My Top 3 Favorite Things About SF's Chinatown
Saturdays are for adventures, for exploring, for wandering. The reason why I like cities so much is because there are endless opportunities for exploring, especially on foot. And in a city like San Francisco, where every neighborhood is so distinct and different — from the topography to the landscape to the mini cultures within them — wandering to each one is like a trip to somewhere new.
1. Opportunities for Aimlessly Wandering and Exploring
Since moving to Nob Hill, a neighborhood adjacent to Chinatown, one of my favorite things to do is walk out my door up over and down the hill to wander around the side streets, in and out of the markets, poking my head in the interesting shops — many touristy, some much lesser so (if you ever need to stock up on live frogs and octopus, this is your place, in addition to Hello Kitty, Hi-Chew candy (technically Japanese, but prevalent in Chinatown), and an ever abundant amount of jade jewelry and San Francisco logo wear, as well as the not-to-be-missed Fortune Cookie Factory. You can also find your fair share of ginseng, looseleaf tea, herbs of all kinds, and even gently used dishes and cookware.
2. Saturday mornings it comes to life — just get there before the tourists show up.
My favorite time to go to Chinatown is in the morning, around 8 AM, when the tiny take-out only restaurants start selling piping hot dumplings, peking duck, and chicken feet and and bakeries are fully stocked with red-bean paste pastry and other delicious sweet treats. The locals are already in line, placing orders for breakfast, surveying produce at the market, while workers stack empty boxes at the curb. The first load of laundry has been started and is hung on the fire escape to dry.
3. Chinatown may not have the best dim sum in all of San Francisco, but you can't knock it 'til you try it.
You'll come to learn that among my top-three favorite things to do is get dim sum on the weekends. Here in San Francisco, the dim sum savants will tell you that the best dim sum is actually to be found in the Richmond District and not Chinatown. And I agree, though the questioner/skeptic in me needed to find one little personal gem in nearby Chinatown, and for that I gave Lai Hong Lounge a try last weekend. Though the steamed pork buns weren't quite as delicate and fluffy as those at Hong Kong Lounge II, the turnip cake was actually superior, the durian pastry was on par, and the overall experience was well above average. (And it got bonus points for the shorter wait and no drive). All said, I'll be back, and Hai Long will be added to my dum sum shortlist, rated as a solid 8.