When you think of San Francisco’s Chinatown, the first thing you think of is its reputation as the oldest and largest Chinatown in North America. You might also think of the fact that it is the largest Chinese community outside of China itself. Yet you probably wouldn’t immediately think of it as the home to some of the best San Francisco restaurants, which it absolutely is!
San Francisco’s Chinatown sprung to life in the mid-1800s as a colony within the young western city for Chinese immigrants. Many of these immigrants were drawn to the United States for the proliferation of work available at the time, particularly on the budding railroad system. The areas around the San Francisco neighborhoods of Telegraph Hill and North Beach became a home away from home for the city’s considerable Chinese population, who designed buildings and decorated the streets in the traditional styles of their native country. Over the decades, the emphasis on maintaining cultural roots through architecture, Chinese businesses, and traditional Chinese parades and festivals has helped keep the area a vibrant, unique, and exciting part of the city at large.
As Chinatown developed over the years, so did its reputation of being a home to some of the finest cultural exhibits and endeavors – both Chinese and America – such as literature, film, art, music, and of course cuisine. Many of the traditional Chinese restaurants located in the area are as old as Chinatown itself, including some landmark San Francisco restaurants like the Far East Cafe. The Far East Cafe that stands today was built in 1920 to replace the original restaurant that was compromised in the famous quake of 1906. One of the most popular culinary destinations in Chinatown, this restaurant serves traditional Szechuan and Cantonese dishes.
Another longtime resident is the Chinatown Restaurant, opened in 1919. The Chinatown Restaurant is famous for serving both traditional Chinese dishes and Mongolian cuisine. It is famous for its dim sum, fin soup, and steamed fish dishes. Famous visitors such as Leonardo DiCaprio are frequently spotted here.
While many of the San Francisco restaurants in Chinatown are traditional Chinese eateries, the area hosts some of the hottest club spots in the city. One of the most famous nightlife spots is the Blind Tiger, located on Broadway, which provides a fun and fresh dance atmosphere melded seamlessly with an Eastern flair. Grant Avenue is home to the Buddha Cocktail Lounge, which features reasonably priced drinks and food along with a massive Buddha statue located behind the bar. And of course Red’s Place, the oldest bar in Chinatown, is a must visit for those who want to sip a true piece of San Francisco history.
Whether you are looking for traditional Chinese cuisine, an exotic club atmosphere, or just a little bit of General Tso’s chicken as you take in the sights of the city, you will find the best of San Francisco restaurants in the intoxicating neighborhood of Chinatown. Yet as you stop in for your meal, remember that the neighborhood is a vibrant, historically-charged locale that has much more to offer than just exquisite cuisine. Be sure to stop and take in the grandeur of the famous Chinatown Gate, or the other worldliness of Waverly Place, or Buddha’s Universal Church, the largest Buddhist church in the United States. You will feel completely transferred away from the American Pacific Coast to the intriguing, striking, and foreign world of the Far East, yet be able to be home by dinner. Now who’s ready for some authentic dumplings?
Andy West is a writer on a variety of topics, including San Francisco. Eating at San Francisco restaurants in Chinatown is just one of the many San Francisco things to do in this great city.