mainland is concentrated in the southern suburb of Vancouver. While the San Gabriel Valley’s strength is in its wide and continually evolving breadth of regional cuisines, Richmond’s strength lies in its particular depth of one regional cuisine: Cantonese.

It’s not to say you can’t find great places serving other regional Chinese cuisines in Richmond, but the particular depth of Cantonese cuisine here lies in its unique history. As the 1997 handover of Hong Kong approached, many wealthy Hong Kongers feared what might change in a PRC controlled Hong Kong and promptly found ways to immigrant. One of the easiest options was to get investment visas in Canada, and thus tens of thousands of Hong Kongers and their children moved and settled to Richmond. They brought along and could entice good chefs from Hong Kong which helped increase the quality of Cantonese food in the region, so much so that many restaurants in the 2000s to mid 2010s were close or at the level of their counterparts in Hong Kong.

More recently, arrivals from mainland China have helped expanded the number of good regional options available, but not to the level of SGV yet, and it remains to be seen on how Hong Kong’s latest political turbulence will mean for even more food and immigration to Canada. That said, some of my favorites are:

  • HK BBQ Master – This was always basically a big takeout restaurant, so you can still get their excellent Cantonese style roast meats in person
  • Mama’s Dumpling and Coffee – Renown for their xiaolongbao, you can get these delicious orders for takeout
  • Silver Tower – Old school Hong Kong Style Cafe serves the best comfort food that you can order on DoorDash
  • Sun Sui Wah – A couple of my friends recently dined here (BC’s COVID rates are significantly better than the US, though I’d still be pretty hesitant) and the food seems just as great as pre-pandemic, which you can order on Skip the Dishes.
  • Yue Restaurant – One of my favorite dim sum spots in Richmond is open for takeout via DoorDash

Flushing (New York City), NY

Liang Pi at Xi'an Famous Foods
Liang Pi at Xi’an Famous Foods (which started in Flushing)

The sights and sounds of Canal and Mott Streets in Manhattan Chinatown may get much of the spotlight in New York City, but I say that the best New York Chinatown is a hop uptown and a 7 line subway ride away to Flushing in Queens.

In contrast to the SGV and Richmond’s sprawling strip malls, Flushing is a decidedly urban Chinatown, densely packed along Main Street and its side streets and allies. You can find a variety of Chinese regional cuisines here too, especially in the few densely packed mall food courts like the New World Mall (though not sure how open they might or will be with the COVID-19 pandemic). However, many of the main stars in Flushing are Taiwanese, Fujianese, and Shanghainese and some of my favorite memories in New York City are of walking down Main St with various friends and cousins sipping on boba and eating street food.

Here are a few great places currently open for takeout:

  • Hunan Cafe – Order some authentic Hunanese food for takeout via Seamless or Uber Eats
  • Nan Xiang Xiao Long Bao – You can order some of the best soup dumplings in the city online through their website
  • Nurlan Uygher Restaurant – One of NYC’s first Uygher restaurants is open for takeout by looking at their menu and calling 347-542-3324
  • Xing Fu Tang – I couldn’t write about Flushing without a bubble tea recommendation right? Well get some Brown Sugar Boba Milk from this new kid on the block that replaced the old Red House on Seamless, Uber Eats, or DoorDash
  • Yi Fang Taiwan Fruit Tea – I love Yi Fang Fruit Tea for their endless array of delectable fruit teas, which you can order on Seamless and DoorDash

The Richmond (San Francisco), CA

Juicy Pork Xiao Long Bao at Dragon Beaux
Juicy Pork Xiao Long Bao at Dragon Beaux

There are numerous Chinatowns in the San Francisco Bay Area, but in my opinion the Richmond District in the western part of the city is the best Chinatown in the region.

Why? Unlike San Francisco’s historic Chinatown, the Richmond is a little less touristy but packs in the bustle as much as you’d find on Stockton St. Clement St and Geary St have a large selection of Chinese restaurants, supermarkets, and other businesses, including my favorite dim sum place, Dragon Beaux.

Here are some places to try ordering from in the Richmond:

  • Dragon Beaux – The aforementioned Dragon Beaux is available for takeout on Uber Eats or Grubhub, but you could also give them a call and order their frozen dim sum to reheat yourself to perfection
  • HoDaLa – From beef noodle soup to popcorn chicken, this Taiwanese favorite can be ordered for takeout or delivery via its website.
  • Jiangnan Cuisine – Cuisine from the area just north of Shanghai in Jiangsu province can be found on DoorDash, Grubhub, or Postmates
  • Kowloon Tong Dessert Cafe – This no frills cha chaan teng is ready to serve you some delicious Hong Kong milk tea or basic Hong Kong style western food and deserts on nearly all delivery apps
  • Tasty Pot – Taiwanese hot pot chain Tasty Pot is available for your individualized hot pot needs via takeout or delivery on DoorDash or Uber Eats

Manhattan Chinatown (New York City), NY

Food at Noodle Village
Food at Noodle Village

The only historic Chinatown on my list is New York City. Why Manhattan’s historic Chinatown you ask, instead of other ones like San Francisco, Los Angeles, Vancouver, or even my hometown of Oakland? The simple reason is that unlike the others, it’s a perfect combination of history, mix of shops, and an area where both old Chinese families from Guangdong, recent arrivals from Fujian, and tourists alike can mix and mingle with ease. San Francisco’s Chinatown, sadly, feels very weirdly divided between tourist and trinket shop dominated Grant St and local market and restaurant focused Stockton St.

So if you’re in or near Manhattan, here are some places open for takeout!

  • Carol’s Bun – Located in the East Broadway part of Chinatown, this no-frills Fujianese places is perfect for some affordable takeout
  • Cha Chan Tang – One of the original cha chaan tengs in the city serves up comfort Hong Kong style western food like macaroni soup and curry chicken that you can get on DoorDash or Seamless
  • Kong Sihk Tong – Feast upon all sorts of Hong Kong style foods by getting some takeout via phone at 646-850-6140
  • Noodle Village – My favorite comfort Cantonese spot in Manhattan Chinatown is available for takeout or delivery on virtually all the delivery apps
  • Wo Hop – Want some old school Chinese American food? Like so old that the restaurant has been around for 80+ years? Look no further than Chinatown staple Wo Hop to grab some Chinese American takeout

Houston Chinatown, TX

Dinner at Fung's Kitchen
Dinner at Fung’s Kitchen

I think many folks tend to think of big historic and even suburban Chinatowns as being exclusively a West Coast or East Coast thing, but one of the largest Chinatowns in the country is, in fact, in Houston! Centered on Bellaire Blvd. east of Beltway 8, Houston Chinatown is similar to what you would find along Valley Blvd in the SGV or heavily Chinese cities in the Silicon Valley around Sunnyvale and Cupertino. There’s a mix of Hong Kong, mainland Chinese, and Vietnamese Chinese people in Houston that also makes Houston’s Chinatown a little unique. Houston’s Little Saigon is also just to the west of Beltway 8.

