San Francisco, CA


The reality of Chinatown is that there are two Chinatowns: One belongs to the locals, the other charms the tourists. They overlap and dance with each other, drawing more visitors annually than the Golden Gate Bridge.

Why the popularity? Because visitors expect something they won't find anywhere else. They expect to be stunned and enchanted and stuffed with great food. And they will.

You don't need an itinerary to tackle Chinatown. Wandering aimlessly, weaving between locals and ducking into shops is enough of a plan. Main Street for tourists is Grant Avenue, which is more about cheap and kitschy plastic Buddhas than the long heritage of Chinatown. It should definitely be seen, but moving on to the next block can be more rewarding.

For deep immersion into Chinatown, be sure to examine the many produce and live markets that line Stockton Street (between Columbus and Broadway) on a Saturday afternoon. That is where the locals do their shopping, and Saturday is the busiest day. Untrained Western eyes may find the sight of live turtles, chickens and other animals peculiar, but the markets are definitely interesting. Coupled with the clogged streets and the shouting matches over bok choy, they make for an all-day attraction.

Exploring the pocket-size side streets at night is another great way to run into something unforeseen. Dive bars in Chinatown are small, dark and moody, with locals playing dice and visitors wandering in with curious looks on their faces.

Sights and Culture

Chinatown Gate: A gloriously decorated gate marks the entry to Grant Avenue's Chinatown. It was unveiled in 1970, and helped secure the street's status as the neighborhood's center. Once you're past the gate, you'll see elaborate 1920s streetlights sculpted to resemble golden dragons lighting the way. Grant Avenue and Bush Street.

Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory: Here, tucked inside a storefront on tiny Ross Alley, some 20,000 fortune cookies a day are handmade by two women, each manning a conveyor belt of what look like miniature waffle irons. The factory opened in August 1962, and though there are other fortune cookie bakeries in the city, this is the only one where the cookies are still made by hand, the old-fashioned way. Anyone is welcome to stroll in and watch the cookies being made, sample a cookie, and pick up a bag of 40 for $3. The factory is open seven days a week, 7 a. m. to 8:30 p.m.. Admission is free. But if you want to take a photograph - and how could you resist? - a sign by the front asks for 50 cents. 56 Ross Alley, (415) 781-3956.

Waverly Place: A picturesque street full of sights and smells to overwhelm you. It is also the nexus of temples in Chinatown, including Tien Hau. Parallel to Grant Avenue and Stockton Street, between Washington and Sacramento streets.


Autumn Moon Festival: Also called the Mid-Autumn Festival, the Moon Festival takes place in September, around the same time as the autumn equinox. Highlights typically include live entertainment such as martial arts, acrobats, Chinese opera, karaoke, music, dance and a youth talent contest, with plenty of activities for children like Chinese calligraphy, mini-car races and more.

Chinese New Year: The neighborhood gets decked out in red banners for one of San Francisco's largest festivals. The Lunar New Year is celebrated with food, flowers, firecrackers and envelopes of "lucky money." The two-week celebration includes music events, street fairs and the Miss Chinatown USA pageant and culminates with a spectacular parade featuring a 160-foot-long dragon.


Chinese Historical Society of America: The Chinese Historical Society of America is one of the oldest and largest organizations dedicated to the study, documentation, and dissemination of Chinese American history. 965 Clay St., (415) 391-1188. (Web site)

Temples and Churches

Buddhas Universal Church: Standing five stories, Buddhas Universal Church is the largest Buddhist church in the country. Built in 1961, the temple is a place of serenity for the largest Buddhist congregation in San Francisco. It also affords views over the whole city. 720 Washington St., (415) 982-6116)

First Chinese Baptist Church: One of the oldest churches in the community, the First Chinese Baptist Church was organized in 1880, with the congregation settling into a building at the current location eight years later. The church at the site was destroyed in the 1906 earthquake and rebuilt in 1908. The church offers services as well as language classes. 15 Waverly Place, (415) 362-4139.

