San Francisco Bay Area Cantonese Primer

One of the regional Chinese cuisines from the Guangdong province, Cantonese cuisine has deep historical roots in the greater San Francisco Bay Area. Historically, there were a large number of immigrants from the Sze Yup (primarily Toishan/Zhongshan area) area of Guangdong that first arrived around the gold rush era, followed by subsequent Hong Kong immigrants from the 1960s and onward that helped shape the Bay Area’s Cantonese cuisine.

Many ingredients serve as the basis of Cantonese cuisine from live in the tank seafood to preserved, fermented soy beans. Some ingredients from the Guangdong area are not necessarily available within the bay area, yet due to abundant access to California produce you still get a winning combination around the bay. For animal protein sources, the three major animals utilized are pork, chicken, and beef; lamb and goat have rarer usage. Other seemingly more exotic meat products appear as well, including ducks, frogs, snakes, and squabs. For aquatic sources, a large number of seafood items (both fresh and dried) are also used. The most common cooking techniques used include steaming and stir-frying; however, braising, double-boiling, and deep frying are also employed. There are many types of Cantonese/Hong Kong style restaurants that are found in the bay area; some that serve a particular niche of food while others may have a combination (e.g. Dim sum during lunch hours and seafood restaurant during the evening). In Asia, there tends to be much more specialization to certain dishes, whereas the Bay Area has a little more overlap resulting in restaurants that does a jack-of-all-trades cooking.

Now, where would you go to eat some Cantonese food in the Bay Area? Well, the SF Bay Area historically has two continually existing Chinatowns in San Francisco and Oakland respectively, but they are not the only places to find Cantonese food. In San Francisco, there are expanded enclaves of residential and commercial places in the Richmond , Sunset, and the Portola/Vistacon Valley districts. Outside of the city, there are numerous suburbs with concentrations of Cantonese restaurants such as those in the peninsula: Daly City, South San Francisco, Milbrae, Foster City, San Mateo, etc. Going across the bay, there are the cities of Richmond, El Cerrito, San Leandro, Hayward, Dublin, Milpitas, Fremont, etc.

As I quote @hyperbowler, “treat these categories as rough guidance, and be warned the list includes outstanding restaurants and real stinkers.” Here are some categories and listing with their own separate thread:

Check out the other Regional Chinese restaurants besides Cantonese-esque cuisine!

9 Likes

Yeah this is a load of text haha. I plan to eventually add pictures but I think I’ll need HO’s help in adding more restaurants and so forth–I honestly rarely go towards the east bay. If there are any inaccuracies or discussions, feel free to help out as I intend this to be like a wiki.

2 Likes

I can help a bit in filling some of the gaps (particularly in the South Bay) after I finish reading this all. :wink:

For a quick start, Koi Palace has additional branches in Milpitas and Dublin.

1 Like

Sounds good! More input is always nice.

And yeah I’m aware KP has branches there though I personally never tried them and compared to the Daly City one so I couldn’t really put it anywhere. I remember eating at Mayflower around Dublinish area and thought they did a good job, but it was a one time thing.

The Mayflower in Dublin tastes noticeably better than the other branches for dim sum and has a different menu. I pin it down to different ownership and a better chef.

I frequent the Milpitas location of Koi. It had a rocky start, but most of the time, the dim sum is 90% there, not as good as the original but a fair bit better than the other local spots. With the closure of Joy Luck Palace and the second Dynasty in the South Bay, it’s whittled down the major dim sum spots to just a few now.

One newer dessert I’ve seen in the past few years combines the shell of a pineapple bun with the salted egg yolk custard filling of the steamed version. It’s offered at Koi, Asian Pearl and a couple others I don’t recall atm and tends to sell out quickly.

1 Like

Great work!

Here’s more EBay spots for your master list. We tend to stick to Saigon Harbor/Richmond (the 99Ranch aka Pacific East Mall) or East Ocean/Alameda.

Mayflower Dublin is glitzy but good. Like it better than Koi - cannot stand the ordering process at Koi nor the lines, which we don’t think are justified by the food being that much better (it isn’t).