I’ve only been to Houston Chinatown once, but here’s some places that are still open for takeout:

  • Fung’s Kitchen – The only one of the places on this list I’ve actually dined in, you can get your craving of dim sum filled here through ordering takeout or on DoorDash or Uber Eats (I hear they are taking COVID precautions pretty seriously too!)
  • House of Bowls – One of Houston’s cha chaan tengs seems well beloved with a variety of Hong Kong style dishes available for takeout
  • Mala Sichuan Bistro – The authentic flavors of Sichuan can be had by ordering takeout on their website as well as Uber Eats
  • Mein – Classic Cantonese food, including the namesake noodles and noodle soups, can be found for takeout at this well regarded spot
  • One Dragon – For Shanghainese xiao long bao and their crispy bottom cousins, sheng jian bao, order takeout here

Honorary Mentions:

I didn’t include pan-Asian areas just so it was clearer/cleaner. However, there are a few pan-Asian districts (places where there’s more of a mix of different pan-Asian shops, restaurants, and markets) that I really love.

  • International District (Seattle), WA – The most recent non-Bay Area Asian district I’ve been to, the International District, is a historic Japanese and Chinese area that has a great diversity of different Asian cuisines just southeast of downtown Seattle.
  • Irvine (outside of LA), CA – I went to college in Irvine and loved being able to eat all sorts of Taiwanese food here as many Taiwanese families settled in Irvine in the 1980s and 1990s.
  • Kearny Mesa (San Diego), CA – Yes, I’m biased in that I grew up in San Diego, but Kearny Mesa, especially on Convoy St, was the area I grew up eating dim sum, Korean BBQ, yakitori, and other variety of Asian food. Mira Mesa, historically a large neighborhood of Filipino and Vietnamese folks, is also a great pan Asian area to visit in San Diego as well.
  • Mesa (Phoenix), AZ – While Mesa leans more toward Vietnamese and Vietnamese Chinese folks, it’s a great place to eat and shop all types of Asian cuisines. I always made it a point to stop in Mesa on my ways to/from Albuquerque to/from my visits seeing family in Southern California
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Harborview, San Francisco

Harborview
4 Embarcadero Center
San Francisco, CA 94111

Late last year Harborview opened up in the space that housed former Crystal Jade Jian Nan (a branch of the famed Singaporean Crystal Jade chain that opened to harsh reviews). The new restaurant was opened by a former founder of the vaunted R&G Lounge in Chinatown and serves Cantonese food. In a typical Cantonese seafood restaurant fashion, they serve dim sum during lunch hours and higher end seafood specialities in the evening.

Since they serve dim sum, of course I had to try it and so I invited a high school friend of mine a couple weeks ago to see how it is. I made a reservation and we were seated with ease at 1PM on a Sunday. We were given a menu but since carts came around fairly regularly (and, perhaps, a bit aggressively on occasion), we decided to just order off the carts. Over the course of the hour and a half we were there we got the following:

Steamed Kurobuta Pork & Shrimp Dumplings (Siu Mai) at Harborview

Steamed Kurobuta Pork & Shrimp Dumplings (Siu Mai) at Harborview

  • Steamed Kurobuta Pork & Shrimp Dumplings (Siu Mai) – The siu mai were fairly good with a nice snap of the pork and shrimp. They were topped with a little shrimp roe as well. They could have been seasoned a little more or perhaps added with slightly more flavor, however.

Steamed Rice Flour Rolls with Beef at Harborview

Steamed Rice Flour Rolls with Beef at Harborview

  • Steamed Rice Flour Rolls with Beef – The rice noodle rolls were very nice, absorbing the sauce and holding the thin ground beef mixture while keeping its shape. The sweet soy sauce was nice without overpowering and the ground beef mixture had a nice hint of cilantro and scallions.
  • Steamed Shrimp Dumplings (Har Gow) – The shrimp dumplings were solid. The shrimp was plump and just the right amount for the dumpling wrappers. The wrappers were a touch thick but the perfect texture so they were too gummy or delicate. I do wish the shrimp had a little more salt and pepper but overall pretty good.

Chinese Bacon and Sausage Sticky Rice at Harborview

Chinese Bacon and Sausage Sticky Rice at Harborview

  • Chinese Bacon and Sausage Sticky Rice – Harborview’s stir fried sticky rice had liberal amounts of diced lap cheong and salty Chinese bacon, topped off with some thin slices of steamed egg (which I had never seen before). While it was well executed in general, it did feel a bit one note with the salt and umami of the protein. It probably could have used a little more green onions or some more pepper for some brightening for flavor.
  • Steamed Pork Spareribs with Black Bean Sauce – The pork spareribs were pretty meaty and because they spent very little time in the carts, was cooked well but not overcooked. The black bean sauce was pretty light but enough to give that signature savory umami flavor.
  • Deep Fried Glutinous Rice Dumplings with Assorted Meat Filling – This was probably one of the better “ham sui gok” (鹹水角) I have had. The glutinous rice dumpling skin was perfectly fried and the minced meat filling was well seasoned with a good mix of mushrooms and ground meat. Given that I didn’t quite have high expectations for this dish in general, the Harborview version was surprisingly good.

The total bill for these 6 items ended up being around $60 which is fairly steep at $30 a person. However, I would say that the dim sum is well executed, even if a little pricey. If you want good dim sum at a refined setting without going to the Richmond or Koi Palace, Harborview is great and arguably even better than fellow neighborhood swanky dim sum place, Yank Sing.

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Yue Restaurant, Richmond, BC

Yue Restaurant
8351 Alexandra Road
Richmond, BC V6X 1C3

My trips of Vancouver always contain a stop for dim sum at a restaurant I’ve never been to before. This weekend’s quick stop to see a friend going to grad school at UBC was no exception. This time we decided to go to Yue Restaurant (formerly Yue Delicacy) which was on my list to try from last year.

Yue Delicacy is a relatively small to medium size Cantonese seafood restaurant in one of the many food-centric strip malls that dot Alexandria Road in Richmond, BC. Parking was tight, albeit we were able to grab a spot quickly. Though if you don’t have a car, it’s a reasonably close walk from the Landsdowne Canada Line SkyTrain station. My friend, her friend, and I walked in at 11:30AM on a Sunday and waited a few minutes for a table with a reservation I had placed a couple days prior. However, I’d say the reservation might not be necessary as while the restaurant was full, there weren’t that many people waiting for a table.

