Part I was history and context. Part II here surveys the seven current Chinese full-menu restaurants in downtown MV. (I delayed part II for some weeks for “field work” to bring up my level of experience to at least three visits for each.) This developed out of a neighbor’s request for Chinese restaurant suggestions.
Listed south to north:
CHEF XIU (855 W ECR near Castro) is a family-run, inexpensive restaurant with among the most diverse and interesting menus locally. Unusual Dongbei (Manchurian) specialties, and many other comforty foods. Open 7 days; sign says “Cash Only.” Dining room is small, but Xiu does big daytime catering business, and offers unusual local HOME DELIVERY, evenings. Two give-away paper menus list somewhat different repertoires; yellow version, organized by price, is “Chinese” menu, but all dishes are helpfully translated to English. Xiu’s plump “pot stickers” are among very few versions today with the fresh, juicy, gingery flavor I remember when first tasting them in the 1960s, and later making them fresh with Chinese friends — many restaurants take shortcuts now, with dull results. Dongbei dishes include Shredded Potato with Dry Chili ($7, “Chinese” paper menu), a satisfying, moderately spicy stir-fry of fresh potato shreds with sweet peppers; Basil Eggplant, $8 (spicy); Preserved Casserole w/Lamb, $9, actually a soup with preserved vegetables, a slightly sour broth, and thin shaved lamb. Parking secrets revealed: Xiu’s El Camino frontage has a few spaces, but many more are off an alley behind, parallelling ECR. Evenings, more spaces open along ECR at nearby closed businesses.
KIRIN (485 Castro): venerable, bustling Cantonese restaurant with some seafood focus and many comfort foods, open late (midnight). Diverse noodle, chow-fun, noodle-soup dishes; jook (aka congee or “rice porridge”), and some very authentic or “Chinese” dishes uncommon locally. Inexpensive lunch specials.
The next two restaurants, Queen House and Chef Liu, though competitors, share certain details. They’re nearly across Castro from each other. Both feature Taiwanese specialties, and dishes made with thick fresh “pulled” noodles.
QUEEN HOUSE (273 Castro) is compact, and closed Tuesdays. Fresh-noodle dishes, including soups and unusual fresh-noodle stir-fries (chow meins); look for special versions advertised on the wall inside, or ask. Friendly proprietors in my experience. An unusual and convenient feature is the house-made filled dumplings, also sold frozen in bags of 45 to take home.
CHEF LIU (236 Castro) occupies former Mervyn’s Lounge (Greek cafe and downtown landmark — Mervyn’s bar, with longtime regulars, continues in the back, 6AM to 2AM daily). Many hearty lunch specials, currently $8, including vast noodle soups (like Pork [shreds] w/Sichuan Vegetables), made with thick fresh noodles — these noodle soups appear in the menu “Noodles” rather than “Soups” section, per Chinese custom. Liu’s noodle dishes are highly competitive with Queen House’s, across Castro. Dinner menu lists seemingly a thousand items, and I’ve found good ones, like Green-Onion Lamb, or Shredded Pork w/ Five-Spiced Bean Cake (both $12). But learning Liu’s strengths is hard when its manager non-answers such queries with “everything is good!” (I did, eventually, learn there’s a Taiwanese chef). A handy feature is photos and replicas near the door, depicting popular dishes.
FU LAM MUM (153-155 Castro) was a hot ticket a few years ago, when it moved across Castro to new high-ceilinged digs, bringing online praise and customers from far away. It offers classic, diverse Hong Kong style dim sum on carts, especially weekends, when FLM can be packed in afternoons. The little dishes go beautifully with tea, making a convivial meal — the more people at the table, the merrier. Good too for take-out dim sum on weekends; go early, like 11AM, when selection is best and service fastest. At least some dim sum is available during weekdays also, and http://fulammum.com/menu/ shows an extensive a-la-carte menu.
HONG KONG BISTRO (147 Castro): Casual restaurant featuring some of the eclectic, pan-Asian specialties I’ve seen at actual bistros in modern Hong Kong; as I recall it shares ownership with nearby Fu Lam Mum. Haven’t visited in a long while (after hot-and-cold experiences — one good, two clearly bad, all too long ago for current conclusions). Some reasonably finicky friends (a part-Chinese family) do go regularly.
HANGEN or Han Gen (134 Castro): Large, longtime restaurant with seafood-rich menu. Changed hands three years ago, then newly dubbed itself for Sichuanese cuisine; has Sichuanese chef. I particularly like Sichuanese cooking, and it took some visits to learn why well-known Sichuanese dishes came eccentric and bland at first (which usually bespeaks a non-Sichuanese cook): Hangen’s kitchen was compromising for perceived market preference. On later visits, catching senior servers and specifying that we wanted authentic Sichuanese versions, we got first-rate, flavorful specialties like a delightful, unique Five-Spices Fillet of Sole (with leeks and Jalapeño peppers, $15); an excellent Twice-Cooked Pork; and the popular Sichuanese “Water Boiled” Fish Fillet with Hot Pepper: a large hotpot of fish chunks and vegetables in a complex spicy broth. All moderately, not fiercely, hot when we requested the chef choose the heat levels. Diverse lunch specials $8-$9 (including the twice-cooked pork just mentioned) come with soup and salad.
Hangen is my nominee as closest replacement for the much-missed Hunan Chili, as long as you know to request the Sichuanese dishes in authentic style.
At this writing, HoneyCreek is just opening at 124 Castro, combining bubble tea drinks, snow ice, and Taiwanese snacks (as at some nearby specialty tea restaurants, which I omitted here) with cocktails and a regular food menu in a hip lounge format. And Hong Kong Bakery, 210 Castro, while not a restaurant, makes and sells both sweet pastries and dim sum — especially weekends, when fresh dim sum are kept in a large warming oven behind the counter.