SFGuide

The Best Chinese Restaurants In San Francisco

Where to go for mapo tofu, xiao long bao, seafood clay pots, and more.
The Best Chinese Restaurants In San Francisco image

photo credit: Erin Ng

San Francisco is home to one of the biggest Chinese populations in the country, so naturally, the Chinese restaurant scene is wide-ranging. While many spots are concentrated in Chinatown, you can feast on dim sum, sweat over a fiery Sichuan clay pot, and put down steamers of soup dumplings all across the city. In this guide, you'll find the best Chinese restaurants in town. There are Cantonese institutions, fancy tasting menus, halal Chinese spots, and so much more.

If you’re looking for the best dumplings or dim sum, we have guides for those, too.

THE SPOTS

photo credit: Erin Ng

Chinese

Hayes Valley

$$$$Perfect For:BirthdaysCasual Weeknight DinnerWalk-Ins
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Dumpling Home (and its sister restaurant Dumpling Story) takes gold—it’s our highest-rated dumpling restaurant. At this walk-in-only Hayes Valley spot, you'll witness hand-folded wrapper and filling mastery. The xiao long bao skins are translucent enough to see the pork-y soup, and green-tinted vegetable dumplings are pleated to look like sleeping hedgehogs. The non-dumpling dishes are also champions, like the sticky-sweet chicken wings and springy dan dan noodles. Order the whole menu, and prepare to join the sidewalk full of shengjiabao enthusiasts while you wait for a table.

You’re coming to Yuanbao Jiaozi to break your personal record for the number of dumplings with pudgy creases eaten in one sitting. They make up most of the menu at this casual Sunset restaurant, and are folded up and dropped in bubbling vats of water for you after you order. The fabulous dumplings come in sets of fourteen, with fillings like pork and napa cabbage, chicken and corn, or mushroom and fish. You’re going to want more later, so stop by the fridge in the corner to grab pre-made dumplings for home.  

You’re at Hon's Wun-Tun House in Chinatown for one reason and one reason only—delicious wonton soup. They’ve been a fixture in Chinatown for more than four decades, and the space has barely changed over the years. The interior is simple and tiny (there’s just a few tables laid out on utilitarian brick-colored tile) and service is a bit on the curt side, but we never mind because you’ll be in and out having consumed life-giving soup in 20 minutes flat. The wontons are generously filled with pork and shrimp, and the supremely slurpable broth is packed with stringy noodles. There’s a range of meat options for your soup, but we like the semi-sweet BBQ pork and the fall-apart beef brisket the best.

photo credit: Jeremy Chen

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R&G Lounge has seen more birthdays, wedding banquets, and graduation celebrations than all the for-hire clowns in California combined. The multi-level seafood institution, established 1985, is still the place to mark a grand occasion—that’s because the Cantonese seafood, noodle, and rice dishes are as fantastic (and big portioned) as ever. Pack a dozen or more of your favorite people around a round table and fill every inch of it with salt and pepper crab, sweet glazed sea bass, and salted fish fried rice (plus rounds of just-sweet-enough lychee martinis). 

This small, always-packed Chinatown restaurant offers regional Chinese noodles galore. It’s also where we like to park ourselves on casual weeknights to get a steam facial over a bowl of dan dan noodles. The broth is nutty and rich, there’s an overabundance of wheat noodles, and it all leaves a tingly, numbing sensation in your mouth that somehow doesn’t overpower. On days when you really want to stay under the covers, order a wonton-packed soup with chicken broth, spicy and numbing Chongqing noodles, or spicy beef soup all the way. 

photo credit: Carly Hackbarth

$$$$Perfect For:BrunchBig Groups

Restaurants in the SF Dim Sum Universe range in price points. They include everything from fancy Harborview to bakeries like Good Mong Kok where full meals hover around $7. Dragon Beaux is the happy middle we always prioritize. Experiencing the nice ambiance won’t put you in credit card debt, and the space gives the royal treatment: purple booths are flanked by gold pillars, intricate carved panels separate two dining rooms, and colorful beet and kale xiao long bao and charcoal sponge cake rolls go the extra mile in the presentation department. This place works equally well for dinner with the parents and team bonding with coworkers. 

