On this visit to Chinatown, I stopped for a quick bite to eat at one of the popular take-out dim sum spots on Stockton Street. Good Mong Kok, a tiny hole-in-the wall, had a line outside the door and nowhere to eat inside. The shop was managed by three busy women behind the counter who cooked, answered the phone, and ran the cash register all at once. A few handwritten signs on the wall behind them said…something in Chinese characters and English, but I couldn’t figure out what and there wasn’t much time with the line pressing in behind me. Huge steamers set behind the counter held the biggest steamed buns I’ve ever seen, har gow (shrimp dumplings), and shumai (pork dumplings), while the front window displayed a few desserts. Options were limited because it was after lunchtime (and the only non-meat option seemed to be the plain steamed buns), but I picked out a steamed bun filled with barbecued pork, a sesame ball and an unidentified fried ball of dough. My lunch came out to about $3.00 (which is crazy when you consider that the average price for lunch in San Francisco is upwards of $10), but I have no idea what each item cost.
The restaurant is located on a wide street with many lanes, and the nearby construction and exhaust from the speeding traffic made the air feel dirty. I would rather not eat out there, but there weren’t any other places to go and I wanted to try it while it was warm. I went for my main dish, the steamed pork bun, first. Like I said before, these buns are huge, the pillowy dough bursting open at the seams, stuffed with barbecued pork. It wasn’t as soft or moist as most, but the meat was flavorful and I enjoyed it and it was filling. The fried dough ball turned out to be stuffed with pork and vegetables, which had a great flavor but was extremely greasy. The sesame ball was the best item, chewy and crunchy and tasty.
Since they were out of egg tarts, I tried to hit up the acclaimed Golden Gate Bakery on Grant, but it was closed, as it always seems to be, while the owners were gone for vacation. In fact, it’s closed so often that there’s a website dedicated to keeping fans of the bakery up to date on when the shop is open.
Instead, I headed over to Cool Tea Bar, tucked away inside a nondescript (and hard to find – I walked right past the entrance the first time) shopping center called Miriwa on Pacific Avenue. Though it doesn’t exactly have a prime location, this small tea shop is a Chinatown hot spot. Serving up a variety of milk teas, boba, smoothies, and a few types of food, the tea bar offers plenty of seating and even bathrooms. Cool Tea Bar caters to a younger crowd, though it’s right next door to a medical supply shop that seemed to specialize in canes and walkers. The signs all offered English translations and a notice advertising a job opening in the shop specified that applicants must be fluent in both Chinese and English. The menu helpfully ranks its most popular drinks, and I selected the number 1, a roasted milk tea with grass jelly. A sign explains that you can specify how sweet you want your drink by requesting a percentage of sugar based on “regular.” I went with the regular, and it was tasty, if a bit sweet. I was a bit suspicious of the grass jelly, but it turns out I liked it way better than any boba I’ve tried, because you don’t have to spend forever chewing it until you give up and just swallow it whole (am I the only one who has this problem?). The jelly was similar in consistency to Jell-O, and I’m happy to report it did not taste like grass.
I’d consider that a successful quick bite in Chinatown, though I’ll have to return for a meal at a full-service dim sum restaurant and some tasty baked goods from the Golden Gate Bakery.
Published On: Monday, November 3rd, 2014