Once seated we marveled at the very stately decor that was elegant yet modern (which Chef Tony could have learned from). But after a quick scan of the decor, we zoomed into what mattered most, the food! There were a number of things we wanted to try and eat so we ordered the following 9 dishes (all the Chinese names are correct, but the English names are approximate as I didn’t snap a photo of the English dim sum menu):

  • Pork Spareribs with Black Bean Sauce (豉汁蒸排骨) – These were probably the meatiest and fattest pork spareribs I have eaten in years! For the most part it was super juicy with just enough black bean sauce to give a depth of flavor, but not overpower. I would definitely eat more of these again!
  • Chinese Broccoli with Ginger Sauce (生炒薑汁芥蘭片) – In contrast, this dish was not that good. While the leaves seemed fresh, the stems were definitely a little old/too ripe with that acrid bitterness you can taste with not as fresh Chinese Broccoli. That said, the ginger garlic sauce was good which helped make the dish a little more edible.

Shrimp Dumplings at Yue Restaurant

Shrimp Dumplings at Yue Restaurant

  • Steamed Shrimp Dumpling (水晶蝦餃皇) – These shrimp dumplings were nearly perfect! Perhaps not as good as Kirin at City Hall or Ming Court in Hong Kong, they were on the smaller side but with skin that was thin, pliable, but dexterous with a filling of fresh shrimp, lightly seasoned, with a good snap. This is definitely an exemplary set of har gow that I wish all dim sum restaurants in North America would imitate.

Black Truffle Steamed Scallop Dumplings

Black Truffle Steamed Scallop Dumplings

  • Black Truffle Steamed Scallop Dumplings (黑松露帶子餃) – These dumplings were very good. Think a purely shrimp shu mai, add a scallop on top, and then add a little bit of black truffle and black truffle oil! That’s not to mention the dish roe on top as well. I think I still prefer the shrimp dumplings, but these were amazing with a nice balance of fresh seafood taste with the richness of the truffle and roe. Both the scallops and shrimp filling at that perfect snap which can be so hard to find.
  • Chicken Feet (金醬蒸鳯爪) – I’m not much of a fan of the dish but one bite of the skin showed that it was decently double fried with a good, but not gratuitous, amount of sauce. The dish is still too boney for me, but if you like chicken feet, this is a good set of them.
  • Taro Cake (五香芋絲糕) – I generally prefer daikon cake but this taro cake was perfectly fried with a crunchy exterior but soft and chewy interior. It also wasn’t too oily too. It’s probably one of the best versions of this dish I’ve had.

Red Rice Noodle Roll with Chinese Doughnut at Yue Restaurant

Red Rice Noodle Roll with Chinese Doughnut at Yue Restaurant

  • Red Rice Noodle Roll with Chinese Doughnut (鬼馬紅米腸粉) – These rice noodle rolls were made with slightly sweet red rice noodles that wrapped around a freshly fried Chinese doughnut that was stuffed with a shrimp and fish meatball. With the dark soy sauce they give you to dip it in, these rice noodle rolls were pretty solid and held up very well. The slight sweetness of the red rice noodles didn’t come out too well, but the shrimp filling and Chinese doughnut crunch more than made up for it.

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Lamb Fried Dumplings at Yue Restaurant

  • Lamb Fried Dumplings (孑然羊肉餃) – These potstickers were interesting with its crispy extra dumpling skin that looked like wings of sorts. The filling of minced lamb and chopped vegetables had a heavy lamb taste, but the flavors meshed well together.

IMG_1510

White and Black Sesame Balls at Yue Restaurant

  • White and Black Sesame Balls (麻茸煎堆仔) – Dessert was sesame balls with white and black sesame seeds on the outside with white sesame seed paste as filling. While we were dismayed that there were no sesame balls with black sesame paste, the dessert was still a hit with a very nice crunch flavor that lasted til we finished all the savory items.

All in all, I would rank Yue Restaurant as my number 2 dim sum restaurant in the Vancouver area after Kirin. It is definitely a place I would recommend to go to and certainly beats other places like Sun Sui Wah or Chef Tony in my book. Since it’s a newer restaurant, I would say Yue has a lot of promise, especially as it keeps on perfecting newer, more innovative dishes. While Kirin might offer a solid, near blemish free take n mostly classics with a very refined experience, Yue has all the ingredients needed to be the best dim sum restaurant in the Vancouver area (very high praise given the competition!) in the very near future.

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Crazy Rich Food + Reflections

This weekend is the opening weekend of Crazy Rich Asians, the film based on the bestselling book of the same name by Kevin Kwan. And while many of the articles for the film focus on its importance in Asian American representation in Hollywood or the cultural conflict of the plot between traditional class hierarchies amongst rich Chinese versus “rags to middle class riches” Chinese Americans, I, of course, want to write about the food mentioned in the books and movies. In the book series there are liberal mentions of various places that the exorbitantly rich of Singapore, Hong Kong, and Shanghai dine in, which does include places open to the public and are relatively affordable. Below you can find a few of those places found in the film and/or books in Singapore and Hong Kong and my thoughts on them (if I have been). Be aware, there will be some spoilers of the movie and/or books below.

[Following that you’ll find my reflections of the movie].

Singapore:

Newton Food Centre – After Araminta and Colin pick up Nick and Rachel up they head to Newton Food Centre where they order from different stalls specializing in their own dishes. I’ve never eaten at Newton Food Centre but in the scene you can see the foursome chow on various Singaporean dishes like Satay at TKR Satay, Oyster Omelette at Hup Kee Fried Oyster Omelette, and ice kachang at 88 San Ren Cold and Hot Dessert. For reference, in the book they actually go to another hawker centre, Lau Pa Sat, though Nick prefers the satay at Newton.

Hong Kong:

Roast Goose Rice and Tong Choy at Yat Lok

Roast Goose Rice and Tong Choy at Yat Lok

Yung Kee – In the books, Yung Kee is described as the place where the uber rich go dine on roast goose. And while the refined trappings of the restaurant remain intact, a family feud a few years ago led to a split. The better Kam family roast goose now lies at Kam’s Roast Goose in Wan Chai (in decidedly less upscale digs) which also racks up a Michelin star, unlike Yung Kee. Although Kam’s Roast Goose is fantastic, I do have a preference for Yat Lok (also a Michelin star earner) in Central.

Fook Lam Moon – Although I don’t recall this so-called “Tycoon’s Canteen” being in the books, it was mentioned by Kevin Kwan as a place where old money still eats. And honestly my one visit to their TST location showed perfectly why, and it’s not because of their food (which is good but not mind blowing spectacular). It’s because of their service, where they have a number of private rooms, a multitude of wait staff to refill your tea cups so you never have to, and even nice small shelves so your bags never, ever touch the ground (or hang over your seat). Reservations are probably required but it’s not too hard to make one online.

