What better way to spend a weekend morning than over dim sum? Waitresses keep offering you tidbits of pork and shrimp, your endless pot of tea gets refilled without asking if you leave the lid up (there's a veteran tip), and at almost every place on this list, six people can eat until you're bored, full or both for less than $20 a person.
San Francisco ain't Hong Kong or Singapore, but for dim sum outside of Chinese-speaking metropoli, we've got it pretty good. A couple months ago SFoodie brought a wine writer from New York to one of our favorite places and he said, "Wow, we don't have dim sum like this," and not because we made him eat chicken feet. Though when you get to number 5 on this list, we strongly suggest that you do.
The best dim sum in San Francisco is not found in Chinatown. Instead, look north of Golden Gate Park, although top spots are found as far afield as Daly City. And a warning to vegetarians, as well as people persnickety about service: You'll be happiest at the places with the fewest Chinese diners. Because for the rest of us, the best way to find a new favorite dish is to not ask questions, but point at it and dig in.
3398 Balboa (at 35th Ave.)
The Richmond district abounds in this type of ultra-cheap dim sum takeout shop. Jook Time stands above the rest for the quality and variety of its offerings. Pastries are particularly good here, and the shrimp dumplings and steamed pork buns are solid. It would be possible for two to dine in for $10 total -- now, that's a cheap date.
3319 Balboa (at 34th Ave.)
Do you need more than the name to tell you what to order? It's a bit of a ringer on this list, as you have to order much larger portions than at a traditional dim sum place, but Shanghai soup dumplings are a cult food, and these are some of the best. Also try the green onion pancake. Come with cash (they don't accept credit cards) and an open-minded attitude about hygiene.
649 Jackson (at Kearny)
Chinatown's best dim sum house isn't its prettiest or cleanest. Novices and veterans alike will benefit from asking for the comprehensive photo menu, which silently answers questions like "Is that deep-fried?" The baked pork puns have great soft texture. A foil bottom for the steamed Shanghai dumplings keeps their soup waiting for your bite. Don't miss the sauteed string beans with XO sauce; scraps of dried meat flavor the crisp beans.
In Rincon Center, 101 Spear (at Mission)
If SFoodie ignored price, Yank Sing would rank at least in the top 5. We particularly like the shrimp dumplings, with thin, nearly translucent wrappers and fresh, delicately spiced fillings. The Shanghai soup dumplings and egg tarts are also quite good. The service is showy; we like it when they carve roast duck at your table (they don't seem to do it every time). But then the bill comes, and it's literally double the next-most expensive place on this list. If you can ignore that, by all means do.