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Wednesday, February 8, 2012

San Francisco's Top 10 Dim Sum Restaurants

Posted By on Wed, Feb 8, 2012 at 10:45 AM

Pan-fried chive dumplings - W. BLAKE GRAY
  • W. Blake Gray
  • Pan-fried chive dumplings

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.

click to enlarge Xiao long bao at Shanghai Dumpling King - GARY SOUP
  • Gary Soup
  • Xiao long bao at Shanghai Dumpling King

10. Jook Time

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.

9. Shanghai Dumpling King

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.

Steamed Shanghai dumplings at Great Eastern - W. BLAKE GRAY
  • W. Blake Gray
  • Steamed Shanghai dumplings at Great Eastern

8. Great Eastern

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.

7. Yank Sing

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.

Crude Drugs chicken feet. Don't be afraid. - W. BLAKE GRAY
  • W. Blake Gray
  • Crude Drugs chicken feet. Don't be afraid.

6. House of Banquet

939 Clement (at 11th Ave.)

Ignore the huge, empty room downstairs with a giant cabbage god facing the entrance; the party's on the second floor. This is a rolling-cart place, so language skills aren't necessary, which is good because if you don't speak Chinese you'll be in the minority. The siu mai and green tea dumplings are the must-order items here; we also like the light and airy baked pork buns. And the price is quite low; it's possible for a group of four or more to eat well for under $10 a person.

5. Golden Gate Dim Sum Seafood Restaurant

1829 Clement (at 19th Ave.)

SFoodie likes to order weird-sounding dishes off dim sum menus, and it has never paid off for us more than here. "Crude Drugs Chicken Feet" is one of the best dim sum dishes in the city -- the feet absorb medicinal herbs and end up tasting like solidified chicken soup. We also love the cold herbal jelly. If you're not as adventurous, get the chicken bun, the house steamed shrimp dumpling, and the sticky rice with lotus leaf.

Baked pork buns at Ton Kiang - SHOCKINGLY TASTY/FLICKR
  • Shockingly Tasty/Flickr
  • Baked pork buns at Ton Kiang

4. Koi Palace

365 Gellert (in Serramonte Plaza), Daly City

Koi Palace isn't as good as its army of devotees who mill around the parking lot think -- but it's still pretty darn good. Its many strengths include the greatest variety in the area; it seems like the kitchen sends out unusual dishes on the carts whenever it feels like it. We've grabbed a lot of interesting one-shot dishes here, some successful, some not. The Shanghai soup dumplings are always a winner. Koi Palace is a little pricey, but if you avoid the fish from the tank it's not at all extravagant.

3. Ton Kiang

5821 Geary (at 22nd Ave.)

If you're a dim sum novice, please elevate Ton Kiang to number 1. This is the place to introduce visitors to the concept of dim sum. Ton Kiang serves the most and freshest vegetables of any dim sum place on this list, and in fact is the only dim sum place we know where a vegetarian wouldn't spend the morning complaining. Don't miss the pea sprouts -- they're the best of the greens. The petite baked pork buns are pillowy, and the shrimp and chive dumplings are plump and meaty. This place is not cheap, but you get what you pay for in hygiene and English-friendly service. They'll even bring you forks without sniggering.

Sliced cold pork shank with jellyfish at South Sea Seafood Village - W. BLAKE GRAY
  • W. Blake Gray
  • Sliced cold pork shank with jellyfish at South Sea Seafood Village

2. South Sea Seafood Village

1420 Irving (at 15th Ave.)

The key to your great SSSV experience comes as soon as you sit down. Insist on the special tea; there's a separate menu. For $3 a person, you get a fascinating table-side ceremony of all the glasses being doubly rinsed, as well as an endless pot of higher-end tea (try the dragon well or the pu erh) and a bonus dumpling per person. You might also order a fish from the tank when you first sit down, though be sure to clarify the price. The cilantro fish rice noodles are an excellent version of a dish SFoodie usually finds boring, and the garlic sweet pea -- actually peas in their pods -- are cold and crunchy fresh. This place has the best service of any place not actually oriented toward Westerners.

1. Hong Kong Lounge

5322 Geary (at 17th Ave.)

Hong Kong Lounge is not for novices. Most of the large crowd trying to jostle ahead of you on the waiting list speaks Chinese; the waiters are arrogant; it's noisy. But the food quality is superb and varied. The baked pork buns are the best in town, with a crunchy top that contrasts the soft interior and meaty, savory filling. The coffee pork ribs are a must; they're served with a dollop of whipped cream, an unusual touch that accentuates the coffee. The shrimp dumplings are also excellent, and the bean tamale is a fascinating Chinese take on the dish. Prepare to wait an hour on weekends at prime time, but it's worth it.

We've updated our list of top dim sum restaurants in San Francisco! Check it out here.

Former SF Weekly Food Editor W. Blake Gray blogs about food, wine and other stuff you put in your mouth at The Gray Report. Follow him at @wblakegray.

Follow us on Twitter: @sfoodie, and like us on Facebook.

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