Palette Tea House
When you move to San Francisco, you quickly learn that Ghirardelli Square is a landmark, like the cable car turntable in Union Square or the Tonga Room, but it’s not real San Francisco. You’re only supposed to come to this former chocolate factory with visiting relatives so they can get free chocolates, and then inevitably drag you to Fisherman’s Wharf. When you’re not playing tour guide, though, you can go to Palette Tea House. This dim sum restaurant from the Dragon Beaux people is in the center of the city’s own chocolate tourist fortress, and we like it so much that we’ll come here even on our own time.
Like a lot of restaurants in tourist areas, Palette Tea House has a theme, but it doesn’t involve eating around props from B movies or dealing with servers dressed as pirates. Instead, everything you order here comes out looking like Bob Ross quit painting and decided to open a restaurant. It makes the entire experience more fun, but even if we ate here blindfolded, the food would still be fantastic.
photo credit: Krescent Carasso
There are charcoal taro puffs shaped like swans you’ll want to put on a shelf next to your souvenir teaspoon collection—until you try the sweet pork, duck, and shrimp filling, and then they’ll disappear faster than actual swans getting chased away by an angry golfer. You’ll be attracted to the colorful xiao long bao like Danny Ocean to a heist, and will want more after you try the rich soup and pork filling. The only blatant connection to the theme is the plates shaped like actual paint palettes. They have useful dents to hold the chili oil, Chinese mustard, and other sauces you’ll dip each dumpling into as if you were frantically creating a masterpiece.
photo credit: Krescent Carasso
Aside from dim sum, Palette Tea House has larger plates like tender roasted Iberico pork cha siu and Dungeness crab covered in garlic butter. They’re not as clever looking as the lobster ha gow with pipettes of butter to inject into each dumpling, but they’re great to split and will make you thankful no one sucked you into getting mediocre seafood or bread bowls nearby. There are still a few reminders that you’re in tourist country, like the occasional diner with a map sticking out of their bag, but you won’t care. You’ve found a spot in Ghirardelli Square that’s as much for you as your visiting family. But when they force you to go to the wharf after, you’re on your own.
Palette Xiao Long Bao
These soup dumplings come with five different flavors, so everyone at your table should order their own to get the full experience, but it’s worth it. They’re all fantastic, especially the rich yellow ones with crab roe and turmeric. Order a lot of these.
Lobster Ha Gow With Butter Sauce
The coolest thing about this is the pipette of butter they bring you to inject into each individual dumpling. Even without the butter, these would still be great. The lobster in these is tender and they’re the only lobster dumplings we’ve had worth ordering.
Original Pork Xiao Long Bao
These are some of the best xiao long bao we’ve had in San Francisco. The wrappers are more reliable than run-flat tires, and the dumplings are always rich and full of pork.
Black Swan Taro Puff
These are stuffed with shrimp, pork, and duck, and the filling has a sweet sauce in it that brings everything together. The taro outside of the swans turn into tiny shrapnel after you bite in, but it’s worth it to get to play with your food.
Jumbo Scallop Siu Mai
Only one big piece of scallop comes on top of this siu mai, and the rest of the filling is shrimp. They’re good, but you might as well just order shrimp siu mai—unless you’re obsessed with scallops.
Wagyu Beef Chow Fun
Throwing wagyu beef into a dish is usually done to be flashy, but here the rich, tender slivers of beef make a large difference in these great stir-fried rice noodles.