San Francisco's Top 10 Dim Sum Restaurants

Categories: Dim Sum, Top Ten

chive dumplings 550.jpg
W. Blake Gray
Pan-fried chive dumplings
​What better way to spend a weekend morning than over dim sum? Waitresses keep offering you tidbits of pork and shrimp, your endless pot of tea gets refilled without asking if you leave the lid up (there's a veteran tip), and at almost every place on this list, six people can eat until you're bored, full or both for less than $20 a person.

San Francisco ain't Hong Kong or Singapore, but for dim sum outside of Chinese-speaking metropoli, we've got it pretty good. A couple months ago SFoodie brought a wine writer from New York to one of our favorite places and he said, "Wow, we don't have dim sum like this," and not because we made him eat chicken feet. Though when you get to number 5 on this list, we strongly suggest that you do.

The best dim sum in San Francisco is not found in Chinatown. Instead, look north of Golden Gate Park, although top spots are found as far afield as Daly City. And a warning to vegetarians, as well as people persnickety about service: You'll be happiest at the places with the fewest Chinese diners. Because for the rest of us, the best way to find a new favorite dish is to not ask questions, but point at it and dig in.

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Gary Soup
Xiao long bao at Shanghai Dumpling King
10. Jook Time
3398 Balboa (at 35th Ave.)

The Richmond district abounds in this type of ultra-cheap dim sum takeout shop. Jook Time stands above the rest for the quality and variety of its offerings. Pastries are particularly good here, and the shrimp dumplings and steamed pork buns are solid. It would be possible for two to dine in for $10 total -- now, that's a cheap date.

9. Shanghai Dumpling King
3319 Balboa (at 34th Ave.)

Do you need more than the name to tell you what to order? It's a bit of a ringer on this list, as you have to order much larger portions than at a traditional dim sum place, but Shanghai soup dumplings are a cult food, and these are some of the best. Also try the green onion pancake. Come with cash (they don't accept credit cards) and an open-minded attitude about hygiene.

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W. Blake Gray
Steamed Shanghai dumplings at Great Eastern
8. Great Eastern
649 Jackson (at Kearny)

Chinatown's best dim sum house isn't its prettiest or cleanest. Novices and veterans alike will benefit from asking for the comprehensive photo menu, which silently answers questions like "Is that deep-fried?" The baked pork puns have great soft texture. A foil bottom for the steamed Shanghai dumplings keeps their soup waiting for your bite. Don't miss the sauteed string beans with XO sauce; scraps of dried meat flavor the crisp beans.

7. Yank Sing
In Rincon Center, 101 Spear (at Mission)

If SFoodie ignored price, Yank Sing would rank at least in the top 5. We particularly like the shrimp dumplings, with thin, nearly translucent wrappers and fresh, delicately spiced fillings. The Shanghai soup dumplings and egg tarts are also quite good. The service is showy; we like it when they carve roast duck at your table (they don't seem to do it every time). But then the bill comes, and it's literally double the next-most expensive place on this list. If you can ignore that, by all means do.


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47 comments
morgane.brussels
morgane.brussels

Guys I need your help please...

I went in SF few years ago, tried the best dim sum of my life, and never found it again. Don't even know the name. BUT it is the dim sum above, in picture with the pink sauce !!!! Just "steam shangai dim sum" doesnt work...

Can you give the chinese name please ? or the other english name ?

thansk in advance guys !!

Cheers

Mo

Linda Leonard
Linda Leonard

The soup dumplings at Shanghai Dumpling King will make your toes curl they're so sublime.

Kelli Marks
Kelli Marks

Too bad South Sea Seafood is closed :(

Tandy
Tandy

LOOK NO FURTHER!! The best dim sum I've ever had in the Bay Area -- utterly transcending what else is out there -- comes not from a restaurant but from a true culinary artist named Olivia whom you can find in the better farmer's markets, eg: Lake Merritt Grand Avenue on Saturdays, San Rafael on Thursdays, I'm not sure when (or if) she's in the city, but it's worth a trek to the East Bay just for this!                                                              She's totally able to respect your food preferences, so if you have a shellfish allergy, only eat vegetarian, or are gluten-free, just tell her. (I thought I'd never be able to have dim sum again when I became allergic to wheat, but nope! Olivia has us GF-folks covered!) Her mom is often with her; I think the truck is called Tru Gourmet, something like that, and I don't know how one would characterize these lovely morsels but my Singaporean mother-in-law is just as crazy about them as I am. PLUS! They have outstanding sesame balls, pork buns, etc....

