The Resy Guide to San Francisco Chinatown, By Those Who Love It Best
San Francisco Chinatown is the oldest and one of the most historically significant Chinatowns remaining in the United States. So much can be said about the few blocks in the heart of San Francisco: It’s a place new immigrants can call home, a tourist destination, a story of resilience. After the 1906 earthquake and fire, which destroyed most of the neighborhood, city officials wanted to rebuild Chinatown further south near Bayview-Hunters Point. Racism was at its peak, during a time when most Chinese could not legally immigrate to the U.S. nor become citizens under the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act, which lasted until 1942 and, de facto, until 1965.
Fast forward to 2020, when the coronavirus outbreak has led to anti-Asian sentiment, hate crimes, harassment, and more. Historically, Chinese restaurants in San Francisco have had a harder go at surviving during shutdowns compared to other restaurants. Yet Chinatown has endured, again and again, as do other San Francisco neighborhoods with newer Chinese restaurant strips — businesses owned by immigrants who have arrived from Toisan, Hong Kong, Taiwan, and all of the regions that make up China.
We asked chefs, luminaries, and leaders from San Francisco to name their favorite Chinese restaurant in San Francisco. Food has always been a gateway into other cultures; and yet, while Chinese restaurants are more common in this country than McDonald’s, accepting another person’s cuisine doesn’t automatically mean accepting, and respecting, the people behind the food. As Shakirah Simley, a food justice activist and director of the city’s office of racial equity, puts it, “It’s OK to love people’s food and culture, but you also have to love the people. Love and respect the cuisines, and take care of the people behind the food.”
China Live – Joan Chen, Actress and food blogger
“It’s a really charming space, where everything feels like a Chinese market. Of course, I also love the food there. The noodles at China Live are custom-made from the restaurant and absolutely delicious. [But] I love the skillet buns the best. It’s a dish unique to Shanghai, my hometown. I have cravings for them sometimes—an ancient craving from childhood. I remember craving for and getting the chicken skillet buns all the time when I was pregnant with my daughters in George [Chen’s] other restaurant, called Betelnut.
“This is the only Chinese restaurant in Chinatown that has this kind of design — the design is like Chinatown 3.0. The same owner [George Chen] also opened Eight Tables, upstairs from China Live. And George Chen, and his wife Cindy, are supporters of the arts and many other charitable causes.” // 644 Broadway, chinalivesf.com. – Resy Blog (08.24.20)