Have you been to SF’s Chinatown? San Francisco’s Chinatown is iconic in many ways. If you’re traveling to San Francisco, this neighborhood should be on your list to check out! It is a vibrant section of San Francisco, located adjacent to the Financial District neighborhood. When I moved here 7 years ago, this was one of the first places I went to visit! From the hole-in-the-wall retail, to the unique food options, to the art sightings, this place is packed with historical significance and very fun to dive into it all!
What Makes it so Special?
It is the oldest and largest Chinatown in the U.S and a cultural and tourism leader for the city of San Francisco. Chinese immigrants started to settle in San Francisco around 1848 and sue to restrictive laws dictating where they could live within the city, Chinatown gradually grew overtime, and today is comprised of 24 square blocks. People come from all over the world to see this Chinatown in specific, simply because there is so much more ground to cover in comparison to other spots in the country.
Dragon’s Gate is a historical landmark signifying the main entrance to Chinatown. Standing tall at the intersection of Grant avenue and Bust street, the gate became one of the most photographed locations in Chinatown. It’s a beautiful entryway that boasts colorful traditional decor that is also revealed throughout the streets!
Cocktail Lounges and Karaoke Bars in Chinatown
Many household names have visited San Francisco and walked away with wondering stories to tell and memories that will never fade. In a 2012 interview with the infamous Anthony Bourdain after he visited SF (Mr. Bings was one of the spots on his trip), he told New York Times: “Anyone who doesn’t have a great time in San Francisco is pretty much dead to me. You go there as a snarky New Yorker thinking it’s politically correct, it’s crunchy granola, it’s vegetarian, and it surprises you every time. It’s a two-fisted drinking town, a carnivorous meat-eating town, it’s dirty and nasty and wonderful.” Said so perfectly by one of our generations Greats, he truly sums up how most people feel about this city and the establishments in it: one-of-a-kind and worth visiting. Here are my favorite cocktail lounges and karaoke bars in Chinatown:
- Mr. Bings: This cozy, old-school V shaped bar is the definition of divey and consistently brings in its loyal customers who have been fans of the establishment for years.
- Buddha Lounge: This place is lively on the weekends and the bartender is known for playing Liar’s Dice with the patrons. The Lucky Buddha is a great menu item, a light beer in a green Buddha-shaped bottle!
- Bow Bow Lounge: This spot is well known for its karaoke! Come here on weekend nights for a fun time with your group!
- Moongate lounge: Chinatown’s newest lounge, known for its swanky aesthetics and elevated setting above the famous Mister Jiu’s restaurant. Come here for unique craft cocktails and dim sum in the evening! The two drinks to try– Grain rain: rye, goji berry, cherry heering, szechuan, flamed orange; Kerberos gin; green chartreuse, salted kiwi, celery, pink peppercorn
- Red’s Place: wearings the title of the oldest bar in San Francisco, and focuses on a sports bar atmosphere. It’s the perfect bar for people who love the dive scene and have a wide selection of draft beers!
Restaurants and Bakeries in Chinatown
Chinatown has a plethora of dining options around every corner, and I’ve had the pleasure of eating at a handful of them throughout my time in SF. Out of all the ones i’ve tried, here are my favorites!
- China Live: This is my favorite restaurant on the list! Definitely an interactive and formal dining experience, and reservations are highly recommended! The Hong Kong Wok-Friend egg noodles, house famous kung pao “firecracker”, and Mongolian Five Spice Slow braised beef stew are all fantastic dinner choices!
- Z&Y: This is a more upscale restaurant of the bunch, with a Michelin star chef creating the culinary experience! Tea smoked rotisserie duck, grilled spicy green pepper with beef, salt and pepper prawns, chicken chow mein.
- Dim Sum Bistro: this place has some of the best spring rolls I’ve ever had! i suggest ordering the deep fried spring rolls and the pan fired potstickers as a meal. If you are a Mochi fan, they are worth grabbing here as well!
- Good Mong Kok: This is a widely popular bakery in the heart of Chinatown. Try to arrive before 10am as there is always a long line to get served. Their prices are hard to beat and you can get a handful of your favorite items for less than $10.
- Chong Qing Xiao Mian: this restaurant is tucked away on Kearney street next to a few boba tea spots. They are most notoriously known for their highly spicy soup dishes that leave you speechless, yet craving more after. If this intrigues you, order the Spicy Beef Noodle soup! Their Wuhan Hot Dry Noodles are great as well!
- Sam Wo: founded over 100 years ago and remains as an enduring symbol of San Francisco’s Chinatown. For appetizers, I recommend the BBQ pork noodle roll and salt and pepper chicken wings. For entrees, their house fried rice and kung pao chicken are delicious!
- Great Eastern: Fun Fact about the restaurant is that President Obama ordered dim sum here in 2012! Knowing this, you can rest assured that their dim sum is hard to compete with! My go-to orders are the steamed pork buns and the shrimp dumplings!
I hope you enjoyed my Chinatown post and found it helpful for your upcoming trip! Remember to be kind and respectful to the Asian American community ALWAYS and especially during this time of senseless violence of these community at large. Please comment thoughts and questions below, and share with your friends and family! Thank you for your continued support!