Dim sum at Lung King Heen

Dim sum at Lung King Heen

Lung King Heen – In the book when Rachel is at the bachelorette party on Samsara Island, Kitty and Alistair are purportedly seen at this three Michelin star restaurant, the first (but now not only) three Michelin star Chinese restaurant in the world. The food might not be the most innovative compared to other high end Cantonese restaurants in Hong Kong, but the dishes are well executed. Like most higher end Cantonese restaurants, the cheaper option is to eat the dim sum ate lunch (which even for 2 people will probably set you back around $40 USD). Advanced reservations of a month or two are advised.

REFLECTIONS

And now to my reflections on the film. Of course, there’s many things I could say about the movie, but I want to focus on how particular parts of the movie affected me. Like Love, Simon, Crazy Rich Asians was an important movie in terms of its cultural impact as a romantic comedy to me. While neither obviously hewed super close to my experience, both movies were well made movies based on reader adored books (of which I read both books before either were movies) that hopefully launch a number of other movies beyond the straight, white upper middle class narrow confines of the vast majority of major studio romantic comedies of the past.

Crazy Rich Asians itself resonated with me loudly in no small part because Kevin Kwan wrote the book for and in the perspective of the Asian American experience, especially those like me who are Millennial children of immigrants. The impetus to root for Rachel is because Rachel is like many of us, children of Asian immigrants that moved to the United States with immense sacrifice to hopefully provide opportunity for their children. (To be clear that’s not the entire Asian American experience which also includes refugees of war as well as those whose families had means to send their Baby Boomer and Gen X children to colleges in the US and Canada)

As such, what Rachel deals with in her trip to Singapore to meet Nick’s family and childhood social circle, she, like us, have a very fish out of water experience when visiting the Asian motherland. There are customs and traditions, regardless of your class or ethnicity (though in the Crazy Rich Asian series, accentuated by class) that are generally known but not quite fully experienced until you visit your ancestral home (or in Rachel’s case, a nation where the majority of folks are Chinese like herself). And in those moments many Asian Americans realize that you’re not quite [Asian ethnicity] enough, but similarly you’re not quite “American enough” for non-Asian, especially white folks, at home.

This is crystalized in 2 of the most powerful scenes of the movie: the dumpling making scene and the mahjong scene [major spoilers ahead].  In the dumpling making scene, Rachel makes dumplings for the rehearsal dinner along with a couple of Nick’s cousins, Nick’s aunts, and Nick’s mom. There’s visible tension between Rachel and Nick’s mom, Eleanor, which comes up to a head when Eleanor catches Rachel as Rachel is lost finding a restroom. The end of the conversation, after Eleanor regales Rachel on how she wasn’t seen as good enough to marry Nick’s dad, hits with a sting when Eleanor, played by the incomparable Michelle Yeoh, tells Rachel that she will never be good enough.

“You will never be good enough” is a phrase that serves both the plot narrative and a line that touches like a cattle prod to Asian Americans like myself. On one side, people like me are told by our Asian immigrant family and family (or people in general) living in Asia that we will never be good enough to meet expectations, including language fluency and respect for ancestral cultural norms. We are, in effect, too American. But then outside of Asian American enclaves at work or school where we try to fit in, we are criticized for having an accent (even if we might not have one – in which case we’re praised for having “surprisingly good English”), eating gross looking or stinky food (which then get popularized a decade later by white chefs that “discover” it), accused of eating cats or dogs (when we don’t), or exoticized for real or assumed body features and sexual desires. It may not be as pointed and direct as what our family members or those in our ancestral lands would say to us, but the effect is the same, we’re too Asian to be an American. It’s a dual hit for Asian Americans like myself who try to bridge our identities and be proud of these different identities, but are told that we aren’t good enough for either.

But as much as those words in the dumpling scene hurt (and when I shed a few tears on my second watch), the mahjong scene near the end turns the table and shows how Asian Americans can have agency and a potential to use perceived weaknesses into strengths. In that scene, Rachel invites Eleanor to play mahjong where they have a pointed conversation about family and cultural compatibility vs. following your heart. What Eleanor doesn’t know, but Rachel soon reveals is that she rejected Nick’s engagement knowing that what Eleanor thinks is a winning hand (marrying Nick) is not one at all and in Nick’s current situation it would be lose-lose. So Rachel chose for him and shows the strength and power of Asian Americans. Rachel then leaves, revealing that she would have had a winning hand but knowingly gave it away to Eleanor (which you can read more in AngryAsianMan’s excellent primer on the scene). The scene shows that Asian Americans like myself actually do understand and respect both the Asian cultural traditions of familial piety and American cultural understandings of individualism and freedom to follow your passions. But the choice isn’t either or; by understanding both cultures you can make your own decisions and not be boxed into one way of doing things.

The movie isn’t perfect by all means, but the books and the movies are so emotional and powerful for Asian Americans who have experiences like myself because it’s one of the first stories we’ve read and seen on the screen that reflects our dual cultural experience. It’s not a story by and for the people (especially the fantastically rich) of Singapore. It’s not a story even for immigrants like my parents who do live in the US now but their major cultural upbringing was from where they were born (who I’m sure will like most of the story anyway, if my aunt is any indication). It’s a story by and for Asian Americans, like Rachel, born and raised in America.

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No Car? No Problem! BARTable Asian Food Goes East (Bay)

In Part 4 of this #BARTable Asian food series finally heads to my hood, the town of Oakland. Continuing along the Richmond-Millbrae line this guide will take you through West Oakland, 12th Street/City Center, 19th Street, and MacArthur Stations.

West Oakland

To be honest, this is the first station we can skip. The two places in remote walking distance of this BART station that serve Asian food are 2 Chinese American takeout spots, neither that serve food that’s any good.

12th Street/City Center

Downtown Oakland’s BART station is surrounded by Asian food, especially given its proximity to Oakland Chinatown.

Hainanese Chicken Rice at Shooting Star Cafe

Hainanese Chicken Rice at Shooting Star Cafe

In Chinatown one can, of course, find a veritable cornucopia of Chinese food and only blocks away from the station. For Hong Kong style cafe food, I like heading to Shooting Star Cafe (especially good for desserts and Hong Kong style milk tea) and Baby Cafe. For dim sum you can head to Restaurant Peony for arguably some of the best dim sum in the East Bay or Tao Yuen Pastry for some classic Chinatown grab and go dim sum. Gum Kuo and neighboring C&M Bistro are go to spots for Cantonese roast meats, though Gum Kuo also has excellent noodle soups and rice noodle rolls.

Dim Sum at Peony Seafood Restaurant

Dim Sum at Peony Seafood Restaurant

For non-Cantonese food in Chinatown, Spices 3 is the place to go for Sichuanese food and Shandong serves thick noodles and fabulous dumplings if you have a hankering for the heartier fare of Shandong province. And for one of the few Bay Area restaurants with Guilin style noodles, you can go to Classic Guilin Rice Noodles.

