San Francisco has the country’s largest Chinatown, a compact enclave packed with great places to eat. But don't stop there when you're looking for fantastic food—there are outstanding Chinese restaurants scattered all over town, from Downtown to the Richmond. Whether you’re looking for superior dim sum, seafood or fiery Hunan fare, the best San Francisco restaurants showcasing the diverse cuisines of China go far beyond the takeout carton cliché.
Chinese restaurants in San Francisco
The aromas coming from the steamed and fried dumplings at Yank Sing are so tantalizing, you'll likely gobble them down before finding out what's in them. Exceptionally fresh and flavorful dim sum is undoubtedly what keeps this longtime restaurant thriving in an unlikely corner of a massive office complex. Ordering is half the fun: Just point at what looks good as the waiters roll their carts past your table. Favorites include shanghai dumplings with pork, scallion, ginger and a shot of hot broth, stuffed crab claws, and goldfish dumplings filled with crunchy shrimp and bamboo shoot tips.
Henry and Diana Chung started this local chain of Chinese restaurants in 1974, introducing the spicy, smoky dishes of their native Hunan province to San Francisco. It's been a love affair ever since, with locals flocking to their downtown and neighborhood locations for the Marty's Special (hot and spicy smoked ham and chicken with vegetables in black bean sauce), cold noodle salad (shredded chicken, cucumbers and peanut sauce), deep-fried onion cakes, hot and sour soup, and Diana's legendary meat pie—ground pork in garlicky chili sauce topped with shredded lettuce sandwiched between circles of flaky fried bread. In recent years, grandsons Jeff and Eddie have opened branches in the Excelsior and Noe Valley that cater to a more health-conscious crowd, with lighter sauces, less oil, lean meats, and options such as brown rice. If you're averse to spicy food, make sure you specify “mild” when ordering.
Terrific seafood and the opportunity to indulge in some wee-hours dining attract sundry restaurant folk to this tiny, bright-green Chinese eatery. The roasted squab with fresh coriander and lemon, sautéed clams with black bean sauce and “eight precious noodle soup,” made with eight kinds of meat, are all worth trying. Not fancy, but full of genuine Chinatown atmosphere.
Ton Kiang is a longtime local fixture for dim sum, invariably packed and noisy, especially during peak hours (10am–3pm). Dining rooms on two floors fill up mid-morning with extended families, neighborhood regulars, weekend brunchers, and adventurous tourists all clamoring to get the attention of the ladies rolling around carts of steamed and fried Chinese dumplings, glistening roast duck, sticky rice wrapped in lotus leaves, clay pot stews and sweet egg custard tarts. For novices, the best strategy is to ignore the menu and just point at what looks and smells tasty. Don't miss the Shanghai dumplings, filled with meat and a shot of hot soup, or the crab claws stuffed with shrimp. And save room for a Chinese doughnuts—deep-fried chewy puffs rolled in sugar.
There will likely be a line outside of San Tung even before it opens, but that's only a testament to the restaurant's loyal fan base. The good news? San Tung #2 is right next door, and offers essentially the same experience (and menu). Whichever one you pick, the dry fried chicken wings should be a priority: crispy and addictive, the wings are a cult classic in their own right. Try the black bean noodles and the honey walnut prawns as well.
A stark contrast to the more traditional Chinese restaurants in the city, Hakkasan takes dim sum to the fine dining realm. Dark, sexy and alluring, the San Francisco branch is located smack dab in the middle of Downtown; diners look out onto Market and Geary streets below as they move prawn and chive dumplings and stir fry scallops to their mouths. While a la carte items are available for lunch and dinner, a Taste of Hakkasan menu is also available for lunch during the weekday, with a small appetizer, main dish and dessert—namely, Hakkasan's famed macarons. You'll be spending a pretty penny here, but it's worth the splurge.
Mama Ji's started as a pop-up in the back of Queen Malika cafe before landing in the Castro, where it now offers quality Szechuan cooking. Mama Ji (owner Lily Ji) cooks with recipes inherited from her family, putting her own spin on dishes like pan fried turnip pudding, deep fried shrimp dumplings, chicken wonton noodle soup and more. On weekends, cure your hangover with a smattering of dim sum plates coupled with a Belgian ale.
Look past the odd name and and take a chance on this quirky Chinese restaurant in the Outer Richmond, where traditional dishes mesh with inventive twists. Take, for example, the Five Guys XLB: five different flavors of xia long bao, with versions that include spinach kale, squid ink black truffle, beet and more. A slew of dim sum pickings and hot pot are available, as is an impressively curated tea selection.