San Francisco’s charming Chinatown streets are home to many firsts. The first Chinatown in North America, established in 1848, it’s also the largest (and most densely populated) Chinese enclave outside of Asia. Since the first flush of 49ers arriving for the Gold Rush of 1849, Chinatown’s population quickly grew, leading to more firsts like the first Asian church in North America, Old St. Mary’s, opened in 1853.
For food lovers everywhere, we owe Chinese food’s popularization in the Western world to San Francisco. Chinese residents faced the many ups and downs of economy, building railroads and racist travesties like the national Chinese Exclusion Act. Yet SF’s Chinatown residents survived, even thrived. At first, Chinese food was mainly eaten by Chinese locals. But enterprising Chinese cooks in San Francisco created Americanized Chinese dishes like chop suey and egg foo yung, mainstreaming Chinese food across North America.
In 1961, the legendary Cecilia Chang (who just turned 99) opened Mandarin, the nation’s first notable upscale Chinese restaurant, introducing the Western world to Peking duck and hot and sour soup. Here, Chang inspired generations of chefs and influencers, including George Chen, who waited tables at the Mandarin in the 1970s. He went on to open iconic SF restaurants, Betelenut and Shanghai 1930, and now China Live, which, alongside the restaurant Mister Jiu’s, has led the revival of modern Chinese food and drink in SF’s Chinatown.
30,000-square-foot China Live is a complex, not merely a restaurant or bar, though it includes a few of each. Fine dining Eight Tables (holding only eight spaced-out tables) is a game-changer in Chinese fine dining. Next door is Cold Drinks, a futuristic-chic, Blade Runner-esque, Scotch-centric cocktail bar. Downstairs is a modern dim sum/Chinese food restaurant, alongside an upscale Chinese grocery and plateware shop, tea cafe and bar. Often called the “Chinese Eataly” by the press, China Live is a complex of forward-thinking Chinese food and drink. There’s nothing like it in the U.S…- KCET (11.028.18)