Fun fact: Did you know S.F. houses the largest and oldest Chinatown in the whole U.S.? That's right San Franciscans, be proud, because that’s a pretty big deal. And, while the expansive neighborhood is about as authentic as they come, we'll admit that we don’t wander around the lantern-laden hills as much as we’d like.
With such a wealth of cultural offerings, we’d be there every day if we knew exactly where to go — it’s the best kind of sensory overload. So, from quirky kite stores to dim sum that will blow your mind, this curated list of must-hit spots are the next best thing to hopping a plane east. Have at it, pocket that airfare money, and rest assured that these picks will bring you more than enough good fortune. Time to get lucky!
Want even more R29? Get the latest news, tips, and can't-resist stories delivered straight to your newsfeed, in real time. Like us on Facebook — we'll see you there!
Photographed by Ashley Batz
Photographed by Ashley Batz
Can you say "photo op?" The gorgeous, jade-green gateway to Chinatown has to be one of this city’s most-snapped landmarks, and for a good reason, too: The details are stunning. Whether you just stop to admire the architecture, or take a slew of touristy photos (we won’t judge), the iconic entrance — separating Union Square from Chinatown — is a sight to see. Now, are you ready to pass through the emerald arches?
Chinatown Gate, at Grant Avenue and Bush Street; No phone.
Golden Gate Fortune Cookies
Tucked away in a quaint, historic Chinatown alley, Golden Gate Fortune Cookies is a legendary haunt that churns out some of the city’s tastiest cookies. Rumor has it that fortune cookies actually originated in our hilly hood — but regardless of fact versus fiction, there’s no denying that we’re masters at making ‘em. Stop in for some samples of unrolled, chocolate, or even adult-themed iterations — or just watching the baking wizzes do their thing right in front of your eyes. This place has been here for generations and by the looks of it isn’t going anywhere! Aren’t we the fortunate ones?
Golden Gate Fortune Cookies, 56 Ross Alley (at Jackson Street); 415-781-3956.
Home of the Chinese mai tai, this Chinatown dive bar is as low-key as it gets. A mainstay establishment rich with history, dusty paper dragons, gambling in the back, and an old-school jukebox, you can quickly see why LiPo Lounge is a favorite among locals and tourists alike. (Hey — if Anthony Bourdain digs it, chances are, you will, too!) Just don't expect anything frilly, and definitely try the mai tais...just don’t say we didn’t warn you! Those babies are lethal.
, 916 Grant Avenue (at Washington Street); 415-982-0072.
Golden Gate Bakery
When we first walked up to Golden Gate Bakery, there was a line that could have rivaled Tartine’s lengthy wait. Eager to see what the buzz was about, we jumped in. And boy, are we glad we did. Apparently, the egg tarts are all the rage, so we gobbled one of those suckers right up. The light, flaky crust, custard-filled inside, and small size made it a good on-the-go indulgence — and for $1.35, how could we not?! If you’re strolling through Chinatown, a stop at Golden Gate Bakery is order, and with a large menu, friendly staff, and low prices, this place is our new sweet-treat obsession.
Golden Gate Bakery, 1029 Grant Avenue (between Jackson Street and Pacific Ave); 415-781-2627.
Another star establishment for super tasty, authentic Chinese food is R&J Lounge, with fans flocking in from all parts of the city to get a taste of its fried crab. Located on the border FiDi and Chinatown, this three-level resto has long been praised as one of the best Chinese eateries in the nation — especially for seafood-lovers. So, if there’s a long wait (which there is sure to be!), you get why. But, seriously make this a must-hit haven on your Chinatown to-do list.
, 631 Kearny Street (between Commercial and Clay streets); 415-982-7877.
Empress Of China
We couldn’t complete a Chinatown roundup without tipping our hats to the classic Empress of China. The incredibly ornate rooftop-garden restaurant is packed with vibrancy and impressively detailed interiors. Walking in, you're greeted by a sun-soaked tree in the middle of the entryway, which leads into an opulent dining room. Stopping by for the city's finest views and the wow-worthy architecture is highly recommended.
Empress Of China
, 838 Grant Avenue (between Clay and Washington Streets); 415-434-1345.
Ten Ren Tea
Tea aficionados, rejoice. This lovely little spot along the main Chinatown stretch isn’t only inviting and neat as a pin, but it houses tons of exotic types of teas. Whether you wander in for a Boba or a steaming green tea, be sure to enjoy your cup in the adorable little wooden table in the corner. And, in case you are looking to walk away with some swanky tea-making paraphernalia — this place has got you covered. Bottoms up!
Ten Ren Tea
, 949 Grant Avenue (at Jackson St); 415-362-0656.
City View Restaurant
Dim sum? Don't mind if we do. Tucked away on the fringes of Chinatown and Union Square, this culinary respite serves up solid-tasting dumplings, Peking duck, chicken feet (yes, really), and other exotic nibbles. The interior is quiet and clean (unless you pop in for Sunday brunch, then prepare to wait). And, be prepared to shell out a little more dough than a hole-in-the-wall dim sum joint — this place isn’t the cheapest, but it is well worth it.
City View Restaurant, 662 Commercial St (between Kearny and Montgomery streets); 415-398-2838.
Chinatown Kite Shop
Honestly, we love strolling through all the little specialty shops in Chinatown — it’s almost overstimulating, so narrowing it down to one was no small feat. But, we couldn’t help but be instantly drawn to this color-saturated kite shop, packed with contraptions of all shapes and sizes. A vivid sight, this quaint little store is a thrill for kite flyers and oglers alike. One waltz through and you’ll be back to those nostalgic days of chilling out on a windy day, kite in child hand.
Chinatown Kite Shop, 717 Grant Avenue (between Commercial and Sacramento streets); 415-989-5182.
Let’s be real — with a name like Utopia Café, how could we simply gloss over it? Perched in the heart of Chinatown on Waverly Place, this spot is dead-on authentic Chinese food, so expect to find classic and out-of-the-box eats. It is also lauded for being a standout spot to lunch in the area, so we recommend popping in for a quick bite before heading back to the office!
Utopia Café, 139 Waverly Place (between Clay and Washington streets); 415- 956-2902.