AH! Herewith some photos of their dim sum: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Tru-Gourmet/115186438529659

Rodney Leong
Rodney Leong

HK Lounge belongs at the top. Also my regular place!

Howard Epstein
Howard Epstein

New Asia on Pacific Ave. in Chinatown should be on the list.

PJ Lugo
PJ Lugo

Why isn't Happy Dumpling on the list?

skarpy
skarpy

no cityview? pullease

Bei Yang
Bei Yang

I'd like to join as well

Bill Mears
Bill Mears

Shanghai Dumpling King is the best! Keep a blind eye to the filth.

Sandi
Sandi

Thank you for noting which restaurants/servers are arrogant and rude. I prefer to take my money elsewhere.

____
____

Glad to note that Mayflower is left out.  If you wish to lose weight by losing your appetite go there and be sure to get the female waitress with the glasses.  Her natural BO will suppress any appetite and cravings for hours.

Jorydude1
Jorydude1

No new asia in chinatown? Research baby..

Europe Holidays
Europe Holidays

 I had not visited Dim Sum, San Francisco but after reading your post I feel that I have been there. I am mad of foods so thanks for adding some great places in my list which I exited to explore it.

D30029
D30029

Gawd - will people stop saying "speak Chinese" - the language is not Chinese!

FeistySFNative
FeistySFNative

I'm surprised Tong Kiang is on this list. Their dim sum is rather, dry. Another hidden gem is Riverside on 23rd and Vicente. I have my New Year's Day hangover dim sum brunch there every year with friends. Great food just a step down from Koi Palace, but without the 45 min- 1 hour wait.

J Hercules
J Hercules

Thanks for the list, although because of my shrimp allergy, Im always hesitant to go to places where they may not understand that I'm deadly allergic. So I'll either have to take a a Chinese speaking friend with me, or learn how to say "Does that have Shimp"... suggestions?

Amber
Amber

it would be great to list which locations offer cart service vs menu

Asdajdha
Asdajdha

I think you guys should give City View another shot. I went for the first time a few weekends ago and was blown away by the quality and great ambiance. I think their baked BBQ buns are almost on par with HK Lounge.

Mr Bean
Mr Bean

What's a good dimsum place for vegetarians? Yeah, there are some out there.

Joe
Joe

Surprised that you didn't include Tong Palace, especially if you liked House of Banquet and Golden Gate Dim Sum. I'd say Tong Palace is superior to them.

Good list. 

Amy Sherman
Amy Sherman

Great list! And some nice finds I will need to check out. Another favorite of mine is Wing Lee on Clement, strictly for takeout. 

Tandy
Tandy

(CORRECTION: I just went to their link and it's San Rafael on Sundays, not Thursday as stated above...it probably changes from time to time so check the link before you head out)


Jim
Jim

I agree that Cityview should be on the list.  Koi Palace I would put as #1.

See:http://www.foodnut.com/48/koi-...

Millbrae has dim sum that is better than most of SF.. The Kitchen, Asian Pearl, Zen Peninsula

Joe
Joe

Huh? Is this a new politically correct view?

It's all right to lump all the Chinese languages under "Chinese." 

Are you saying we should distinguish among Cantonese, Hakka, Toisan, Pudonghua, etc.?

Jonathan Kauffman
Jonathan Kauffman

Have you been since new management took over a few months ago?

Wblakegray
Wblakegray

J: I'm not sure you should risk your life to try dim sum.

But if you do, please avoid all dumplings. Even ones that don't say "shrimp," and ones which the server denies have shrimp in them, might have shrimp paste. It simply isn't worth the risk.

You could eat pork buns and barbecued meats. I would beware of vegetable items because those might also have a shrimp paste-based sauce.

I have a friend with a shellfish allergy who I have taken to several of these places. His favorite, unsurprisingly, is Ton Kiang. He gets multiple orders of the baked pork buns. He likes the sticky rice and barbecue pork. He has never had a reaction. But his shellfish allergy is also apparently not fatal unless he eats, say, a whole crab.

NEVER trust a harried server's beliefs about the menu with your life.

Joe
Joe

Curious as to why you make the distinction.

Even in the dim sum palaces in Hong Kong, there is a combination of cart service, menu, and help-yourself. The last involves food set out on long tables in the restaurant. You walk up with your card, pick the dishes you want, have the card stamped, and walk the dishes back to your table.

Wblakegray
Wblakegray

House of Banquet, Ton Kiang and Yank Sing have carts. Koi Palace is a hybrid, it has carts but there are many dim sum items you have to order. The rest are menu places.