Yank Sing is the city’s most famous dim sum spot—it’s been around since 1958 and is known to draw huge crowds, especially at the larger Spear Street location inside the Rincon Center. And while they’re arguably not the best dim sum spot in the city, Yank Sing is still a classic we love, and coming here at least once is a quintessential dining experience. Once inside, metal push carts with bamboo steamers will zoom past you, and you’ll have your pick of everything from phenomenal kurobuta pork and Napa cabbage dumplings and steamed BBQ pork buns to scallop siu mai. Get one of everything and don’t hold back.

Mouth-numbing wizardry via fiery flavors is going down at Z&Y in Chinatown. These Sichuan dishes demand your attention. Specialties include fish filet soaked in hot chili oil, mapo tofu with lip-tingling spice, and clay pots filled with chilis and an aquarium’s worth of shellfish. We never leave without that mapo tofu and a bowl of hot and sour soup. The snug space is málà heaven for anyone who loves a good mouth burn. And since the menu is a short novel (it would take weekly visits for a year to try every dish), you’ll be back.

Just across the street from Z&Y is their swankier fowl-focused offshoot, Z&Y Peking Duck. And as you’d expect from a restaurant with the dish in its name, the duck here deserves all of your attention. It’s carved under a spotlight in the dining room with the razzle dazzle of an Olympic ceremony and arrives in front of you gleaming and tender. And it’s not even the only reason to come to this Chinatown spot—the other Sichuan dishes on the menu, especially the chicken buried in bright red chilis, pack heat and flavor. Come here when you and your duck-loving heart want some spiced up dishes in a group-friendly space. 

A quintessential San Francisco experience: eating the chicken wings from San Tung in the Sunset. They’re transformative—battered, deep-fried, and coated in a spicy-sweet glaze that’s thicker than maple syrup. Get ready to lick the bones clean and wipe craggly fried bits off your lips. Everyone should come up against this life-altering dish at least once, as well as their black bean sauce-covered housemade noodles and fried scallops. There’s always a line at this Northern Chinese spot, so scribble your name on the whiteboard and wait your turn outside. 

This is no-nonsense dim sum. The menu at Hong Kong Lounge in the Richmond covers everything you could possibly want when you wake up with an intense craving for things from a steamer. Plus, you can get in and out for less than $20 per person if you’re with a group. The pink-walled Cantonese spot is always packed with groups spinning lazy susans full of siu mai, sweet baked pork buns, and fried sticky rice. If there’s a crowd huddled in the entryway (there probably will be on weekends), things will move efficiently and that hankering for bao will be satisfied promptly. 

The Cantonese seafood classic has been around since the '70s, and has drawn in everyone from Jackie Chan and Jacques Pépin to Guy Fieri and Joey Chestnut (their photos are taped up on the walls). It’s also the neighborhood go-to for a casual night filled with excellent steamed fish, salt and pepper prawns, and sautéed crab. The showstopper is the clams with a sweet, gravy-like pepper and black bean sauce that balances out the brininess of the clams. Since Yuet Lee is never too packed—walk in with friends and spend a few hours dissecting the drama of the day over tea, chow fun, and fish cake-topped tofu. 

Dinner at Empress By Boon feels like a wedding reception and a night at a high-stakes club in one. The Chinatown restaurant is home to sweeping views of Coit Tower, a gorgeous wood-carved pergola, and a marble bar where you’ll see your reflection. On top of this, the seasonally changing Cantonese food on the $108 prix fixe menu is luxury on a platter (or more precisely, on a series of small plates). Feast on things like jasmine-infused short rib bao, sea prawn rolls, and a roasted duck that’s fatty bliss. Empress By Boon has a dress code, so lose the shorts and t-shirts before heading up the elevator.

San Francisco’s House of Pancakes (no, not the international one) is a Chinese restaurant in Parkside where everything on the menu is $10.95 or less—so a meal here is a financially responsible choice. Come for the eponymous pancakes alone. Out of the 11 on the menu, the beef roll pancake is the winner. It’s a squishy yet crispy scallion pancake filled with hoisin and thick beef slices. Unless you’re planning an all-pancake diet for dinner (not a bad idea), add their solid dumplings, hand-pulled noodles, and grilled skewers to the order.

