My Favorite Restaurants
Cambodian
Chinese - All
Chinese - Beijing
Chinese - Cantonese
Chinese - Chiu Chow
Chinese - Hunan
Chinese - Mandarin
Chinese - Muslim
Chinese - Szechuan
Chinese - Shanghai
Chinese - Taiwanese
Hawaiian
Japanese
Japanese - Kaiseki Dinner
Japanese - Ramen
Japanese New Year Food
Korean
Malaysian
Thai
Vietnamese
BBQ
Buffets
Burgers
California
Deli
Diner
English
Seafood
Southern
Steakhouse
Brazilian
Cuban - Puerto Rican
Mexican
Peruvian
Salvadorean
French
German
Greek
Italian
Portuguese
Russian
Ethiopian
Moroccan
Afghani
Indian
Middle Eastern
Pakistani
Chocolate
Tea
Bakeries
Food-related links
Wes" Biased Restaurant Reviews
A Note to Visitors

Keep in mind when reading these reviews that I can't possibly visit all of these restaurants on a monthly or even annual basis. Chefs come and go, owners change, and some places just vanish. A good 20% of the places I've reviewed have closed so PLEASE CALL THE RESTAURANT BEFORE GOING if you follow my advice.

They are merely my humble opinions based on my personal tastes, which definitely lean towards the unusual.

Information on Super-Tasters vs. Tasters vs. Non-Tasters

Cities Covered

South Bay
San Jose
Santa Clara
Sunnyvale
Cupertino
Milpitas
Los Gatos
Willow Glen

Peninsula
San Mateo
Redwood City
Palo Alto
Woodside

East Bay
Fremont
Hayward

San Francisco
South of Market
Outer Sunset
Chinatown
Japantown
Noriega St.
Geary St.

Other
Sacramento
Long Beach

The Quest for Xiao Long Bao
San Francisco Bay Area, Vancouver, and Beyond...

Xiao Long Bao (or "little steamer buns") are a Shanghai specialty. They're tiny, perhaps 1-1/4" across, and are typically filled with pork or crab.

What makes them special is that they are fllled with broth, so when you pop one in your mouth and bite, a flood of tasty soup fills your mouth...or burns all of the skin off the room of your mouth. BE CAREFUL before putting one whole into your mouth.

Below are my notes from my search for the best xiao long bao in the San Jose area, plus a few from my travels.

And, yes, I did actually fly to Vancouver to try the xiao long bao at Shanghai Wind, which I've received emails about. Unfortunately, I didn't find them extraordinary, mostly because I think they use a method which relies on the juice from the fatty filling to create the soup. The gelled stock method has cleaner tasting soup.

How I Do Chinese Black Vinegar (chinkiang vinegar) and Ginger

Black Vinegar
I'm Japanese, so black vinegar was new to me. You can find chinkiang vinegar at your local Chinese grocery store. You can dilute it (I do), and put the super finely shredded fresh ginger root in before you steam the dumplings.

The taste and acidity of chinkiang vinegars vary quite a bit by brand. Some are pretty gross (think burning tires).

The best one I've tasted had the picture of a city on it, and had won an award. Alas, I didn't write down the name.

Shredded Ginger
How thin is "super fine"? You should see the color of the cutting board through the ginger. Fresh ginger root cuts easier. Slice across the grain first to make 1mm thick "coins" of ginger, then shred the coins. The shreds of ginger should bend; if they at like toothpicks they're too thick.

 

Found Great XLB in the Bay Area? Send me a note!

Xiao Long Bao, sort of

Hu-Chiang Dumpling House (10877 N. Wolfe Rd, Cupertino, CA 95014 (408) 873-4813) still has the grand opening sign up front. I found out about it from a visitor to this site, and I am VERY grateful.

Excellent dumplings, although they aren't really xiaolongbao from what we understood from the waitress, but hu-chiang style dumplings (I have no idea what that means). We ordered XLB, crab dumplings, chili oil wontons (the best I've ever had), and beef with dried chili. Total: $33, but well worth it.

Making Them Yourself
Forget it...unless you can practice for weeks on getting the dough wrapped around the meat and gelled stock. There's a recipe in the book

Buying Them and Heating Them Up at Home
Absolutely. There's a fantastic dumpling "factory" on Noriega St. in San Francisco (thank you, Chowhounders).

King of Chinese Dumpling
1426 Noriega St.
San Francisco, CA
(415) 665-6617

They have a variety of dumplings, and the ones I steamed myself came out great. Everything is frozen, so if it's not your last stop, bring a freezer.

Happy Cafe in San Mateo will also make them for you, I've heard.

Restaurant Hu-Chiang Dumpling House Old Shanghai Restaurant Su Hong Restaurant
Shanghai Ding Sheng Restaurant Shang Hai Restaurant Happy Cafe*
Xiao Long Bao Rating **** *** **** *** **** ***
Location Cupertino San Francisco Palo Alto Milpitas Milpitas San Mateo

Skins

Thin Medium Paper Thin Medium Medium Medium
Broth Juicy, not fatty Thin, not super juicy Juicy, not fatty Juicy, not fatty Juicy Very juicy
Filling Balanced & delicious Sweet, we just tried the pork & crab; not crabby Balanced Porky, but good Very soft texture, good flavor Balanced
What the dumplings
sit on in the steamer*
Parchment
Paper :-(
Parchment
Paper :-(
Parchment
Paper :-(
Parchment
Paper :-(
Cabbage leaves :-) Cabbage leaves
:-)