Gold Mountain Sagely Monastery: This Buddhist sanctuary in the heart of Chinatown offers lectures on Buddhism, Sutra recitations, and meditation classes. 800 Sacramento St., (415) 421-6117.

Kong Chow Temple: This Taoist temple, founded in 1857, has some of the most colorful altars in the entire city. The green, red and gold altars display representations of various gods. This fourth-floor location was built in 1977, and is also home to the Chinatown Post Office. 855 Stockton St., (415) 788-1339.

Norras Temple: Norras Temple is the oldest Buddhist Temple in San Francisco, dating back more than 50 years. Featuring an altar made of wood imported from China, the temple is also adorned with symbols from Tibetan Buddhism. The temple itself was named after Tibet's Norras Buddhist Temple. 109 Waverly St., (Third Floor), 415-362-1993.

Old St. Mary's Cathedral: Old St. Mary's is one of the most prominent buildings in the Chinatown area. The cathedral was built by Chinese laborers in 1854 using brick that was shipped around Cape Horn and granite from China. Though the original was destroyed in the 1906 earthquake, the cathedral was rebuilt in 1909. 660 California St., (415) 288-3800.

Tien Hau Temple: Each floor of this building has a completely different look to it, ranging from opulent to neon. It was designed in 1911 and achieved its mishmash of influences through the years. On the top floor is the temple, dedicated to the Goddess of Heaven. Brightly painted on the outside, with the scent of incense wafting from its walls, the temple is a sanctuary for the people. Opening time varies. Admission is free, but a donation is appreciated. 125 Waverly Place (at Clay Street), no phone.


Kee Fung Ng Gallery: Though it may not look like much from the outside, Kee Fung displays an impressive array of wall-hanging scrolls, paintings, soapstone statues and other carvings. 757 Grant Ave., (415) 434-1844.

Shakris Fine Asian Works of Art: True Asian antiques take centerstage at Shakris. The gallery highlights Chinese ceramics dating from the Han Dynasty, jade pieces, such as an owl-faced pendant, from 4,000 to 2,500 BC, and religious sculptures from the Ming Dynasty. Shakris also showcases works from other Asian countries, such as Khmer stone and bronze sculptures, Indonesian arts and Japanese Netsuke carvings. 954 Bush St., (415) 929-0280.

Chinese Culture Center: The center offers a variety of cultural events, including exhibitions of traditional and contemporary art, performances of Chinese Opera and dance, classes in Chinese language, painting and floral design, publications, tours, artists workshops and craft fairs. The center also donates its facilities to the Chinatown Community Arts Program. 750 Kearny Street, 3rd Floor, (415) 986-1822.

Stylers Art Gallery: This small gallery offers classes in Chinese calligraphy, brush painting, and other traditional Chinese arts. 661 Jackson St., (415) 788-8639.

Murals and Public art

Stockton Street Mural-Chinese Railroad Workers by Amy Nelder. At Victory Memorial Hall, erected by the China War Relief Association of America.

Photos of People from the Neighborhood by Darryl Mar, 1995. At the North Beach Parking Garage, 735 Vallejo Street, between Columbus and Stockton streets.

Five Carved Stones by Marcia Donahue, 2000. At Chinatown Park (Woh Hei Yuen Park), Powell St. between Jackson and John streets.

Tectonic Melange by Lampo Leong, 2000. At Chinatown Park (Woh Hei Yuen Park), Powell St. between Jackson and John streets.


Asian Renaissance: Asian imports of all persuasions fill this aesthetically pleasing store. Bedspreads, Thai silk runners, kimonos, sake and tea sets and candles are all beautifully presented, while New Age-style music plays in the background. Books on feng shui are also in stock. 662 Grant Ave., (415) 397-1897.

Asian Image: The larger cousin of Asian Renaissance, Asian Image spans two floors. The upstairs includes books on Asian culture and crafts, sushi-shaped candles, silk fortune cookie covers, purses and scarves. Downstairs, the racks spill with Chinese jackets, Thai silk shirts, hand-painted jackets and the like. 800 Grant Ave., (415) 398-2602.

