House of Nanking

Simply put, this place is an institution, one of those hole-in-the-wall joints that always has a line out the front... or at least it did back in the ‘90s when Set of Drifter Brady lived in the city.  Now, it takes a lot for us to wait in line for a restaurant, particularly a Chinese restaurant since the ethnic food is usually not first, second or even fifth on our list!  And yet, the House of Nanking certainly delivers the goods, thanks to a somewhat frenetic experience that still freshly cooked dishes at its core.

Back in the day, the House of Nanking only had a handful of tables and a small counter that assured you would get rather friendly with strangers on either side.  Nowadays, the Financial District outpost has expanded, easily doubling the stronghold of its original footprint, yet that doesn’t mean you will have any easier a time in getting a table!  Service may be curt and the prices of some dishes are a little out of whack, but the overall quality of the food will assure you have a great experience overall.  May we recommend the homemade Pork Wonton Soup and the restaurant’s signature Nanking Sesame Chicken?  (Well, we just did.)  Their noodle dishes are also out of this world!

Located right across from the iconic Sentinel Building (see "sights"), House of Nanking is open Monday through Friday from 11:00 AM until 10:00 PM and gets extremely busy during the lunch hour rush.  Weekend hours are a tad shorter with the restaurant opening at 12:00 PM and closing at 10:00 PM.

Set of Drifters tip:  Can’t stand the MSG?  Then get out of this mother-wokkin’ kitchen!  Set of Drifter Doug has endured some pretty gnarly afternoon headaches following lunch at this place!

House of Nanking - 919 Kearny Street, San Francisco, CA  94133, (415) 421-1429

Saha (inside Hotel Carlton)

Your “Set of Drifters” love a surprise.  Let’s rephrase that, a good surprise, and thus after we checked into the otherwise generic Hotel Carlton “boutique” property during a September 2010 visit to the city (see "digs"), we were pleasantly treated to a breath of fresh air in the guise of its Saha restaurant.  Since we already had other dinner plans, we decided to check out the dining room for breakfast instead.  It turned out to be a good choice since the playful menu options were quiet unique and unexpected.

Sala actually offers Arabic fare courtesy of Executive Chef Mohamed Aboghanem who hails from Yemen.  Together with his wife Marmee (she chooses the decor and the wine), Aboghanem effortlessly mixes together traditional Middle Eastern flavors with classic California cuisine.  The combined effort has been hailed by many as one of San Francisco’s hidden dining gems.   Among other tasty goods, our breakfast selections included a dose of the “Merguez sausage scramble” and some rather well-seasoned potatoes!  A variety of other Arabic-spiced dishes complement more typical American and Continental breakfasts.  Yes, you can still get pancakes, French Toast and even a Tofu scramble, though the “Crispy Polenta Benedict” certainly sounds more intriguing!

We particularly enjoyed our sassy waitress who though seemed a bit overworked, was still cordial and entirely engaging.  She chatted with us about our travels overseas and offered us her own favorite spots in the city.  While the decor does not quite hit the mark in terms of its suppleness, we will definitely return to Sala to check out a dinner or lunch on our next trip!  We’ll be sure to give you an update after our return!

Saha is open for dinner Tuesday through Saturday from 6:00 PM until 11:00 PM.  (Closed on Sundays and Mondays.)  Though their website does not promote their breakfast, this is the perfect place to sneak in to avoid the long lines at other brunch spots downtown!

Saha (inside Hotel Carlton) - 1075 Sutter Street, San Francisco, CA  94109, (415) 345-9547

Yuet Lee

Sometimes, you just need to know a local to find a good restaurant in a city you may be visiting.  In this case of Yuet Lee, the locals we knew who recommended it left San Francisco 20 years ago.  Happily, the quality and reputation of this little “hole-in-the-wall” Chinese restaurant lives on.

Located on the edge of Chinatown where it is a neighborhood favorite, Yuet Lee has been serving up a voluminous menu of traditional dishes for more than 30 years!  We have many fond memories of hobbling inside with friends after a late night of drinking too much, or even popping in during a busy lunch hour.  While you’ll likely find old standbys on the menu (pork spareribs with black bean sauce and cashew nut chicken come to mind), what makes Yuet Lee a little bit different is the variety of seafood options available.  (Just take a look at their roster of fish soups alone!)  Our favorite is a seafood noodle dish that we try to sneak in at least once during every visit to the city.  Still, with everything from fresh lobster, crab and even frog, don’t let our simple recommendation stop you from being more adventurous! 

Planning for a special night out?  Don’t expect frills at Yuet Lee.  And if you think you’re going to be sitting down for awhile, guess again.  Due to the location, Yuet Lee is usually super busy, keeping staff motivated to move you in and out rather quickly.  Yum Yum - eat ‘em up.

Yuet Lee - 1300 Stockton Street (at Broadway), San Francisco, CA  94133, (415) 982-6020

We also recommend:

Mel's Drive-In (Marina location) - 2165 Lombard Street, San Francisco, CA  94123, (415) 921-3039,

Tony's Pizza Napoletana - 1570 Stockton Street, San Francisco, CA  94133, (415) 835-9888,

City View (dim sum) - 662 Commercial Street, San Francisco, CA  94111, (415) 398-2838

Fresca (Peruvian) - 3945 24th Street, San Francisco, CA  94114, (415) 695-0549,

Isobune - 1737 Post Street, San Francisco, CA  94115, (415) 563-1030,

Cafe Mums Home of Shabu Shabu (inside the Hotel Tomo) - 1800 Sutter Street, San Francisco, CA  94115, (415) 931-6986,