With such a vibrant Chinatown in the city center, it isn’t surprising that San Francisco has some excellent Chinese restaurants. As is often the case with ethnic food, some of the best is found at absolute dives. Here’s where I like to go: House of Nanking (919 Kearny Street; 415-421-1429): Wait in line, sit where you’re told and let them order for you, and it’ll be an experience to remember. Hunan Home’s Restaurant (622 Jackson Street; 415-982-2844): Don’t miss the über-hot Hunan specialties of the house. Jai Yun (923 Pacific Avenue; 425-981-7438): Little English is spoken, but after one taste of the amazing Shanghainese dishes, you’ll go back again and again.
Tip from chefs Hiro Sone and Lissa Doumani, the husband-and-wife team behind Ame in the St. Regis Hotel.
“A very very small hidden Japanese Restaurant near Japan town. We wish we would think about this place before we start driving there since most of the time we can’t get in. They only have 5 seats at the counter and 3 tables. The best way to eat here is to choose the Omakase menu or chef’s choice. It is a beautiful selection of seasonal dishes presented on lovely dishes. This is not the place to go for sushi, it is part of the meal but they do not have a regular sushi bar. It is for traditional Japanese coursed menus that are actually very reasonably priced.”
While not actually in San Francisco, Sushi Ran is a regular destination for many city diners and Silicon Valley hot shots because it serves simply the best sushi in northern California. The Zen-like entrance welcomes visitors with a beautiful fountain and plenty of greenery. A bar with a stunning array of sakes and top wines sits to one side while the opposite building holds the restaurant and sushi bar. If you opt for sushi, let chef Nori Kusakabe stun you with his choices of impossibly fresh fish, like chu toro, medium fatty sustainably raised blue fin tuna, uni from the waters of nearby Mendocino County, or spicy soft shell crawfish. You can also order the creations of chef Scott Whitman, like fiddlehead fern tempura or smoked hamachi tataki.
One of only three sustainable sushi restaurants in the country, Tataki is housed on a nondescript Pacific Height block, and it serves up wildly innovative sushi concoctions you can feel good about eating. More than just a meal, lunch or dinner at Tataki is an enlightening experience during which you learn just how many staples on regular sushi menus are endangered, non-sustainable or just flat-out unhealthy because of high mercury content. (I will, for instance, never order unagi, or eel, again, as eel stocks around the world are plummeting and farmed eel have a hugely negative impact on surrounding environments.) At Tataki, everything on the menu is sustainable and sourced with a commitment to the environment, which doesn’t mean that you sacrifice taste. On the contrary, the sushi here is among the most delicious and freshest I have ever tasted (I loved the substitution for salmon, arctic char, the best). Tataki received a mention in 2010’s Michelin Guide and in the evenings, eager eco diners line the block waiting for a table in the postage stamp-sized room—a sign that bodes well for the future. To read more about sustainability issues, visit the Web site of Tataki’s consultant Casson Tenor (http://www.sustainablesushi.net/), considered an authority on seafood sustainability. Open daily; Saturday and Sunday, dinner only.