Asian Food in San Francisco
November 6, 2008 6:19 PM   Subscribe

What are your favorite Asian restaurants in San Francisco?

I'm traveling to San Francisco in a few weeks and while I'm there I'd like to sample as much good Asian food as I possibly can. Korean, Chinese, Vietnamese, Thai, Japanese, Indonesian, and more. Preferably, I'm looking for places that are mostly authentic and relatively inexpensive, but I'm open to all suggestions.

I found quite a few good suggestions in this thread, but that question was quite a bit more general. One thing I'm already looking forward to is getting some Banh Mi in Little Saigon.
posted by timelord to Food & Drink (26 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
I love Unicorn. My sweetie and I used to go there every year on our anniversary. It's more fusion than traditional, and it can be a bit spendy, but the food is great and the service is outstanding.

A couple of caveats: I haven't eaten at the SF location, and I haven't been to the Berkeley location in a while.
posted by lekvar at 6:29 PM on November 6, 2008

Best answer: For dim sum, try Y. Ben House Restaurant, 835 Pacific near Stockton, and City View restaurant in the financial district.
posted by Wet Spot at 6:33 PM on November 6, 2008

Tu Lan, I think it's on 6th st. Hole in the wall but terrific vietnamese food.
posted by RustyBrooks at 6:37 PM on November 6, 2008

Second Tu Lan.

I'm crazy about Ploy II, a Thai place on Haight between Waller and Cole and Shrader. It's on the second floor of the building, so it's good people watching down below if you can get a table by the windows.
posted by padraigin at 6:46 PM on November 6, 2008

For Vietnamese Little Saigon is right specifically a 2 block range on Larkin. My two favorites are Bodega Bistro, kinda of a hole in the wall take on high end but authentic Viet., and Turtle Tower - San Francisco's pho gold standard (don't worry they don't serve Turtle). Both are awesome and cheap. For higher end Vietnamese check out Bong Su, which I liked better than the super famous and popular Slanted Door.
posted by ill3 at 6:53 PM on November 6, 2008

Best answer: There is so much good Asian food here... I will start typing, and stop when I get called back to work.

Tu Lan is good for cheap vietnamese, also there is the whole Little Saigon thing going on around the old federal building, they just installed some lion statues gate thingy. Mangosteen is good, I like the cube beef thing. There are awesome Vietnamese sandwiches in the area, for like $3. Just walk around.

My wife's Thai friend loves to eat at Bangkok, on Powell 2 blocks from the cable car stop. Looks like a tourist trap, but the food is good and cheap.

The ugly mall in Japantown is awesome. Looks like crap from the outside, looks like crap on the inside, the restaurants look bad and fake, needs some cleaning and painting, but there is some very good food to be had. My wife and me (and a couple of Japanese friends) like the ramen at Isuzu (ground floor of the japanese mall, next to bonsai shop), and Tampopo on the plaza is good also for noodles, more greasy and authentic. The okonomiyaki is decent in the restaurant to the right of the crepe place on the second floor of the mall. The sushi is AMAZING at Ino Sushi, on the second floor of the smaller mall adjacent to the hotel, but it is not cheap. If you are willing to spend $50 or more on some of the best sushi this side of the Pacific, give it a try. I was supposed to be having dinner at Tampopo tonight, but I am still at the office fixing bugs and waiting on QA.

I recently went to Kathmandu Cafe to try some Nepalese food. Very similar to Indian food, I don't know how authentic, but pretty tasty.

You can also walk around Valencia street in the Mission. Dosa is very good Indian, and there are others that i am forgetting right now.

You only mention Asian, but if you want to try regional Mexican, Mi Lindo Yucatan close to Valencia and 15th in the mission has very good food from Yucat√°n.

For Korean, Muguboka is quite good, and if you are already in the Inner Richmond, there are a lot of options. Do not miss Burma Superstar, the tea salad and rainbow salad are awesome, as well as the ginger lemonade. Be there 10 minutes before opening time, or you will have a loooong wait.

well, QA is done, bye
posted by dirty lies at 6:56 PM on November 6, 2008

I think Tu Lan is super gross, and I am the anti-foodie. Teach the controversy!

Try the pho at PPQ and the sushi at Yum Yum Fish.
posted by svolix at 6:56 PM on November 6, 2008

Seconding Tu Lan grossness. This place has been riding on it's prior reputation for years and years. While it's not bad, you can certainly do a lot better in the City. And it's in a seedy neighborhood that isn't worth walking through either.

For Thai, I dig Thep Phanom in the Upper Haight. Good presentation of food. Reliable in both quality and service. Never had a bad experience.
posted by quadog at 7:10 PM on November 6, 2008

Dammit, I came in here to be the first to rep for Burma Superstar but I'm content to be the second -- it's really remarkable, and unlike most anything else you've had.