Chinatown, however, doesn’t just have Chinese food. For Cambodian food there is Battambang. Vietnamese food can be tastily sampled at one of my downtown favorites, Tay Ho, who’s signature item is the northern Vietnamese dish banh cuon. And for vegetarian Southeast Asian dishes, slightly out of Chinatown on 13th and Franklin is Golden Lotus.

The other side of Broadway in Old Oakland has a few Asian treasures as well. In Swan’s Market is the excellent AS B-Dama that serves great Japanese food. Le Cheval is a spot for decent Vietnamese food closer to the Oakland Convention Center.

19th Street Oakland

Further up in Oakland in Uptown and the northern part of the downtown business district are also a number of Asian restaurants, though they aren’t quite as concentrated as Chinatown. Some of these places below can also be accessed by the 14th Street or Frank Ogawa Plaza exits of the 12th Street/City Center stations but it was easier to delineate each BART station’s offerings at 14th Street.

Clear Dark Ramen at Shiba Ramen

Clear Dark Ramen at Shiba Ramen

Near 14th and Broadway you have some of my favorites for a work lunch break. I go to Shiba Ramen‘s Oakland restaurant every time I want a comforting bowl of ramen. For Afghan food, there’s the newly expanded Kamdesh. On 15th Street there’s Ma Me House for a pared down menu of solid Vietnamese food and Ichiro Sushi for solid sushi and lunch specials that are filling, but reasonably priced.

Further north, closer to my current office are a few more Asian spots centered mostly around 17th Street. There’s Aburaya for some extremely tasty Japanese fried chicken. A couple doors down is Pho 84 where you can eat classic Southern Vietnamese dishes in slightly more refined settings. Around 22nd and Broadway is one of the few Taiwanese restaurants in the East Bay, Taiwan Bento, where you can eat some Beef Noodle Soup and Gua Bao. If you need some fruit tea or boba to wash down your lunch at any of these spots you can saunter down to Yokee on Franklin Street where you can get some delicious boba or very Instagramable fruit teas.

MacArthur

The final Richmond-Millbrae line station in Oakland is MacArthur, conveniently also the closest to my apartment. It’s also the closest station to Temescal, the neighborhood that contains Oakland’s largest concentration of Korean food in Oakland (yet interestingly enough Koreatown is just to the South). 

For Korean food there are a number of options including Daol Tofu House and PyeongChang Tofu House for their namesake, and tasty, versions of soondubu. Hancook is the new restaurant in town that has Korean style hot pot. And further up Telegraph is Bowl’d, which serves a number of Korean dishes but best serves Bibimbap. Want Korean BBQ? I would venture a little further afield to Mosswood to Ohgane, a wonderful place with delicious BBQ that’s only $22 for All You Can Eat 10PM-2AM each day.

KMG at Hawking Bird

KMG at Hawking Bird

Temescal doesn’t only serve Korean food, however. Other Asian places include the oft-lauded Burma Superstar for Burmese. Down the street is Hawking Bird, the fast casual offshoot of James Syhabout’s Hawker Fare serving decent versions of khao man gai (Thai style chicken rice). Across the street from Hawking Bird and Burma Superstar is Marufuku Ramen which serves a pared down menu of excellent ramen. 

So while San Francisco has plenty of Asian food, take a BART train across the Bay to Oakland where your taste buds can expand with all these excellent options. I dare say that some of these restaurants are better than anything San Francisco has to offer on their particular cuisine.

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SinoinSocal’s Asian Food Travel Guide – San Francisco

With the summer travel season having just begun, I figured I should do a limited series combining a few things I love to do: travel, eat Asian food, and help people by giving suggestions. Hopefully by the end of the summer I’ll have guides to places including Hong Kong, Los Angeles, New York, San Diego, Vancouver, and Washington D.C. but I figure I would start with my current adopted hometown of sorts first – San Francisco (and the East Bay cities of Oakland and Berkeley).

Like most conventional travel guides, I’ll group things geographically by neighborhoods of sorts. Unlike them, however, it would be built exclusively on tourist sites and the like because, well, my blog is about Asian food I like and not Asian food I find reasonably edible within walking distance of X. Therefore, as you can see on this guide, there will be less emphasis on the twisty turns of Lombard Street or more on the delicious dumplings of the Richmond. Of course, I’ll still reference some landmarks in the guide but it’ll be more in context of the proximity to food. So without further ado (and the map)…

Chinatown/Embarcadero/Union Square
(or what to eat after riding the cable car)

Among the top tourist attractions in the city by the bay are the cable cars and Fisherman’s Wharf. While most locals turn up their noses at the thought of being caught at either, I can see why a tourist would want to experience them, if only once. The bad news is there aren’t any good Asian bites to eat at Fisherman’s Wharf (you should be getting some clam chowder or cioppino anyway), but the good news is there’s another tourist loving area close by that has an abundance: Chinatown.

Chinatown, of course, can be confusing so here are my recommendations:

Three Treasure Bao Zai Fan at China Live

Three Treasure Bao Zai Fan at China Live

  • Golden Gate Bakery (assuming they are open) for arguably the most delicious egg custard tarts in the Bay Area
  • Golden Gate Fortune Cookie if you want to see how fortune cookies are made AND get some free samples
  • Lai Hong Lounge for good dim sum in a neighborhood filled with mediocre dim sum
  • China Live for yuppie, pricey, but also tasty, Chinese food
  • Mister Jiu’s for pricier Chinese food, but worthy of its one Michelin star

But maybe you’re resting your feet by the Ferry Building and don’t want to take the hike up to Chinatown? No fear, the Slanted Door has some great, if fancy, Vietnamese for you.

Or maybe your hotel is by Union Square and you just want some food after a little r&r at the hotel or retail therapy. Well, you can definitely dip your chopsticks into some hot pot at Little Sheep; get some Michelin Star, reasonably priced Thai at Kin Khao; or get some grade A boba at Boba Guys.