Bonsai Villa: Aside from the slew of bonsai plants in this small shop, Bonsai Villa offers books on bonsai, Tai Chi and Chinese culture in general. 825 Clay St., (415) 837-1688.

Canton Bazaar: Not to be outdone by any other store on the block, Canton Bazaar spans three floors featuring Lucky Cat collections, Mao statues, an array of Buddhas, hand-carved dragons, porcelain sake sets and kimonos. It is even possible to pick up an entire living room set. 616 Grant Ave., (415) 362-5750.

China Gem Full: One of Chinatown's better wholesale shops for Chinese-style clothes and handicrafts, China Gem Full sells everything from silk Mandarin jackets to decorative tissue covers. 910 Stockton St. #8, (415) 395-9292.

China Station: One of the better tourist shops in Chinatown for cheap souvenirs, such as yin and yang Chinese exercise balls, kimonos, decorative fans and Buddha statues, as well as other Chinese arts and crafts. 456-460 Grant Ave., (415) 397-4848.

Chinatown Kite Shop: Since 1969 this family-owned shop has specialized in a vast array of kite designs, from traditional Chinese handmade silk butterfly kites to Winnie the Pooh diamond kites. Durable sports kites are available as well. This is also the spot to pick up a lion dance costume for Chinese New Year. 717 Grant Ave., (415) 989-5182.

City of Hong Kong: It's easy to lose yourself in this massive inventory of Chinese imports and products. Confucius figures, hanging wall scrolls, Chinese silk jackets and an endless sea of knickknacks cram the shelves. In back there is a section for exquisitely handcrafted vases and other art works. 519 Grant Ave., (415) 982-1818.

Clarion Music Center: A true melting pot for musical instruments, CDs and classes, Clarion is the one spot in the city where you can pick up an Australian didgeridoo, Chinese erhu, Moroccan gimbre or H'mong drur. Clarion also sells complete lion dance costumes with instructions. (415) 391-1317.

Contemporary Art & Glass Incorporated: Even if you're not in the market for glass creations, this spot is worth a wander just to view the bold, colorful modern works of glass art. Many of the designs have a Chihuly-esque flare. Utilitarian items such as vases and goblets are also available. 607 Grant Ave., (415) 291-0779.

Domo Oro: Setting itself apart from the hordes of jewelry shops along Grant Avenue, Domo Oro emphasizes the art of jewelry, offering one-of-a-kind designs. The shop is known for its colorful mix of gemstones and use of varied materials such as petrified wood and amber. 518 Grant Ave., (415) 398-3311.

Dragon House: Dragon House sells genuine antiques and Asian fine arts, which is often hard to find among Chinatown's reproductions. Its collection of ivory carvings, ceramics, and jewelry dates back 2,000 years and beyond. 455 Grant Ave., (415) 781-2351.

Eastwind Books & Arts: Founded in 1979, Eastwind Books & Arts houses one of the most extensive selections of Chinese language and Chinese-related books in the U.S. Publications hail from North America and Greater China. 1435 Stockton St, (415) 772-5877.

Gallery Verdi: One of several art and antique dealerships in Chinatown offering a dizzying surplus of Dresden figurines, Art Deco statuettes, Malachite buddhas and ornate clocks. Much here borders on over-the-top gaudy. Verdi prides itself as an authorized dealer of Mark Hopkins sculptures. 742 Grant Ave., (415) 362-8244.

Han Palace Antiques & Art Center: Han Palace Fine Arts specializes in high-quality authentic Chinese antiques: bronzes, ceramics, potteries, stone and wood carved sculptures from the Neolithic Period to the Qing Dynasty. 1201 Powell St., (415) 788-0628.

Imperial Tea Court: Touting itself as the first traditional tea house in the country, Imperial Tea Court's founder Roy Fong is renowned throughout China and Taiwan for his tea expertise. Imperial Court is easily the most peaceful retreat in Chinatown, with presentation as important as the teas themselves. Selections include Topaz Puerh, Imperial White Peony with Rose, Snow Water Dragon Tips green tea, and the famous Chinese tea Organic Gunpowder. 1411 Powell St., (415) 788-6080.

