If one were to compile a list of the world’s funkiest restaurants, this one would clearly have to feature on it. An unassuming Chinese restaurant that has made it to cult status in San Francisco in no time is Mission Chinese Food.
As the name suggests already, the restaurant is in the Mission district of San Francisco, which is hardly the grandest part of town. If you walk down the street, you can easily miss it, as there is hardly any sign of Mission Chinese being here. The only thing that might attract you to the yellow building is the queue that is always forming from the minute the first bunch of people are seated in the delightfully outdated and kitschy dining room.
Once you step into this restaurant, you are transported into a peculiar world. The music is an energising mix of electro and rock classics, which provides a charming contrast to the pictures of Chinese revolutionary generals such as He Long or Chu De that adorn the walls. The service is at least as relaxed and cool as pretty much everything else here, which fits quite well.
What is phenomenal though is the food. Whilst not everything is 100% traditional, the dishes all are delicious and really do get you excited. The vast quantities of food that appear here with every serving mean that its best to come with a group of people, but that is not really a problem. The sight and smell of a large bowl of ma po tofu is enough to get those tastebuds going. The dish is spot on here; spicy enough but not overwhelming, with great flavour.
Even better is a crispy pork belly with cucumber, bean curd and a pickled egg. This meat is tender and crispy at the same time, and smothered in a rich, sticky sweet/savoury sauce that just makes it fantastic. Combine one of those chunky bits of meat with the rolled bean curd and cucumber and you add another dimension to this: freshness and a vibrant acidity that prevent this from being overwhelming. In terms of deliciousness it really is hard to imagine something that could be much better.
If you haven’t got enough meat, hit the Chinese BBQ sandwich. All that this is, is a good selection of meat, some crunchy vegetables, a slice of sandwich bread and a few pickles. Liberally topped in a soy-based sauce this is just as tasty as the previous dish. Of course, this is about as far away as one can be from haute cuisine, but it comes to no surprise that you regularly run into the brigades of the city’s finest restaurants here. After all, who doesn’t like a meal that is both fun and delicious?
There you have it, one of San Francisco’s most unconventional restaurants: Misison Chinese Food. It does Chinese food with a very cool edge to it, and has managed to create an atmosphere that is genuinely unique, whether you will love or loathe it. If you’re touring the great restaurants of the Bay Area, this should provide a healthy contrast to the subtle and precise kitchens of Manresa or Coi. Just look for the queue, it will guide you to the right place.