SoMa & South Beach
(or what to eat after SFMOMA)

Maybe you are here for a tech conference like Dreamforce or had a visit to San Francisco’s Museum of Modern Art and need some delicious Asian food to fill your stomach.  No fear, as you are in luck! Here are a few of my recommendations in the neighborhood:

Dim Sum at Yank Sing

Dim Sum at Yank Sing

  • Yank Sing for some spendy, but pretty good, dim sum still delivered on carts
  • Tin for no fuss, but good, Vietnamese food.
  • Sorabal (Korean) and Inay Filipino Kitchen (Filipino) for spot on scrumptiousness in a mall-like food court

Little Saigon & the Tenderloin
(or what to eat for Pride or pre-theatre)

Are you in town for San Francisco Pride or Folsom Street Festival? (If you are, a very warm welcome to you!) Or maybe you’re a local just looking for a little grub before seeing a show at Bill Graham or watch a musical at the Orpheum? Well you are in luck because you are very close to some of San Francisco’s best Vietnamese and Thai food. Here are my selections for this much underappreciated part of San Francisco:

  • Turtle Tower for absolutely delicious northern style Vietnamese food (get the pho and the bun thang)
  • Them Ky for great Vietnamese Chinese food, especially noodle soups like the wonton noodle soup
  • Rose Kitchen, a new restaurant that does solid Vietnamese style Chinese food like the salt and pepper pork chops
  • Sai Jai Thai for a hole-ish in the wall Thai restaurant with all around great food

Perhaps you’re at a theatre closer to Union Square like the Curran and the American Consevatory Theatre. Well, you’re not far from a number of delicious places in the so-called “Tendernob” area:

  • 707 Sutter for some great, non-barbecue, Korean food
  • Kim Thanh for Vietnamese Chinese seafood dishes like salt and pepper shrimp, crab, and even geoduck
  • Joy’s Place for a lovely, cozy Korean owned coffee shop

Castro & the Mission
(or what to eat after an afternoon in Dolores)

Among the taquerias that (weirdly) sell burritos and yuppie brunch places, one wouldn’t think there’s too much Asian food to eat if you’re doing a mural walk or grabbing a bite after a lovely afternoon at Dolores Park, but have no fear as you can munch at these fine establishments:

  • Namu Gaji – Right next to Dolores Park is this Korean fusion place that has a pretty delicious stone pot and gamja fries
  • Ushio Ramen for a solid bowl of ramen, especially the black garlic ramen
  • Yamo for homestyle Burmese food cooked in a tiny kitchen that served Burmese food before it was hip (I recommend the chicken coconut curry noodle soup)
  • Burma Love for more modern/current Burmese food with nicer settings (recommend the tea leaf and rainbow salads)

In the Castro there are less options, but still a few after an afternoon exploring the neighborhood or watching a movie at the Castro Theatre:

  • Mama Jis – a few blocks from the main strip in the Castro is a nice, easily accessible place to get dim sum in the day and Sichuan food at night
  • Me & Tasty – The dinner menu at this place provides solid takes on Thai food
  • Qualitea – Newly opened, delicious place for boba or for some fruit spritzers & slushies

The Richmond
(or where to eat for the best dim sum)

Further afield on the west side of town is where you can find the best Chinese in town. And while the Richmond is a little bit aways from the core tourist areas, there’s enough to also do here like looking at art at the Legion of Honor or soaking in the view of the Pacific at Lands End. Just before to eat at one of these places before or after your adventures:

Juicy Pork Xiao Long Bao at Dragon Beaux

Juicy Pork Xiao Long Bao at Dragon Beaux

  • Dragon Beaux – for the best dim sum in SF (and arguably still in the US). Must gets include the set of 5 soup dumpling and the rose rice noodles roll. Come for hot pot at dinner as well.
  • Hong Kong Lounge II – the second best dim sum in town also has very solidly executed classic Cantonese dishes for dinner
  • Boiling Hot Pot – for those cold, foggy nights in San Francisco, Boiling Hot Pot’s hot pot will make you filled and warm

The Sunset
(or where to eat with all the Chinese folk)

There are even fewer tourist areas by the Sunset, but a hop, skip, and a jump from most of Golden Gate Park are the Chinese dominated strips of inner and outer Sunsets on Irving Street. So if you’re hangry for a bite after a day at the deYoung or Academy of Sciences, I recommend:

Dry Fried Chicken Wings at San Tung

Dry Fried Chicken Wings at San Tung

  • Lime Tree – for one of the few Malaysian/Indonesian places left in the city or East Bay
  • Kogi Gogi – for delicious Korean BBQ that’s about as good as you can get in the city
  • San Tung – for Chinese food that is geared a little more toward American tastes, but still amazing for their dry fried chicken wings
  • IPOT – for soothing, all you can eat hot pot during a cold summer or winter night in the city.

And further south on Taraval where both Dumpling Kitchen and Kingdom of Dumpling are known for their solid renditions of soup dumplings.

There you have it: Sinoinsocal’s guide to San Francisco. Any tips, suggestions, or feedback can be posted in the comments and hope folks will like these places as much as I do.

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Disney World Asian Food

First, I should note that I was not deliberately seeking out Asian food on my trip to Walt Disney World with my family. I know some of my readers may find it hard to believe, but I would have been perfectly content with Fish and Chips from the UK Pavilion at EPCOT and multiple servings of hash browns at the closest Waffle House (which I, in fact, did do for my first meal).

That said, my siblings were fully invested in tasting this Disney World food bucket list which included a number of Asian items. As I am game for trying any type of food, I happily went along and ended up having enough content for a blog post.

As a caveat, this post is really limited to EPCOT and Animal Kingdom. I personally avoided Magic Kingdom (which is essentially a larger Disneyland) as much as I could and had no time to eat at Hollywood Studios. So with that noted…

EPCOT

My first day at Walt Disney World this trip was spent entirely at EPCOT, which is also my favorite Disney theme park. I could probably just spend a whole day at the World Showcase part of EPCOT and still not be bored. 

As noted above, for lunch I had actually wanted to go eat fish and chips at the United Kingdom pavilion but my sister vehemently disliked the proposal. We found the French options to be fairly pricey so we scooted along to Morocco. Since I wasn’t in the mood for Moroccan food we ended up compromising by eating at Japan pavilion’s Katsura Grill.

Spicy Seafood Ramen at Katsura Grill

Spicy Seafood Ramen at Katsura Grill

Katsura Grill is Japan pavilion’s fast casual eatery with a number of items including bento boxes, ramen, udon, sushi rolls, and appetizers. My sister ordered a bento box while I decided to go with the ramen. I got the Spicy Seafood Ramen which was served with a lightly spicy seafood broth. The shrimp were cooked decently, though I didn’t taste that much garlic while the broth was a bit lighter than I hoped for. The ramen noodles were cooked decently but all in all the dish could be described as solidly average. I did try some of my sister’s Chicken Teriyaki Bento which was pretty decent with chicken that was cooked well and had a good amount of sauce without overpowering the chicken. All in all Katsura Grill was basically a Disney-fied version of mall food court Japanese food.

After lunch we strolled along to the other pavilions, stopping to get our EPCOT passports stamped at the US, Italy, and Germany pavilions before swinging by the China pavilion. We took a small break by the koi ponds at the China pavilion where I took the opportunity to go to Joy of Tea, the drink stand of the pavilion. Over there they had a Lychee Iced Tea that was super refreshing and perfectly sweetened with lychee syrup. I would highly recommend buying a cup of the tea for a nice stroll around EPCOT on a hot, sunny day. Honestly, the tea tasted as good as some of my favorite bubble tea places and I’m glad my sister-in-law found the place.

