Chinatown’s many culinary institutions, both old school and new wave, make it a brilliant place to eat.
IN SAN FRANCISCO, there are, ostensibly, two Chinatowns in one. In this neighborhood, tourists flock to trinket shops and chop suey houses, snapping photos of erhu players performing on street corners. Meanwhile, generations of residents have tirelessly worked to turn it into a true cultural and commercial hub for the Chinese community. Established in the 1850s, the neighborhood has survived systemic discrimination, fires, earthquakes and crisis after crisis. Over time, multiple waves of immigration have shifted the demographics of the neighborhood, layering it with cultural influences from diverse regions of mainland China, as well as Hong Kong. Unsurprisingly, one can taste all of those shifts in the restaurants here: chow mein and chop suey from the oldest of the old school institutions, tingly and hot noodles from Sichuan, and ambitious and youthful approaches to Chinese cuisine from a new generation of restaurateurs. In a scene this complicated, it can be hard to suss out the true diamonds, but here are 15 of my favorites in our historic Chinatown.
CHINA LIVE: An ambitious emporium offers next-level Chinese dishes and goods.
China Live is a multistory culinary wonderland with a fine dining restaurant, “Bladerunner”-esque cocktail bar, a retail section and a 120-seat, high-ceilinged casual eatery featuring different styles of cooking. Of course, you can’t just go in and gawk anymore. But in the pandemic age, China Live has maintained its multifaceted spirit, with a robust online retail store stocked with titanium woks and jars of XO sauce as well as its more popular dishes. Definitely try the crunchy and indulgent fried scallion breads, which are rolled up like cinnamon buns, as well as the jiggly, tingly mapo tofu. – San Francisco Chronicle (12.16.20)