Pacific Lighthouse, Alameda (focuses on big events/family gatherings)
Ming’s Tasty Restaurant, Oakland Chinatown
Saigon Seafood Harbor, Richmond
Daimo, Richmond (99Ranch mall)
Asian Pearl, Richmond (99Ranch Mall)

Oriental Tea House, San Leandro
Tins Teapot Bistro, Hayward
King Valley Tea House, Pinole
Golden Bakery, Pittsburg (take–out)

Imperial Seafood, Concord
Leisure Dessert, Concord
Creek House Dim Sum, Walnut Creek
Peony Garden, Walnut Creek

88 Bao Bao, Dublin
Golden Sand Harbor, Dublin
King Wah, Pleasanton

1 Like

@Night07, a million kudos for launching this ambitious project and seeding it with solid content!

Might I suggest keeping a general page, kind of an intro and table of contents, and linking to separate sub-wikis such as dim sum, Banquet/Seafood Restaurants, etc.? Your background info, commentary, tips, etc. and of course the restaurant lists themselves are a comprehensive tool (more so than the index-like Regional List was intended to be), and you may invite more discussions with a few threads going in parallel.

1 Like

Oh that would make sense. Just set up a wiki for each one separately? I wasn’t quite sure how we should sort things.

1 Like

Downstairs from Koi Dublin is Koi Express.

1 Like

Great effort – somebody had to do it! New York (Queens) and LA may have stolen our thunder when it comes to regional Chinese, but SF rules the US (and dare I say) North America) iroost n the area of Cantonese food.

I’ve long held the notion that our Sze Yup/Sun Tak :airplane: San Francisco cuisine is very possibly a “purer” form of Cantonese than the Sam Yup :airplane: Hong Kong :airplane: Vancouver cuisine, and am hoping that someone more schooled in Cantonese Chinese has or will elaborate on this conceit. Maybe @chandavkl has some ideas about this.

P. S. I think this deserves to be a separate topic.

1 Like

Have no idea what old time Hong Kong food was like. But I will say that pre-late 60s immigration reform, San Francisco was the only Chinatown of importance in the New World and every other city that had a Chinatown (except maybe Sacramento) was a backwater whose local Cantonese food was almost random based upon who the local residents were. In the early Chowhound days I used to be amazed at requests on the SF board asking for the current availability of old time Cantonese dishes that I never heard of being here in Los Angeles.

1 Like

I’m always curious about it. I thinking of places like New Woey Loy Goey for some of these old school concepts. As one of the first Chinatowns in North America there are some historical claims though I’ve always wondered how much of that tradition remained when there were laws passed such as the Chinese exclusion act (1882). But I still find that Toronto and Vancouver still ekes out the Bay in Cantonese cuisine though I think its due to the higher number of recent immigrants. That or we need people with more expense accounts around…

Do you remember any of those dishes? CH is a bit harder to navigate now

The only one that comes to mind were the duck yee won ton and some kind of fish skin won ton (?), but there were many others. Likewise dishes like beggar’s chicken and sticky rice stuffed chicken may be occasionally seen in Los Angeles, but I couldn’t tell you who, if anybody, serves them today down here today. Not only was LA a real backwater Chinese community size wise (probably 10% the size of SF), but there was no Chinatown to speak of from the mid-1930s to late-1960s (New Chinatown was basically an ethnic theme park as housing in the area was next to non-existent) after it was torn down to build the Union Station. Consequently LA Chinese were more dispersed in various south of downtown locations.

1 Like

Wow! That’s very comprehensive!! I haven’t had much chance to dive into it in details yet but I will chime in when I do!

Also out of curiosity, but where do American style Chinese restaurants fit the bill? A lot of them do Cantonese style dishes or what about the newer restaurants like Mister Jiu? Just lump them under the Seafood banquet/Smaller restaurants?

Not sure if HO likes linking to FTC. But K_K Has some fun topics about old school Cantonese cuisine in Hong Kong.

Thanks for sharing. I miss Ken K’s insights and wish he contributed here too.

Sadly, not able to serve dine-in customers because of COVID is going to likely drive many of these old school Hong Kong eateries to distinction…

“Food is a pretty good prism through which to view humanity.”

― Jonathan Gold