Animal Kingdom

After our first day of food at EPCOT my sister and sister-in-law texted me that they wanted to try a couple items the next day at Animal Kingdom. After doing some quick research I found out that both of those items could be found at Yak and Yeti, Animal Kingdom’s Asia area full service sit down restaurant. I quickly made a reservation for 5 for 2PM on Disney World’s app, which allowed my sister and I to wait and take a ride at Pandora’s Flight of Passage.

We arrived a little bit early for our reservation but nonetheless was seated in about 15-20 minutes. The decor is what I would describe as a fascinating “attempt” at something Nepalese or Bhutanese but with some Southeast Asian motifs. That aside, we settled into our rather large table and ordered the following:

Ahi Tuna Nachos at Yak & Yeti

Ahi Tuna Nachos at Yak & Yeti

  • Ahi Tuna Nachos – My sister-in-law’s pick was a heaping mound of nachos with marinated ahi tuna and some Asian style slaw. While it might have been a shareable “meant for 2” it certainly fed a lot more. I personally don’t like tuna very much but I did enjoy the dish and I found the crunchiness of both the nacho chips and the lettuce greens to work very well with the wasabi aioli. I would definitely order again
  • Dim Sum Basket – The dim sum basket had a couple of each item, some were hit and some were miss. The hits included the cha siu bao and the pork potstickers, both steamed really well with flavorful fillings. The shrimp dumplings and siu mai were a bit of a miss though and didn’t come near decent quality for them, even if I did admire their attempts at a thin dumpling skin.

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Korean BBQ Short Ribs and Dim Sum Basket at Yak & Yeti

  • Korean BBQ Short Ribs – We added an additional half order of the ribs and the regular rib order was definitely large enough for 2 people. The ribs themselves were pretty good, with meat falling off the bone and a sauce that combined traditional barbecue sauce elements with a hint of gochujang (a Korean hot sauce). The shoestring fries were perfect and the slaw helped cut a bit of the richness of the meat. Like the nachos, I would order these again.
  • Chicken Fried Rice – The fried rice wasn’t anything to write home about, but was pretty solid and was a nice filler and way to sop some of the sauce in the nachos and ribs.
  • Garlic Noodles – The garlic noodles were perfectly cooked with a decent amount of sauce, though could have used a little more garlic. We honestly ordered this as a cheaper filler item instead any of the lo mein options and while this was fine, an order of lo mein probably would have been better.

Honestly the portions of food at Yak & Yeti are such that we could have done without one of the side items and still been pretty full. The food here was definitely better than EPCOT and a lot more innovative too. I almost went back to Pandora to take a bite of pineapple lumpia but my stomach was sufficiently stuffed after lunch.

All in all, the Asian food in Disney World is solid, if not spectacular. That said, very few people, including myself, really go to a Disney theme park for the food. But there’s enough quality food items at Disney World to also make some of the meals memorable, in addition to the rides and the overall ambience. That said, Disney could learn a lot from the kitchens at Universal’s Harry Potter worlds in terms of making food that is remarkably tasty but also reasonably priced. Hopefully with Disney’s theme park expansions, even better and more innovative food will be coming to a Star Wars or Toy Story land near you.

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Wu Chow, Austin

Wu Chow
500 W 5th St. #168
Austin, TX 78701

When someone goes to Austin meals are generally filled with breakfast tacos or Texas barbeque, especially beef brisket. While I definitely had plenty of breakfast tacos and BBQ on my recent work trip, of course I had to try what Austin is decidedly not known for: Asian food.

Because the vast majority of my trip was catered, I only had a couple of meals on my own to explore town. Given my access to a car was also fairly limited, I decided to see what options there were around downtown Austin. Fortunately for me, there was a well reviewed place within walking distance of my hotel that also served dim sum (but, sadly, I was not able to make it to dim sum).

So on a Friday night I walked a few blocks from my hotel to Wu Chow. While still busy around 9PM, it wasn’t too long to get a table. While I waited I scanned the decor, which I would describe as some sort of “upscale contemporary Asian motif” with dim lighting and lots of dark wood. It’s the type of decor that would have sent alarm bells on the price tag if I were in San Francisco, Los Angeles, or New York but the prices were comparatively reasonable.

When I sat down I ordered one of their mocktails and browsed the menu, which leaves heavily on Sichuan and Shanghainese flavors. While I would have loved to order more, having a limited stomach meant that I stuck to more “classic” dishes to give a little better judgement and comparison of the food. I ended up settling on the following:

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Shanghai Soup Dumplings at Wuchow

  • Shanghai Soup Dumplings (小籠包) – In reviews, the soup dumplings came up many times as one of the noteworthy dishes. The dumplings did not disappoint, coming out freshly steamed with deliciously rich soup and tender, well seasoned pork meatballs inside. The dumpling skins were a little thick but tore just right so they were perfect to bit into. Would definitely recommend.

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Dry Fried Local Green Beans

  • Dry Fried Local Green Beans (乾煸四季豆) – This version of the classic was simple and the “wok hei” came out very well, giving that perfectly stir fried snap a good version of this dish is known for. It could have used a bit more spice to help flavor the dish but otherwise it was simply delicious.

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Mapo Doufu with Minced Pork

  • Mapo Dofu with Minced Pork (麻婆豆腐) – The interesting part of this dish is that instead of chunks or cubes of tofu, it was like a shallow dish of steamed silken tofu with simmer mapo sauce on top. Once I got used to the different style, the tofu and the sauce blended well. I think it could have used a little more Sichuan peppercorns and bean paste to kick up the spiciness but all in all it was solid.

At about $11-15 per entree item, the food was a bargain too in terms of prices I was used to (albeit I admit this could be considered moderately pricey for an Austin resident). But regardless of the price, the dishes are great and on par with what you can find in a larger coastal city with more Chinese residents. If you’re looking for a culinary detour after eating enough breakfast tacos and BBQ, I would certainly recommend trying a taste of Wu Chow when you’re in Austin.

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No Car, No Problem? #BARTable Asian Food Part 3

Part 3 of this series takes us to admittedly the hardest, and generally most consistently evolving, BARTable area in terms of surveying the Asian food landscape. Why? Because it takes us to the heart of downtown San Francisco where a number of San Francisco Asian retail and culinary districts are located and the landscape of food in the area is ever evolving. Part of my hesitance to finish this part of the series is on how fast everything changes but I just realized that I can’t be paralyzed by the constantly evolving landscape, otherwise I’d never finish this post and move on to the next post, my stomping grounds in Oakland.

So here we go, a BART station by station guide to downtown San Francisco as of March 2018.

