An Asian food lover’s guide to San Francisco

Photo courtesy: Rintaro

The Bay Area is known for being the birthplace of California cuisine and seasonal eating, but it’s also a mecca for all types of Asian food, especially in San Francisco. Boasting the oldest Chinatown in the Americas, a Japantown, and a little Saigon, Asian food is a big deal here. Asian residents make up a third of SF’s population, which means there are plenty of options beyond the standard California rolls and broccoli beef. Follow along, and we’ll share some of our favorite places this side of the Yangtze.

 

Photo courtesy: Rintaro

Izakaya

The small plates of a Japanese Izakaya are perfect for sharing. Bring your friends and your appetite and head over to Rintaro. This is where former Chez Panisse’s Creative Director, Sylvan Mishima Brackett, combines traditional Japanese cuisine with fresh California ingredients. Rintaro’s produce is grown locally in Half Moon Bay, about 45 minutes south of San Francisco. They make their own udon noodles, tofu, umeboshi (preserved plums), and umeshu (plum wine). If you’ve never had the pleasure of tasting real wasabi, it’s nothing like the bright green fake stuff. Real wasabi has a clean flavor without any of the horseradish-y aftertaste. Highly recommended.

Rintaro
82 14th St, San Francisco, CA 94103

Sushi

Ironically, the best sushi in SF isn’t found in Japantown. Our personal favorite is Ichi Sushi in the Outer Mission. We recommend getting the Omakase and letting the chef decide what to serve you. Their fish is so fresh you can still taste the ocean. And they always have some species you’ve probably never heard of. If they have it, be sure to try the Ocean Trout. Its bright orange color and rich, clean flavor rivals any salmon. This place is (rightfully) super popular, so try to make a reservation if possible. You can also sit at the first-come, first-served back bar while you wait for a table.

Ichi Sushi
3369 Mission St, San Francisco, CA 94110

 

Photo courtesy: Anthony Todina (left), Ben Hon (right)

Dim Sum

The Outer Richmond might be a little out of the way, but it has some of the best Asian food in SF. Plus, you can head over to nearby Golden Gate Park or Ocean Beach after dinner to walk off all those soup dumplings. Get your xiao long bao fix at Dumpling Kitchen. This place is small and no-frills, but what it lacks in ambiance it makes up for in authentic and satisfying food. On any given day, you’ll find tables of multigenerational Asian families sitting down to steaming plates of pan-fried pork buns (Shengjian bao) and other Shanghai-style dim sum.

Dumpling Kitchen
1935 Taraval St, San Francisco, CA 94116

 

For a more high-end experience, head over to Chinatown and visit Michelin-starred Mr. Jiu’s. The owner and executive chef, Brandon Jew, marries classic Cantonese fare with California cuisine. This means seasonal ingredients and sustainably raised meat sourced directly from local farmers. His take on hot and sour soup adds tomatoes and lily bulbs to a rich, hearty chicken broth, while crab gives it unexpected depth. Be sure not to miss out on the charcuterie and rainbow-hued potstickers. Reservations are highly recommended. 

Mr. Jiu’s
28 Waverly Pl, San Francisco, CA 94108

 

Photo courtesy: Sonder

Bahn Mi

One of the best deals in Little Saigon is also one of the cheapest. When the French colonized Vietnam, they brought their cuisine with them. Bahn Mi is a direct result of that influence. This little sandwich combines traditional Vietnamese ingredients like pickled daikon, spicy chilis, roast pork, and fatty pate with fresh cilantro and crispy cucumbers, all perfectly wrapped in a fluffy french baguette. Saigon Sandwich serves these little bundles of heaven out of their walk-up counter on Larkin. Be prepared for a wait at lunchtime; this place is a local favorite. Since there is no seating, head over to the nearby Tenderloin National Forest, a neighborhood art space full of redwoods and murals.

Saigon Sandwich
560 Larkin St, San Francisco, CA 94102

 

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