Martin Yan said the secret to his trim physique is eating lots of vegetables and soup—but on a recent tour of San Francisco’s Chinatown, the famous chef pointed out many places to buy dim sum, barbecued pork and stir-fried ice cream.
To be fair, he also had tips on where to find fresh fish and strong opinions on why loose leaf tea offers a far superior experience to tea bags.
As part of an effort to bring foot traffic back to Chinatown following the pandemic, Yan partnered with San Francisco’s Chinatown Visitor Information Center to give 13 attendees a three-hour tour of the neighborhood. Applicants were asked to write 100 words about how Chinatown’s economy could be revitalized, and those selected were treated to free lunch, tea tasting and a tour with Yan.
“This is about a living community,” said Yan. “People live here. They were born here. They work here. In this 12-block radius, there are over 88 restaurants.”
Yan kicked off the tour with lunch—dim sum—at Chinatown Restaurant on Washington Street, which is one of the neighborhood's oldest restaurants, founded in 1919, despite what its large “Grand Opening” sign would have you believe.
As Chef Yan explained, many Chinese restaurants hang “Grand Opening” signs to drum up visitors, but the one at Chinatown Restaurant with its frayed edges “has been here for probably 1,400 years.”
The green, gold and red restaurant is popular for its traditional architecture, wrap-around balcony with seating and views of Portsmouth Square, large round tables for sharing and downstairs banquet area.
After lunch, Yan led the group towards Stockton Street, though he hadn’t turned the corner before he was pointing out Lucky Creation Vegetarian Restaurant on Washington as a great spot for seitan and other vegetarian dishes.
On Stockton, Yan drew the group’s attention to the long lines outside Good Mong Kok Bakery, a hole-in-the-wall dim sum eatery that sells char siu buns, turnip cakes, sesame balls, shrimp dumplings and more.
“People line up for at least half an hour,” said Yan. “The bao here is this big, and one of these can feed the whole family,” he added, making a large circle with his hands.
Nearby on Stockton, Yan led the group into Gourmet Delight B.B.Q., where Peking duck and barbecued pork was being prepared and three pigs hung upside-down in the back of the shop awaiting their turn in the oven.
“When you eat barbecued pork, make sure you eat it fresh out of the oven,” said Yan.
Also on Stockton, Yan recommended Pacific Street Fish Market for the freshest fish and Chung Chou City Inc., a food market, for delicacies like dried abalone, dried tangerine peels and dried mushrooms. A fluffy cat greeted visitors at the entrance of the store.
Finally, Yan led the group to a tea tasting at Vital Tea Leaf on Grant Avenue, where teas like ginseng, white tea and pu’er were brewed fresh.
“Only the cheap tea is in tea bags,” said Yan.