Jefer Trading Co.: If you're finding yourself in need of a sword, Jefer Trading Co. is the place to shop. A wall of swords encased in dragon-head sheaths is at the ready. The shop also offers marble chess sets, wall hangings, and other knickknacks. 535 Grant Ave., (415) 397-8791.

Man Hing Imports: Man Hing excels in its exquisite selection of import and wholesale bird cages, Chinese vases, hand-carved bone jewelry and other crafts. The shop also sells ivory statues with certificates identifying it as legal, not poached ivory. 839-843 Grant Ave., (415) 989-5824.

Michael: Located at the entrance of the Chinatown Gates, this sprawling art and antiques store is one of the largest of its kind in the area. Imports from all over the world include decadent chandeliers, Romanesque marble statues, candelabras and giant lion statues. Nothing subtle about any of the stock. 400 Grant St., (415) 445-9958.

Old Shanghai: Filled with everything from antique bronze incense burners that fetch $29,500 to ceramic tea pots, Old Shanghai offers an eclectic range of Chinese fashions and home decor. Many of the items, such as the hand-painted lacquer cabinets, are good quality. 645 Grant Ave., (415) 986-1222.

Peking Bazaar: The department store setup doesn't make the most enticing atmosphere, but Peking Bazaar definitely has something for everyone. The discount imports include Vietnamese sarongs, pajama sets, raw silk kimonos, Chinese dolls, lanterns and a sprawling jewelry section. Downstairs features tea sets, dishes and other housewares. 826-832 Grant Ave., (415) 982-9847.

Peter Pap Oriental Rugs: The rugs here, including many Persian antiques, are displayed in gallery fashion. 470 Jackson St., (888) 581-6743 or (415) 956-3300.

Relin: One of the more pleasant Chinese and antique furnishing store in Chinatown to shop in, Relin focuses on imports such as lacquer bureaus and iron teapots. The store does offer some antiques, as well. 597 Grant Ave., (415) 362-3785.

Salve Regina Books & Gifts: The books at Salve range from secular to religious, in both Chinese and English. There are books about Chinese culture, history, Catholic bibles and language books for learning Mandarin. One section of Salve is devoted to religious gifts. 728 Pacific Ave. #115, (415) 989-6279. (Web site)

Tai Nam Yang Furniture Co.: One of Chinatown's long-time residents, Tai Nam has been offering home furnishings for over 22 years. Upstairs is filled with Rosewood and Ebony Oriental furniture designs as well as lamps and other large items. Downstairs provides a more fun shopping extravaganza, with everything from porcelain pigs to Chinese dolls and hand-crafted birdcages. 438 Grant Ave., (415) 982-2733.

The Great China Art Co.: Overflowing shelves with vases, china and small and affordable knickknacks. 857 Washington St., no phone.

The Wok Shop: This no-nonsense cooking-equipment market sells woks, tea sets and more. 718 Grant Ave., (415) 989-3797.


K&A Boutique: This boutique presents a small selection of women's wear, mostly made in Hong Kong. Sweaters, jackets and other basics mix with accessories such as scarves and handbags. 783 Clay St., and 802 Stockton St., (415) 982-8886.

Masterpiece: Though the designer and clothing materials hail from Japan, much of the Masterpiece stock is actually made, yes, in China. Contemporary sweaters and other women's wear can be found at reasonable prices. 619 Broadway, (415) 392-3938.

Mei Qing Fashion: A mix of traditional and modern fashions from Hong Kong, China and the U.S. 1143 Grant Ave., (415) 812-9219.

Nikko Fashion Store: Contemporary women's clothes, shoes, jackets and bags mainly hail from Hong Kong at Nikko. Most are at mid-range prices. 862 Clay St., (415) 986-8613.