I'm never disappointed by Saigon Sandwich on Larkin (take-out only.)
posted by escabeche at 7:19 PM on November 6, 2008

Best answer: I'll agree with the last few posts that Tu Lan isn't good. I also haven't found pho I like in the city.

Shin Toe Bul Yi for korean fried chicken
Jang Soo for kalbi
My Tofu House for korean tofu soup
Pagolac (vietnamese) for raw beef salad, bo la lot, bo non vi, (avoid the clay pot dishes and pho)
Bodega Bistro (vietnamese) for bo luc lac, nom, and nem cua (avoid the french dishes and the pho!)
Saigon Sandwich for banh mi (everything but the bbq beef is good)
Thai House Express (chicken noodle soup, deep fried whole fish, basil chicken, skip the curries - they're not good)
Old Mandarin Islamic for muslim chinese (order the extremely hot pepper)
Larkin Express Deli for quick burmese food
Yamo also has good burmese food

I'd skip slanted door but if you're in the ferry building it's worth a stop at out the door for a chicken bun and maybe a daikon rice cake.
posted by foodgeek at 7:22 PM on November 6, 2008 [1 favorite]

Saigon Sandwich for banh mi (everything but the bbq beef is good)
Make that wrap delight for banh mi. Saigon Sandwich is also good, but I prefer wrap delight.
posted by foodgeek at 7:23 PM on November 6, 2008

I like Eliza's (one on California and one in Potrero Hill) for more California-style Chinese. Spices/Spices II is good if you like super-spicy.
Thep Phanom is good for Thai, as is Khan Toke out on Geary.
Burma Superstar is good, but small and busy - be prepared to wait a while.
Citrus Club on Haight is good for Asian noodles and drinks.
For Nepalese, Kathmandu Cafe is OK, but I prefer Little Nepal, in Bernal Heights.
For Indian, Dosa is excellent (it's south Indian - very different from the usual butter chicken and saag paneer sort of thing), but super-busy, so get there early. I also like Rasoi, down the street, and Little Delhi in the Tenderloin.
I also like Golden Era - all vegan with gluten & soy simulated meat, and the slightly culty religious atmosphere.
posted by chbrooks at 8:19 PM on November 6, 2008

Koh Samui is my favorite thai restaurant ... basically anywhere, and I loooove Thai food. (Sadly I have not been to Thailand, so I can't comment for authenticity.) Get the pumpkin curry!
posted by wuzandfuzz at 8:27 PM on November 6, 2008

Best answer: Slanted Door has a cheaper sibling called Out the Door in the food court of the new Emporium mall building (right on Market at Powell). Highly recommended if you can't get reservations at Slanted Door. Food is just as good. The other trick for Slanted Door is to go right as the doors open.

Yes to Burma Superstar and Japantown and Little Saigon.

I will add Mai's on Clement in the Richmond. The Richmond in general has a high concentration of excellent and diverse Asian cuisines.

These folks love nothing better than to answer that kind of question, and probably already have
posted by gingerbeer at 8:34 PM on November 6, 2008

Best answer: Chinese - Chinese food in San Francisco is just OK so you have to hone in on a few places that do one or two items well and stick to those.

1. Kingdom of Dumpling (aka Asian American Food Company) - this place sells frozen dumplings that you take home and boil up yourself but they beat dumplings at any restaurant in the city. Best kept Chinese food secret in SF. Since you're traveling, you can go to their restaurant. Again, make sure you get the dumplings, especially the lamb dumplings, pork+shrimp, and shrimp+leek dumplings.
2. San Tung - this place specializes in cuisine from the Shandong region near Korea so you need to order Chinese-Korean dishes. Get the dry fried chicken (dry) and the three deluxe spicy seafood noodles. Skip the dumplings, refer to #1. Everything else on the menu is a toss-up.
3. Shanghai Dumpling King - go for the xiao long bao also known as Shanghai soup dumplings. They also do "Lion's Head Meatballs" well. Regular dumplings are just OK, again #1 is better.
4. Panda Country Kitchen - Spices! is the more well-known Szechuan restaurant but I think PCK does a better job. Not for the faint of heart - the food is really spicy and a lot of that comes from the hot, spicy chili oil which also makes the food "greasy." Must-have item here is the fish (usually tilapia) cooked in spicy red chili oil.
5. Old Mandarin Islamic - foodgeek already nailed this one but it deserves to be mentioned again. Spicy lamb hot pot, beef pancakes, cumin lamb, and sour cabbage soup (with lamb) are the winners.

