I’m on the verge of calling the Empress of China Restaurant in San Francisco Chinatown “Dear Restaurant.” If you read its website’s restaurant description of having “an opulent atmosphere of dynastic splendor and elegance,” you’ll understand my gist. I have no idea what the architecture and interior design of the Han Dynasty was like but the restaurant’s about page explains that the Empress of China reproduced the design spirit of 206 BC China. Now that I’ve seen the lavishness first hand, I have a better idea of how being a Dear Dowager during the Han Dynasty was like. If you happen to find yourself in San Francisco Chinatown and want to feel how it’s like to be a sovereign sitting on the lap of luxury (ahem, in 206 BC China), march yourself to the Empress of China.
Make sure to sit by a window, or near one, so you can get a view of Chinatown and parts of Downtown San Francisco. Jess, a Californian/Bay Arean girlfriend and a reliable source of knowledge on Chinese cuisine and restaurants informed me that the menu pricing is more than double of surrounding eateries in San Francisco and the Bay Area. At the Empress of China, we obviously were also paying for the view and the “opulence,” and maybe history too, given that famous people once ate at the restaurant.
Many restaurants like to boast about their famous diners and the Empress of China is among them. The pictures are dated and so one wonders why no new hip faces are gracing the restaurant’s wall of fame.
After our flight from Seattle and having only an inadequate breakfast, I was pretty hungry and had to contain myself given the inflated prices of the dishes. Keeping in mind that this isn’t our first food stop, we decided on a couple of appetizers: Shanghai Dumplings (hsiao lung pao), Barbecued Pork (char siu). and a noodle dish: Singapore Spicy Rice Noodles (not pictured). The food came out to be better than expected. I’ve been burned once before by a fancy restaurant with a view so I expected mediocre food but great service. With good fortune, the food was rather tasty and our host was courteous, which are the two most important factors of satisfactory dining. And to top it off, for a Chinatown restaurant, it was clean; and cleanliness is important in food service.
If the Bay Area wasn’t teeming with good Asian restaurants and great restaurants in general, I would return to the Empress of China. Restaurant competition is tough in San Francisco and the Empress of China has so far survived it since what seems to be the 1970s (going by their wall of fame photos). With that in mind, it’s worth a try.