Treasure: Hip and trendy compared to many clothing shops in Chinatown, Treasure stocks its racks with women's clothes from Korea and Hong Kong. Accessories, such as handbags, boots and jewelry, round out the offerings. 863 Clay St., (415) 576-1282.

Herb Shops

Chinatown, especially along Washington and Jackson Streets, is chock full of old-world herbalists, some of whom still use an abacus to add up your purchases. Here are some of the more popular spots.

Great China Herb Co. This shop offers a full wall of fresh Chinese herbs and carries everything from ginseng to dried scallops. The shop first opened in 1922, and the current owners still use the same set of cabinets to store the herbs. There is a Chinese doctor at the store for those feeling ill. 857 Washington St., (415) 982-2195.

Superior Trading Company: This herb company boasts the largest house of Oriental herbs and ginseng, with imports from China, Korea and Hong Kong. 837 Washington St., (415) 982-8722.

More herb shops: Kee Cheung Co., 718 Pacific Ave., (415) 397-6888; Wan Hua Co., 665 Jackson St., (415) 398-5471; Tran's Trading Co., 849 Washington St., (415) 788-0110; Yau Hing Co., 831 Grant Ave., (415) 989-0620.


Tru Spa: After a full day of Chinatown shopping, a soothing massage or pedicure is in order. Tru day spa focuses on the treatments rather than the cushy luxuries. The all-white, clean, modern decor is a pleasant change from the cramped streets and shops a few blocks away. Tru offers a full range of facials, massages and nail treatments, as well as a Tropical Rainforest Room with warm water emanating from the ceiling and othersprinklers. 750 Kearny St., (415) 399-9700.


Trying to pick the best restaurants in Chinatown is no easy feat. Some are more touristy than others, some are cheaper and others are perfect for special occasions.

Chef Jia's: Every guidebook ever written on SF has probably mentioned the House of Nanking, but few seem to shower its neighbor, Chef Jia's, with equal praise. We don't see why. Huge lines form for Nanking, but Chef Jia's food is just as good (if not better) and cheap -- and the restaurant is less crowded. One warning: Order "hot" only if you really mean it. 925 Kearny St., (415) 398-1626.

Empress of China: The quality of decor at this Chinatown institution surpasses the quality of its food. Filled with temple artifacts and grand chandeliers, Empress exudes an air of elegance. The restaurant's sixth-floor views over Portsmouth Square are worth a look, but its basic Cantonese cuisine pales in comparison. 838 Grant Ave., (415) 434-1345.

Gold Mountain: Almost every dish is a winner at this bright, vast Chinese restaurant, though the service is indifferent and the interior worn. (-SF Chronicle) 644 Broadway (near Stockton Street), (415) 296-7733.

Golden Gate Bakery: The line always wraps outside the front of this Chinatown staple. Golden Gate Bakery is known for its custard-filled confections, as well as for its densely sweet lotus seed paste moon cakes. Just point at the sinful looking sweets behind the counter and you'll fill one of those classic pink bakery boxes in no time. 1029 Grant Ave., 415-781-2627.

Great Eastern Restaurant: Cantonese seafood is a specialty at Great Eastern, which displays your potential dinner, everything from Dungeness crabs and prawns to catfish and black bass, in large tanks in the dining room. Prices aren't cheap, but this is one of the best spots for Hong Kong specialties in the city. 649 Jackson St., (415) 986-2550.

Green Garden: Straightforward Chinese food made with fresh ingredients. Not a lot of distinction between dishes, but a great bargain at lunch. (-SF Chronicle)

Hang Ah Tea Room: Hang Ah, tucked away in one of Chinatown's small alleys, bills itself as San Francisco's oldest dim sum house. Opened in 1920, the colorful decor in this tiny spot reflects the equally colorful fare. Popular edibles include barbecue pork steam buns, shrimp dumplings, and sticky rice with pork. For dessert Hang Ah serves homemade ice cream in fruity flavors, such as fresh mango. The restaurant also serves pearl drinks, made from tapioca and various fruits. 1 Pagoda Pl., (415) 982-5686.