When I moved to SF I preferred cart service because that's what I was accustomed to. Now I can go either way. A good thing about menu service is that, paradoxically, it slows down the meal, especially for two. Sometimes we plop down and the carts quickly surround us in a funhouse mirror version of a feeding frenzy.

John_ccy
John_ccy

You know, I was surprised to hear recently (from other Chinese folks) that they've gotten a lot better as well, although I haven't been there myself to try it out.  I was just really surprised because for a while it wasn't considered that good.

  

Joe
Joe

Cityview has a great clean ambiance and helpful staff. 

It also has some very good dim sum, and, unfortunately, some very bad dim sum. The quality is very inconsistent, and that is very disappointing because the restaurant itself is a nice place to dine. 

Joe
Joe

You can order vegetable dishes at dim sum, but you're not going to get shrimp dumplings made with vegetables, which would, of course, defeat the purpose of shrimp dumplings, or pork dumplings, or barbeque pork buns, or steamed meat balls, and so on.

You might do better by frequenting Chinese vegetarian restaurants, which are often associated with Buddhism. Whenever I visit Hong Kong, I make a point of stopping in at least one of the Buddhist restaurants that serve a variety of wonderful dishes, all of them vegetarian. 

Wblakegray
Wblakegray

I'd say try Ton Kiang first, because they have several good vegetable dishes. I would also recommend other Westerner-friendly places like Yank Sing and City View, and suggest you don't limit yourself to the dim sum menu. You can also get dim sum at the vegetarian Chinese restaurant Lucky Creation, although I'm not a fan.

But I have to say, dim sum's not really for vegetarians. Sorry.

It would be possible for a restaurant to make strictly vegetarian dim sum, and make it tasty, but there's little incentive because the bulk of the dim sum market is omnivores with some Chinese in their background. Plus, dim sum is so associated with weekend dining that the restaurant would likely have to do something else during the week.

I think a strictly vegetarian dim sum place might work for cheap takeout in New York because of the larger population. I can't see it working in SF, even in the Mission district. And I can't see a sitdown place working because of the psychological association with Sunday dining.

Sorry, there are some cuisines that don't translate well for vegetarians. Dim sum is one. Unlike with Vietnamese or Thai food, where there are rich cultural vegetarian traditions, there's no real vegetarian tradition in dim sum.

Joe
Joe

Had great dim sum at a place called ABC Seafood in Foster City many years ago.

amyk
amyk

Millbrae's not that far and really blows away the offerings within city limits.Koi in Daly City, Zen Peninsula & South Sea Kitchen in Millbrae. Heck, HK Flower Lounge isn't that bad on a good day.

John_ccy
John_ccy

I was surprised that Ton Kiang was still ranked so high as well, before I read your post.  I'd always felt that it was a grande dame that had seen better days - although still formidable. :)  I think I'll give them another try, since I haven't been recently.

BK Broiler
BK Broiler

I have the same shellfish allergy and never went to dim sum as a result. But on a trip to yank sing (admittedly "westernized"), they volunteered to write in big Chinese letters on a big yellow post-it "No Seafood" and put it at the end of the table. Seems to work well as long as you point to it when the carts show up. People might give me grief for special treatment but it's because I love the food so much and would never had the opportunity to have a Shanghai dumpling otherwise (heaven in a spoon).

Tandy
Tandy

@Olivia Great to see your note here. I just sang your praises above! Thank you for the amazing culinary contribution you make to our neighborhood, Olivia :) 

pancho villa
pancho villa

No need to apologize for dim sum. i'm vegetarian and I love and eat dim sum frequently.  yes, the choices are limited, but when did we get to this point where we think we are entitled to, and need an infinite number of choices in order to be happy? we should consider ourselves immensely fortunate to have *anything* to eat at all.

Wblakegray
Wblakegray

It's still the single best place to take novices, and that counts for a lot. I used to eat there a lot more often but their menu is more limited than other places I like, and now I generally only go when I have a novice to take -- but I still enjoy my meal when I do.

The crowd milling outside isn't what it used to be, for sure. But that's a good thing.

Wblakegray
Wblakegray

BK: I'm glad this has worked out for you, but I still think you're making a mistake. The servers don't always know everything that's in every dish. Yank Sing is the best place to try this, I agree, but that's because the kitchen is Westernized. I think before you eat there again you ought to contact the restaurant and make absolutely sure of which dishes you can eat. Please forgive me if I'm being overly protective.

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