Food people in the know are going to tell you that if you want the best Chinese food in the Bay Area, these days you have to leave the city. This may be true in the broadest strokes, and there are big fan bases for Young Can Wok in Burlingame and China Village in Albany. (Michael Bauer also recently gave his stamp of approval to Royal Feast in Millbrae.) For this list, we're only going as far as Daly City, but that being said, there's still great Chinese food here! And just in the last year we're seeing a potential renaissance in Chinatown itself with the openings of Mister Jiu's and China Live. So, whether you want dim sum or a full banquet, this list should have you covered. (See also our list of the best places for soup dumplings, a.k.a. xiao long bao). — Jay Barmann

China Live
The newest entry on this list is George Chen's big, bustling Market Restaurant at his multi-floor China Live complex. The more upscale Eight Tables on the second floor hasn't opened yet as of this writing, but the main floor restaurant is a fun experience in and of itself, if not necessarily one that's bent on authenticity. You'll find Peking Duck reimagined here as a few petit buns with tender meat inside, and chicken wings made with shrimp paste and dubbed "Chicken of the Sea" wings. You shouldn't miss the Three Treasure claypot rice or any of the dim sum options, and the place also has a great bar with mixed drinks and excellent wines to pair with the food. — Jay Barmann
644 Broadway between Grant and Stockton


Eric's Restaurant
Still doing its humble best in Noe Valley is 26-year-old Eric's, which specializes in Hunan and Mandarin classics like sesame beef, Mongolian beef, and mango chicken. For milder, less adventurous palates, this place is always going to be an easy winner, and those in their delivery vicinity probably already know this. — Jay Barmann
1500 Church Street at 27th

Hong Kong Lounge II. (Yelp's May A.)

Hong Kong Lounge II
As in the case of the Godfather and Mighty Ducks movies, sometimes the sequel is better than the original. Hong Kong Lounge II is a classic dim sum spot in Laurel Heights that the Chronicle's Michael Bauer awarded with three of his stars. Just about everything on the menu is pretty darn fabulous but we especially love the steamed pork buns ('a moment on the lips, a lifetime on the hips') and the xiao long bao (aka: Shanghai Dumplings.) The interior of this Geary Blvd. spot is surprisingly lovely and diners can expect warm, welcoming service. — Beth Spotswood
3300 Geary Boulevard, SF

Photo of the splendiferous Koi Palace, by Koi Palace

Koi Palace
The first time you take someone to Koi Palace expect them to be nonplussed: "Are we going to Target? Why are we in this strip mall parking lot? Are you taking me somewhere to kill me?" But then you step into the Vegas-y splendor of the restaurant, and all is forgotten. The system of colored jackets on the staff! The (duh) koi! The occasional dragon! Koi Palace is an experience as much as it is a meal, a spectacle as much as it is a feast. And as befits a palace, they have a number of menus, all of which change at the drop of a hat, so call in advance if you're hankering for a specific dish (650-992-9000) to make sure they'll be serving it. — Eve Batey
365 Gellert Blvd, Daly City

Photo: Jen B./Yelp

Mama Ji's
Word has gotten out around Diamond Heights, Eureka Valley, and the Castro that this small spot on 18th Street is where it's at for dim sum. But the menu of Sichuan delicacies inspired by owner Lily Ji's favorite family recipes — including things like Fish Fragrant Eggplant, stir-fried pickled long beans with ground pork and chiles, and Mama Chen's Bean Curd — is a standout that compares with some of the best in the Bay Area. As Ji told the Chronicle recently, she had no formal training, but spent a month back in China with her mother learning all her techniques before opening Mama Ji's, and her mom, now 80, still serves as unofficial consulting chef. — Jay Barmann
4416 18th Street between Douglass and Eureka

Image: Alison Y. via Yelp

Mission Chinese Food
The hipster hole-in-the-wall that is Mission Chinese Food is probably somewhat responsible for the San Franciscans like to stand in line meme, as wait times on busy nights can still approach the two-hour mark. (They do, in fact, take reservations now, though). The dilapidated and outdated yellow awning out front that still calls the place Lung Shan (which actually gave up and turned the place over to this former pop-up several years ago), and it belies an ambient-lit interior, non-ironically packed with low-budget Chinese New Year decorations galore. And the influence of celebrated founding chef Danny Bowien can still be seen in creative dishes like kung pao pastrami, stir-fried pumpkin, and salt cod rice. The place not be as consistently great as it was in its beginnings, but style points go to Mission Chinese for putting shakers of MSG on the tables.
— Joe Kukura
2234 Mission Street between 19th Street and 18th Street

Photo: Facebook

Mister Jiu's
Chef Brandon Jew's homecoming in his hometown's Chinatown, Mister Jiu's, has gotten plenty of accolades and attention since its 2016 debut, including a Michelin star. But honestly, there's no prettier dining room anywhere in the neighborhood, and Jew's food sparkles with imagination. Dishes like the hot and sour soup (with Maine lobster) and the steak fried rice (made with wagyu skirt steak trimmings) show off Jew's talent for elevating the humble, while large-format dishes like the salt-baked whole trout and the Peking-style roast Liberty duck are stone-cold stunners. — Jay Barmann
28 Waverly Place

(Photo: Daniel Chodusov )

New Sun Hong Kong
This spot on the edge of North Beach always makes SFist's lists of best late-night spots, and though you might be able to go wrong on their sprawling, Hong Kong-ese menu, there is a ton of great, yummy stuff to choose from like their excellent "special black-pepper pork chop," and crab fried rice. Service is brusque — imagine waiting on the North Beach hordes every weekend at 3 a.m. — but you're not going to leave here hungry. — Jay Barmann
606 Broadway (at Columbus)

Chicken with Hot Peppers at the Old Mandarin Islamic. (Yelp's Jando S.)

