Chinatown doesn’t run short on superlatives. The buzzing neighborhood is the biggest and oldest Chinatown in the nation, and its vibrant, lantern-strung streets grow even more spirited during Chinese New Year. This February, celebrate the Year of the Dog by exploring Chinatown’s atmospheric alleyways, dazzling facades and countless eateries, from casual dim sum joints to trendy Michelin-starred dining rooms.
On Feb. 24, 2018, the Year of the Dog kicks off with a bang when an elaborate Chinese New Year parade snakes its way through Union Square and Chinatown with dancing dragons, thundering drums and the crackle of exploding firecrackers. Also contributing to Chinatown’s vivid streetscape are the many murals that grace its buildings and alleys. Erin Jang’s recent “Chinatown Flavor” transforms a stairway along tiny Vinton Court with bold stripes and a colorful list of Chinese food faves.
Hidden on historic Ross Alley—the oldest alley in San Francisco—diminutive 41 Ross Gallery features community-based exhibits such as “Chinatown Home Cooking,” which profiles local home cooks via photos, recipes and the short film “Sunday Dinner.” At the Chinese Historical Society of America museum, immersive displays tell the challenging story of early Chinese immigrants in America inside a glorious 1932 building designed by Hearst Castle architect, Julia Morgan.
Chinatown's market-filled sidewalks brim with bins of exotic fruits such as spiky rambutans and citrusy buddha's hands. Have a new favorite blended into a fresh juice or smoothie at Juicy Fruit. At the modern Steap Tea Bar, premium globe-hopping teas inform an extensive menu of fun, inventive boba drinks. Come happy hour, seek out Cold Drinks, a plush clandestine cocktail lounge that marries rare scotches with Asian flavors.
For a quick bite on the go, you can do no better than dumplings plucked from giant steam baskets at Good Mong Kok Bakery and crispy, ginger-infused chicken wings at neighboring New Golden Daisy. The beloved, century-old Sam Wo has new digs, but its popular down-home dishes remain the same including their signature BBQ pork-filled rice noodle rolls. Katsu House dishes up customizable poke bowls from a cozy take-out shop situated amidst the colorful balconies and temples of Waverly Alley.
Down the street, Michelin-starred Mister Jiu's reinvigorates Cantonese dishes such as a roast quail with homemade Chinese sausage in a dining room overlooking bustling Grant Avenue. At China Live, a culinary temple to Chinese cuisine, you can shop exquisite pantry staples and cookbooks at an upscale boutique, slurp tingly dan dan noodles at Market Restaurant and vie for a coveted seat at the ultra high-end Eight Tables.