Maybe because Chinese restaurants are the only dining establishments that are reliably open on Christmas day, or perhaps people get their fill of turkey, ham, and mashed potatoes over Thanksgiving, but there’s definitely a tradition amongst some families to eat Chinese food on Christmas Day. In honor of that time-honored tradition, I thought I’d post photos from a recent trip to House of Nanking. A bit of background: My first trip to House of Nanking was under the advice of my grad school advisor. He had lived in the Bay Area in the mid-1990’s and enjoyed visiting the dive bars and grubby restaurants of San Francisco’s Chinatown. So, when my fellow grad student EMC and I were in SF for a conference in 2003, my advisor gave us a list of his favorite places. We were joined on this tour by my friend JB, and it turned out to be a very memorable occasion. When I realized that the three of us were going to be in SF again this year, I immediately thought we needed to embark on our Chinatown reunion tour. This time, MR joined our gang.
Destination #1: House of Nanking. As you can see on Yelp, House of Nanking is very polarizing. Some people think it’s the best Chinese food ever, while others hate it and think it’s entirely overrated. I enjoy it as an overall experience. The food is generally pretty good, and I’ve only had one disappointing dish here (see below). House of Nanking is not for you if you demand good service or a decipherable receipt (also see below). Mayhem is the theme here; you walk in, where there’s no waiting area, so you either hover over diners or wait outside in an ambiguous line. Then, there is the menu which no one really uses anyway because the owner (I think his name is Peter) will come over to take your order, and the protocol is to ask Peter to bring you whatever he thinks is best that day. Trust him. This never fails. One nice thing about House of Nanking is that they are usually extremely accomodating towards vegetarians and those with dietary restrictions or allergies. But enough with the words — let’s move on to the photos!
After that satisfying meal, we continued on to Destination #2: Empress of China. This is a kitschy pseudo-tiki bar with 70’s style decor and a nice view of Coit Tower. Destination #3 was the Buddha Bar, a divey joint with an interesting bartender. It was this bartender who warned us back in 2003 that Destination #4, supposedly a divey karaoke bar, was not a good place. We sat, puzzled, trying to decipher through his heavy accent and meandering 10 minute story when we finally realized that Destination #4 was a cover for an underground prostitution ring. Of course, we never stopped giving our advisor crap for sending his female grad students to an underground whore house. He still pleads ignorance to this day, and we think we believe him, but it’s a great story.