Old Mandarin Islamic
Best described as out-in-the-middle-of-nowhere at Vicente and 42nd Street, Old Mandarin Islamic Restaurant is a coveted "best kept secret" of many San Franciscans. No pork is served here but the lamb dishes are really what you should order anyway — particularly the cumin lamb. We are also slightly obsessed with the chive pancake. This ultra-casual spot is cash only and seating is mostly communal, but we don't go there for the glitz. We go there for the gourmet. - Beth Spotswood
3132 Vicente Street, SF

Salt and pepper crab at the R&G Lounge. (Image: Yelp's Sammi L.)

R&G Lounge
Come to R&G Lounge for authentic Cantonese-style food in the heart of Chinatown. You'll rub elbows with the FiDi crowd over duck tongue, black cod, and anything with crab. (The salt and pepper crab is on SFist's list of the city's must-have classic dishes.) The casual dining room is downstairs (a la Cheers), so unless you're holding a formal banquet, that's where to head. According to their Instagram, the Warriors' own David West AND Julie Newmar recently dined at the R&G Lounge. Make of that what you will. - Beth Spotswood

Dry fried chicken wings at San Tung (Photo: Lei B./Yelp)

San Tung
What, you haven't heard of the dynamite dry fried wings at San Tung, where there's some sort of caramelized miracle occurring in every bite? And if you're not a fowl fan, their affordable and delicious soup dumplings also get raves, as do their seafood options. Vegetarians are OK, here, too: Last time my family visited, I took the entire meatless clan there, where they were treated (and fed) like kings. Brace for long lines at their #1 location, or just duck into their #2, which is right next door. — Eve Batey
1031 Irving Street (between 11th and 12th Avenues)

It used to be there was Spices and Spices 2, and people always seemed to say that the sequel was better than the original (the same is true with Hong Kong Lounge II), so then Spices closed and basically moved into the Spices 2 location, so now there's just the one. Chefs love this place, including Mission Chinese Food's Danny Bowien and Mister Jiu's Brandon Jew, who took the crew from Vice Munchies there in 2012, and Chris Cosentino who took Andrew Zimmern there for an episode of Bizarre Foods in 2014. You should take the name to heart, as this place specializes in spicy, with a fusion of Taiwanese street food and Sichuan cuisine, and Cosentino recommends the stinky tofu and the beef tendon. You also can't go wrong with the wontons or any of the spicy fish dishes. — Jay Barmann
291 6th Avenue at Clement

Ton Kiang/foodspotting

Ton Kiang
Does this Geary Boulevard gem serve the absolute best dim sum you'll eat in your time on earth? Nope, but it rates inclusion on this list as both very good while remaining cross-culturally accessible — as in, when you want to introduce your buddy who just moved here from the Midwest to dim sum, this is where you go. When it comes to dim sum, there's a sliding scale of authenticity versus palatability to an American audience, and Ton Kiang is the kind of spot you can bring the uninitiated for excellently prepared dim sum hits like pork buns, shrimp dumplings, and sesame balls, while skipping the chicken feet and other more adventurous items (if you so desire). It's a smallish space (compared to those giant dim sum emporiums) that still sees lines out the door on a weekend, so if you're making the trip, aim for an early weekday lunch — and if you're headed there for a Christmas Day dinner (as my friends and I have since we moved here from the Midwest 20 years ago), bring a book because you'll be there a while. — Eve Batey
5821 Geary Boulevard between 22nd and 23rd Avenues
631 Kearny Street, SF

Image: Wanugee N. via Yelp

Yank Sing
Both the Rincon Center and Stevenson Street Yank Sing locations are celebrated among the dim sum set, with a impeccable, upscale experience and the classic “wandering carts” serving style. (OK, so Yank Sing has engaged in a little racial profiling and stiffing their employees out of paychecks). But they offer a very inspired and exceptional range of meat and seafood dumping options, and their Shanghai soup dumplings (xiao long bao) are considered one of San Francisco’s must-have dishes.
— Joe Kukura
101 Spear Street between Mission Street and Howard Street
49 Stevenson Street between First Street and Second Street

Z&Y Restaurant
Oh yes, that is your former president Barack Obama, shaking hands and allowing for selfies during his 2012 visit to Z&Y Restaurant. This Chinatown establishment fills that “celebrities and heads of state have eaten here” hole left by the 2014 closure of Empress of China, and has earned itself a Michelin Bib Gourmand for the last several years running. The interior is a simple and nicely kept contrast to the tacky storefront, and the little red pepper icons next to half of the menu items at Z&Y makes this place perfect for sticklers for the spicy hot.— Joe Kukura
649 Jackson Street between Kearny Street and Grant Avenue

Honorable Mentions:

Cheung Hing (for BBQ duck!) - 2339 Noriega at 31st Avenue

Fang - 660 Howard Street

Great Eastern (for dim sum!) - 649 Jackson Street

Henry's Hunan - multiple locations

Tung Sing - 4015 24th Street between Noe and Castro

Yuet Lee - 1300 Stockton (at Broadway)

Photo: Lily K./Yelp