Finding halal Chinese food is a challenge in SF, unless you go to Old Mandarin Islamic. At the Outer Sunset spot, the entire menu of Northern Chinese dishes is halal, and lamb is the show-stopping meat. It’s served folded into dumplings, in rib form, or stir-fried with water chestnuts, onion, and what tastes like a bucketload of cumin that fills the bare-bones space with a sweet-earthy fragrance. The group dinner move on grey nights is an order of noodles topped with smoky fried bean paste, hearty soups, and Beijing-style hot pot.

This is a rare San Francisco restaurant specializing in Hakka food, and the family-style portions the Outer Richmond spot is rolling out are the equivalent of a snug sweater. There are basil-heavy clams in a slightly thickened sauce, and simple but downright satisfying wonton soup in clear broth. Nothing says “I don’t want to share this huge pile of incredible meat” like the sliced pork belly slabs served over fermented greens. We also love Hakka for its large banquet tables and quick service, making it the answer to chill weeknight meals with a group. 

photo credit: Melissa Zink

$$$$Perfect For:BreakfastBrunch

At this tiny, takeout-only bakery in Chinatown, you’ll have to sacrifice precious minutes of your life—the line is constant. But you should, because Good Mong Kok is dim sum glory. For starters, it costs less than $10 to fill a bag or box with enough food to feed the Brady Bunch. Everything is well prepared, and generously portioned, too—you’ll find the city’s biggest baked char siu bao here, waiting to be snatched up. More non-negotiables are the pineapple buns and meaty siu mai that are beyond textbook perfection. Maybe just order one of everything.

VIP Coffee & Cake Shop is a Chinatown cha chaan teng (Hong Kong-style cafe) with Jurassic-sized portions. You'll devour food that could feed a linebacker three times over, and nurse a cup of fantastic hot milk tea alongside daily regulars who are here to catch up over lunch. Are these dishes the best things you’ll eat all year? No, but it doesn’t matter since the cafeteria-like place is a castle of comfort. Pay attention to the case full of egg tarts and pineapple buns with crumbly toppings. 

Henry’s Hunan has been around in some form or another since 1974, and we’ll gladly continue to devour their Hunan specialties well into the next few decades. The Noe Valley restaurant nails the art of the sweet and spicy slow burn. Diners who greet staff by name sit up at the bar and dig into platters of bouncy shrimp, scallops, and chicken coated in chili flakes, while families and friends at bigger tables pass around umami-soaked stir-fries in hot bean sauce. Next time you’re in need of a filling dinner that requires little effort other than putting on shoes, this is where to go. 

Mister Jiu’s needs no introduction. Here’s one anyway: the upscale restaurant opened in 2016, wowing diners with traditional Chinese dishes remixed with Californian takes, like dutch crunch pork buns and uni cheong fun. They’ve since ditched the a la carte format in favor of a $125, five-course tasting menu that's only available in the dining room with the golden lotus chandeliers. We prefer to sit at the bar, where they’re still serving our favorite dishes from the original a la carte menu (it's a better value), like the seasonal cheong fun, puffy sourdough scallion pancakes, and a whole Peking duck with peanut butter hoisin. 

You go to this Korean Chinese spot in the Outer Mission for the spicy raw crab: six small crab halves sitting underneath a gigantic mound of vegetables covered in chili sauce. Put on a plastic glove, squeeze out the translucent, gelatinous-looking meat onto the snacking seaweed and rice that goes with it—and prepare for the red sauce to go flying. But don’t shy away from their other specialties. There's a great Hong Kong-style chow mein, a fantastic seafood jjamppong, an onion-heavy jajangmyeon, and some of the plumpest double-fried chicken wings around. Even with a wait, this place is exactly what a notch-above-casual weeknight dinner should be. 

photo credit: Brit Finnegan

$$$$Perfect For:Lunch

Despite its prime location on one of Chinatown’s main drags, it’s easy to cruise past the entrance to this Cantonese place. But walk up the stairs and into their homey, simply decorated space (think white walls with red lanterns and watercolor paintings) and prepare for a massive meal of Hong Kong-style clay pots. The menu is long and has some heavy hitters throughout (like the ginger crab), but sticking to the clay pot dishes is your best bet. Get the eggplant with garlic and ginger, or the dried bean curd with duck for a saucy delight. We recommend you pull up with the entire group chat and order like it’s your last meal—it’s easy when most of the clay pots run under $15. 

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