Henry Chung's Hunan: The key word at this longtime San Francisco institution is spice. From the hair-raising hot sauce accompanying Henry's steamed dumplings to the curried tofu or chicken curry, the Hunan is definitely one of Chinatown's hottest spots. 674 Sacramento St., 415-861-5808.

Hing Lung: Huge portions (at low prices) of rice porridge and won ton soups win the locals over. 674 Broadway, (415) 398-8838.

House of Nanking: People line up twice a day to try the Shanghai-style cooking (and great noodles) at this barebones restaurant -- just overlook the spare interior, long lines and brusque service. (-SF Chronicle) 919 Kearny St. (near Jackson), (415) 421-1429.

Hunan Home's Restaurant: Although it has become tourist-heavy, Hunan Home's Restaurant has not allowed its standards to dip. Alongside the standard potstickers and spring rolls are more rarefied items, like the succulent bread called ningsi juen, steamed rolls that you can also order deep fried. Eat them alongside the Hunan spiced garlic prawns and orange beef. Service is less surly than at most Chinatown restaurants. (-SF Chronicle) 622 Jackson St. (at Kearny), (415) 982-2844.

Imperial Tea Court: Touting itself as the first traditional tea house in the country, Imperial Tea Court's founder Roy Fong is renowned throughout China and Taiwan for his tea expertise. Imperial Court is easily the most peaceful retreat in Chinatown, with presentation as important as the teas themselves. Selections include Topaz Puerh, Imperial White Peony with Rose, Snow Water Dragon Tips green tea, and the famous Chinese tea Organic Gunpowder. 1411 Powell St., (415) 788-6080.

Jai Yun: Hailing from Nanjing, a couple of hundred miles from Shanghai, Chef Ji Nei' focuses on light and delicate flavors, often steaming or brining the food. He is said to shop every day in Chinatown which means the menu changes nightly depending on his finds. Foo yung abalone, scrambling eggs with shellfish is one specialty. He's also known for his quail soup and basil-mushroom stir fry. 923 Pacific Ave., (415) 981-7438.

Kam Po (H.K.) Kitchen: Located on the edge of Chinatown, a stone's throw from the Broadway Tunnel, Kam Po is known for its cracklingly crisp-skinned pork and duck. Regulars tend to order takeout but dining in the spanking-clean restaurant is also a pleasant experience. Try the pork-stuffed tofu over Chinese greens, beef chow fun or one of the many authentic porridges - the more adventurous can order pork kidney or liver versions. (--SF Chronicle) 801 Broadway (at Powell); (415) 982-3516. Lunch, dinner daily. Cash only.

Lichee Garden: Bright room, tightly squeezed tables and excellent dim sum and other Chinese dishes. Cordial, helpful service. (-SF Chronicle) 1416 Powell St. (between Broadway and Vallejo), (415) 397-2290.

Louie's California Chinese Cuisine: The English menu offers contemporary fusion dishes, but the Cantonese-style seafood from the Chinese menu is the star here. (-SF Chronicle) 646 Washington St. (at Kearny), (415) 291-8038.

Miriwa: The size of a banquet hall, this dim sum parlor also has carts that circulate with soup, noodle dishes and plates of roast duck. Beer and wine only. Free 2-hour validation for dinner in lot below restaurant. (-SF Chronicle) 728 Pacific (near Stockton), (415) 989-8818.

New Asia: The most impressive, dramatic Chinese restaurant in the city seats more than 1,000. Exceedingly fresh dim sum, particularly the sui mai. Beer and wine only. (-SF Chronicle) 772 Pacific (near Stockton), (415) 391-6666.

New Hong Kong Menu: Tucked in an alley on the border of the Financial District and Chinatown, Hong Kong Menu is normally swamped for weekday lunches. Breeze in on most evenings and be seated right away in the low-ceilinged room with faded bamboo wallpaper. Try the braised noodle with spicy meat sauce, a Cantonese, Southern-style take on a Northern dish. Also good is the braised lamb with dried bean curd in the clay pot section. (-SF Chronicle) 667-669 Commercial St. (at Kearny); (415) 391-3677.