Restaurant Yank Sing Dumpling King Shanghai Wind Shanghai East Restaurant Shanghai Dumpling Company Shanghai Gourmet
Xiao Long Bao Rating **** *** *** *** ** *
Location San Francisco San Francisco Vancouver San Mateo Millbrae Milpitas

Skins

Thin Medium Medium Thin Thin Medium
Broth Juicy, not fatty Juicy Juicy & fatty Juicy Juicy Dry :-(
Filling Balanced, but they only had pork Tasty, sweetish and porky Tasty Balanced Good, but a bit strong Bland
What the dumplings
sit on in the steamer*
Parchment
Paper :-(
These are frozen, so you can steam them on whatever you want Parchment
Paper :-(
Parchment
Paper :-(
Parchment
Paper :-(
Parchment
Paper :-(

* What they use under the xiao long bao usually determine whether the skins tear when you try to pick them up out of the steamer basket. Cabbage leaves are non-stick and add a subtle flavor, while those little circles of parchment can adhere to the bottoms and sometimes tear the skins when you peel them off.

 

10 Rules for Eating Well

1. Never eat at a chain restaurant if there are alternatives.

2. Don't eat at empty restaurants, especially if it's in a hotel. The only exception is if you're in India.

3. If you're going for ethnic food, eat only where there are members of that ethnicity present. Or truckers.

4. Have a list of standby restaurants that are consistently good, then order something you've never had unless it's Peruvian "cow feet," which a) took forever to cook and b) arrived with little hairs sticking out of it.

5. Never go with someone who says "oh, I always order the same thing" unless the same thing is something you've never heard of.

 

6. If you're eating at a Chinese restaurant, order off the Chinese-language menu. If you don't read Chinese, make Chinese friends.

7. If there's no lock on the door, it's a good sign (open 24/7), but order whatever you see everyone else ordering to avoid food poisoning.

8. If you're going to eat something exotic, understand what you're eating so you can at least appreciate the effort that went into it even if you hate it.

9. Don't order to impress anyone but yourself. If you feel like eating meatloaf, order the meatloaf. Your body knows best.

10. Let you mood and the weather be your guide. Sometimes what you need is as simple as a ham & cheese sandwich on white bread.

 

A Rambling Discourse on the Main Course

People are usually confounded when I say that I don't really care for Japanese food. Most Japanese restaurant staples—beef teriyaki, shrimp tempura, sukiyaki—are what I ate at home every week of every year for eighteen years, and my father's versions were far, far better.

Sushi is was what we ate instead of hotdogs at summer picnics. And, I've seen how non-Asians drown sushi and sashimi in soy sauce, which is revolting and a huge waste of money.

What Everyone Else Eats
When I was ten, I remember visiting a friend's house on the north side of Chicago (near Granville station) and tasting Kraft macaroni and cheese for the first time. It was the first time I'd eaten food that came from a cardboard box. The same went for Jello instant custard with nutmeg. To me both were as exotic as pastilla or boudin noir.

Enter my 1960s-vintage feminist sister and her insistence that I learn how to cook for myself ("You should be independent! Don't rely on anyone!"). She taught me basic kitchen craft—how to fry an egg, how to boil pasta—and I took it from there.

By the time I left 4th grade, I could make a decent breakfast of fluffy omelettes, waffles, sausages, and coffee—and time everything so it hit the table at the same time.

The Lean Years
As dirt poor film student in LA, I pursued a what a kid from Sacramento might consider a Bohemian lifestyle: living in a roach-infested tenement and surviving on $15 a week in groceries, purchased mostly with Safeway double coupons. This translates into a vegetarian Japanese diet of rice and pickles, which I still revert to when I need to lose weight.

When I did have some spare cash, I learned to appreciate the mom-and-pop restaurants surrounding USC (juicy carne asada burritos at La Barca on Western) and the occasional splurge (buttery, blood-rare 2" thick New York steaks at The Pantry on Figueroa).

Now that I have (or had) the means to eat as I please, I've been able to try new meats, veggies, pastas, soups, and spicings. Indian food and Chinese (as opposed to Chinese-American) food have both been revelatory.

This includes skilled preparations of foods Japanese people traditionally don't eat—chitterlings, organ meats, cheese—have opened up new possibilities.

Over six years, my boss at Siebel introduced me to a number of regional Chinese dishes. Chinese food is one of the few cuisines that keeps secrets. When you walk into a Chinese restaurant and they hand you an English-only menu, you are most likely seeing half of the actual menu, and it's usually the bad half.

If my parents (to whom I had to explain what "tendon" is) knew that my favorite dish is chitterlings, congealed pigs blood, preserved mustard greens, and tofu in a spicy sauce...well, they wouldn't.

Likewise, the exuberant fragrance of a perfectly spiced curry is a far cry from the dashi-dominated austerity of Japanese food. Rogan josh, chicken shahjahani, and a juicy tandoori fish all eaten with garlicky nan are my favorites. The most interesting variation on this has been vegetarian foods. Masala dosa and vada fried in ghee are my new weekend snacks.

I hope that answers any questions you may have about why someone would spend so much effort on maintaining an amateur restaurant listing.

The following pages list some of my favorite and not-so-favorite restaurants. If you know of a restaurant that serves a dish you love, send me a note.
 

Copyright 2013 Wesley Kashiwagi. All rights reserved. Home | Play | Films | Restaurant Reviews | Links