Civic Center Station

Civic Center and the Tenderloin is home to San Francisco’s Little Saigon, a community of Vietnamese immigrants that started springing up in the 1970s and 1980s as refugees from the Vietnam War and its aftermath immigrated here. Over the past few decades the strip of Larkin Street in the Tenderloin has been a center of Vietnamese businesses in the city. As such, you’ll find wonderful places to taste Vietnamese cuisine such as the Vietnamese Chinese style wonton noodle soup at Hai Ky Mi Gia and neighboring Them Ky. You can get Southern Vietnamese style pho at Pho 2000 and Northern Vietnamese pho and other items at Turtle Tower. Banh Mi chain Lee’s Sandwiches also has a location on this stretch of Larkin between Eddy and O’Farrell.

While Vietnamese cuisine has been in the Tenderloin for decades, that last ten years has seen a wave of Thai cuisine in the neighborhood. This includes an outpost of the swanky-ish Ler Ros and the more mom and pop San Jai Thai. If you want Northern style Thai with some fantastic Lao specialities, there’s Tycoon Thai.

Powell Station

Pad Kee Mao at Kin Khao

Pad Kee Mao at Kin Khao

Powell Street Station is the stop for Union Square, the central shopping hub of the city and the area with an endless array of hotels catering to the millions of (mostly well to do) tourists that travel to the city. As such, I generally don’t recommend any Asian restaurant around Union Square and the parts of SoMa near Powell.

However, there are a few bright spots. Northeast of the station, slightly removed from the tourist and shopping hubbub, are a few solid choices. Among them include Chinese hot pot chain Little Sheep, delicious ramen shop Mensho Tokyo, Korean restaurant 707 Sutter, hole in the wall Filipino diner Tselogs, and Vietnamese Chinese seafood restaurant Kim Thanh.

Right by the BART station in the heart of the hustle and bustle are some good options, especially if your wallet is a little more hefty. Michelin starred Kin Khao serves terrific Thai food (their tasting menu, though pricy, is absolutely worth it) and Hakkasan serves solidly refined Cantonese cuisine. And not to be remiss is Tin, a good Vietnamese restaurant in SoMa.

Montgomery Station

Three Treasure Bao Zai Fan at China Live

Three Treasure Bao Zai Fan at China Live

Montgomery Station drops you off in San Francisco’s Financial District. While there are are a few gems during the lunchtime rush like Señor Sisig‘s regular food truck locations on 2nd Street and Pine Street, it’s a rather barren place as a whole for quality Asian food.

However, Montgomery Street is the closest BART station to San Francisco Chinatown. While the hike to Chinatown is generally uphill and requires at least a 10-15 minute walk from the BART station, most places in the neighborhood aren’t too far to be considered unwalkable. Closer to the BART station on the flatter Kearny Street you can find such restaurants as vaunted Cantonese seafood place R&G Lounge, Taiwanese tea and food experts Hanlin Tea Room, and Sichuanese noodle specialist Chong Qing Xiao Mian. 

Further up the hill include upscale Eataly styled restaurant/food emporium China Live and a number of longstanding Cantonese places. These include Kam Po, a delicious purveyor of Cantonese BBQ, and Lai Hong Lounge, a dim sum and Chinese seafood restaurant.

Embarcadero Station

Wood Oven Roasted Branzino at the Slanted Door

Wood Oven Roasted Branzino at the Slanted Door

And finally at the eastern end of San Francisco before BART heads through the Transbay Tube is Embarcadero Station. Like Montgomery Station there isn’t a plethora of Asian food around it, as expense account new American and European influenced restaurants are generally the norm. A couple bright spots do exist though (and both are also fairly pricey): Yank Sing, a solid purveyor of dim sum with 2 locations, and The Slanted Door, a Vietnamese restaurant that may not live to its previous heights but still serves well executed food.

Downtown San Francisco, overall, has a great volume of Asian restaurants though finding a good one can be like finding a needle in a haystack.  Hopefully this guide can help cut across the clutter and won’t be dated too soon. 

I can’t wait until the next part of this series though, as I head across the bay to my hometown of Oakland.

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Boba/Milk Tea Trends

(Lunar) New Year, new me, I suppose. On Friday, the first day of the lunar new year for Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese, and other Asian communities, I decided to take my first sip of the trend that swept through China and landed on our American shores in the past year or two: salted cheese cream.

Yes, I know what you might think. Salted cheese foam/cream on tea, even bubble tea? What is going on? That just sounds downright nasty. And honestly, I get it. For about a year I was skeptical and to bring myself to combine cheese with milk tea or even regular green tea sounded as distant a possibility as Adam Rippon going back into the straight and narrow closet. However, for the sake of this blog and for my desire to try most Asian related food items, it was time to give it a go just once.

So on Friday I drove to the Gardena location of Happy Lemon, a Chinese milk tea chain that has rapidly expanded in North America and helped driven the popularity of salted cheese foam drinks in American communities with many Chinese residents. Locations of the chain can be found in Chinese American enclaves like Flushing, Monterey Park, Cupertino, and Berkeley. (Of course there are many other locations that serve salted cheese tea, including in places with less concentrations of Chinese folk)

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Salted Cheese Tea Drinks at Happy Lemon

When I stepped to the counter I asked the friendly cashier what would be the best drink for my first time. She suggested the salted cheese green tea, which I ordered. I was also intrigued by the milk tea with tiramisu cream cheese so I ordered that as well. Within minutes I got my drinks and promptly did a little taste testing:

  • Salted Cheese Green Tea – This “classic” salted cheese drink (which is generally one of the simplest versions too) combines a moderate layer of salted cheese foam on top with sweetened ice green tea below. In general you should tilt the drink at an angle of at least 45 degrees to allow some of the tea and the cheese foam to mix and enter your mouth. The cheese foam was actually not bad. In it’s defense, it’s kind of a misnomer because it’s basically whipped/foamy cream cheese with a little salt in it. It blended reasonably well with the green tea, allowing the saltiness and the umami flavor of the foam to accent the sweetness of the tea. Not bad, but not really my favorite.
  • Milk Tea with Oreo and Tiramisu Salted Cheese – Next I tried a drink with tiramisu salted cheese. I liked the tiramisu salted cheese better mainly because I also like the tiramisu flavor with gives a bit of sweetness and slight coffee taste to the salted cheese foam. With the milk tea, it was nice if a tad sweet. The Oreo topping did add a nice amount of crunch but added to the sweetness overload. Though given that I was in a sweet dessert/Starbucks-like drink kind of mode, it was definitely perfect for the moment.

All in all, despite the English name, the salted cheese tea drinks really aren’t bad. Are they good and word trying I guess really depends if you like creamy, slightly salted foam to go with your drinks. They certainly pair well with certain drinks (I hear the pairing with black tea is actually pretty good), but it’s not something I would necessarily crave. I would definitely try it out and taste for yourself. If you don’t like it, you never have to taste it again and there are plenty of non-salted drinks at these places that you’ll have options even if your friends are obsessed with it.

 

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