R&G Lounge: Chinese businessmen frequent the upstairs area at R&G Lounge, where Cantonese banquet menus are the usual, featuring fresh produce and fresh fish. The downstairs gets packed at lunchtime with locals gorging on the cheap rice plates. 631 Kearny St., (415) 982-7877.

Sam Lok: When the Cantonese-heavy cuisine of Chinese restaurants starts to get old, head up to this unassuming spot for spicy Szechuan dishes that will leave your lips abuzz. You're likely to get the amiable Mr. Wong working your table, so be sure to let him guide you to little-known delicacies like the innocuously named but deliciously dangerous water-boiled beef. 655 Jackson St. (at Kearny Street), (415) 981-8988. -- Dan Wu, SF Gate

Uncle's Restaurant: What a deal! The food might not knock your socks off, but the portions are big and service is fast. Rice plates range from $3.95 to $5.25 and include soup of the day, steamed rice and hot tea. Traditional dishes such as sweet and sour pork, kung bao chicken, shrimp with black bean sauce, and bean curd with hot garlic sauce also satsify. (-SF Chronicle) 65 Waverly Place (at Clay), (415) 982-1954.

Y. Ben House: The buns, dumplings, rice and noodles are fresh and enticing, unlike the worn-out decor. Items are pushed around the room on rolling carts, making it very hard to keep track of your bill. Worry not; the tab is always surprisingly low. Dinner is also served, but the dim sum stars. (-SF Chronicle) 835 Pacific Ave. (near Stockton), (415) 397-3168.

Yuet Lee Seafood Restaurant: If you simply must have frog legs at two in the morning, this is the place. The atmosphere in the after-drinking hours is jovial, and the lazy Susan overflows with spicy condiments. 1300 Stockton St., (415) 982-6020.


Buddha Cocktail Lounge: Though tourists sometimes end up here, Buddha remains more of a local hang. Patrons can sip their drinks in front of an altar to Buddha that watches from behind the bar. 901 Grant Ave., (415) 302-1792.

Li Po: Classic local haunt that, with its David Lynch-like ambience, has become famous with the tourists. The dark, red room in the back is the place to perch yourself and watch the night's characters go by. 916 Grant Ave., (415) 982-0072

Mr. Bing's: Small room with a V-shaped bar that takes up most available space. Has that gritty "Yep, this is a dive bar" feel and a friendly, down-to-earth staff. Don't order anything too fancy. 201 Columbus Avenue, (415) 362-1545.

Red's Place: The main distinction at Red's Place is that it is Chinatown's oldest bar, with about 60 years of drink serving under its belt. The clientele is generally old-timers and neighborhood folks looking for a quiet bar setting. 672 Jackson St., (415) 956-4490.

Sam Wo's: Cheap, late-night bar hidden behind a kitchen at the top of three flights of stairs. It's riding on its reputation -- notoriously rude former owner Edsel Ford Fung died about 10 years ago, and Herb Caen used to write about it all the time.

Where To Stay

Hotel Triton: One of the most quirky and colorful of San Francisco's boutique hotels, Hotel Triton features guest rooms inspired by and sometimes designed by various stars, such as the Jerry Garcia Suite. Carlos Santana inspired the Black Magic Bedroom, Graham Nash from Crosby, Stills, and Nash helped create Suite: Judy Blue Eyes, and Woody Harrelson recently helped design a room. Each evening the hotel serves beer and wine and offers tarot card reading. 342 Grant Ave., (800) 556-6085 or (415) 394-0500.

Grant Plaza Hotel: Located just outside the Chinatown gate, the Grant Plaza is affordable for its location. The hotel during the '40s and '50s was renowned as the home of the Grand View Tea Garden, one of the city's hippest nightclubs at the time. Today, the nightclub is a floor of guestrooms, and also features colorful stained glass windows. 465 Grant Ave., (800) 472-6899 or (415) 434-3883.

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