A few good Chinese spots but I'd say that if you really want to experience the best Asian food in San Francisco, Thai and Vietnamese is where this city really shines. Thai House Express is great.
posted by junesix at 8:40 PM on November 6, 2008

Start with ramen at Katana-Ya, on Geary at Mason off Union Square. There's better in the Bay Area (the old Santa Ramen in San Mateo, for example), but it's convenient and in my opinion better than the Japantown options like Tanpopo.

Then do seafood at PPQ Dungeness Crab on Clement in the Outer Richmond - there's a few PPQs, be careful. Anything on Irving, Clement, Judah, etc. in the Sunset/Richmond will be good for your quest, but this is an exceptional crab destination. Get the garlic noodles and the peppercorn crab and put the remnants together.

Then, for the finish, durian ice cream at Pollyann Ice Cream on Noriega in the Outer Sunset. It's so .. wonderful .. they don't even put it on the wheel that you can spin for a surprise flavor.
posted by kcm at 8:48 PM on November 6, 2008

Thai: Osha on New Montgomery or Thai House Express on Castro. They're both in the $9-12 / plate range, and they don't feel that authentic, so you might not like them. But I used to eat a lot of Thai, and I really liked the food both places.

Vegetarian Japanese: also not cheap, but interesting menu, Cha-Ya. I like the atmosphere of the one in Berkeley a lot better than the one in the Mission, though. I was also going to recommend "No Name Sushi," but it looks like they've closed.
posted by salvia at 8:59 PM on November 6, 2008

If you happen to be in the Inner Sunset, there are a bunch of nice Japanese restaurants, like Ebisu, Hotei and Koo. I'll second the recommendation for My Tofu House, and if you go to San Tung, I think the only spectacular dish is the dry fried chicken wings...everything else is mediocre.
posted by cucumberfresh at 9:00 PM on November 6, 2008

Burma Superstar on Clement!
posted by gyusan at 9:47 PM on November 6, 2008

Best answer: Seconding Pagolac and San Tung. There are actually two San Tungs - I think the one at 13th and Irving is better. I think the potstickers at San Tung are fantastic - if the ones from Kingdom of Dumpling are better I'll definitely have to check those out.

Marnee Thai in the outer Sunset is excellent. I also like Lingba (also Thai) in Potrero Hill, but that may not be worth making a trip to.

Hama-ko has fantastic sushi, but be prepared to be very polite if you go there - the comments on Yelp will give you some sense of why. It's very traditional

Ebisu used to have quite good sushi also, but I haven't been there in years. Hotei, across the street has pretty good noodles.

Old Mandarin Islamic mentioned above is also quite good.

Yelp and Chowhound are also good resources.
posted by pombe at 9:59 PM on November 6, 2008

Best answer: Too tired for justifications, so I'll nth some previous mentions:

-Burma Superstar
-If you have to be in the city, Y Ben House or Great Eastern, otherwise drive down to Koi Palace or Hong Kong Flower Lounge or Fook Yuen
-Japantown, in general - don't neglect places not in the mall proper
-Little Saigon, in general - Mangosteen, in particular. PPQ if you're out that way.
-Lingba for Thai

I hate to be all your favorite restaurant sucks, but other than the Chinese, the unfortunate truth is that Asian food in the bay area is pretty disappointing compared to LA and orange county - pretty much across the board. The Pho, Korean in general, and Sushi here are inexplicably sub par, and while Lingba is my go-to Thai place here, I'd never go back there if both me and it were in LA.

Other than that, get thee to Yelp. You can totally order the wrong thing at any of these places - you don't want to do that.
posted by NoRelationToLea at 10:44 PM on November 6, 2008

Response by poster: Thanks for all the great answers so far. Once I get back from my trip I'll post a followup with what I actually manage to get to.
posted by timelord at 12:54 AM on November 7, 2008

I like Just Won Ton. They mainly have won ton.
posted by grouse at 7:22 AM on November 7, 2008

Nthing Burma Superstar . . oh how I miss Burma Superstar . . .but nobody's mentioned Thanh Long? It's a hike (out at the end of the N-Judah line), but sooo worth it . . . that is, if you'd like to dine on fresh crab, cooked in the Vietnamese style . . . and enjoy your banh mi!
posted by deejay jaydee at 8:05 AM on November 7, 2008

To Burma Superstar junkies: you can buy fermented tea leaf salad mix (and other burmese foods) at a mall in Newark, CA. Same shit! Also, the Burma Superstar in Alameda is almost as good as the mother ship, but usually no wait.
posted by spork at 4:48 PM on November 7, 2008

Response by poster: Thanks everyone. I was a lot busier than I thought with work, but I still tried as many of your suggestions as I could. My biggest regret was that I didn't make it to Burma Superstar. The "best answer" posts just reflect the places that I actually did make it to.
posted by timelord at 10:07 PM on December 17, 2008

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