Throughout the year, Restaurant Editor Bill Addison will travel the country to chronicle what's happening in America's dining scene and to formulate his list of the essential 38 restaurants in America. Follow his progress in this travelogue/review series, The Road to the 38, and check back at the end of the year to find out which restaurants made the cut.
Debating dim sum is a sport among food fanatics in San Francisco, but the game requires vigilance. The most skilled (and largely unseen) cooks in Chinese restaurants tend to hop from post to post, and the yielding, precision-pleated dumplings savored on one visit can be sloppy or gluey the next. The city's food writers regularly generate smart lists to spur explorations in outlying neighborhoods. Yet for locals and visitors craving a consistent experience in a central location, I stand by Yank Sing, San Francisco's most famous dim sum destination.
Vera Chan-Waller and her husband, Nathan Waller, run the two-location business started by Vera's grandparents in 1958 in Chinatown (which these days is largely a wasteland for notable dim sum). Her father, Henry, opened Yank Sing's primary location in the Rincon Center, near the Embarcadero in the Financial District, in 2001. Dim sum restaurants are often roomy—servers need space to jockey the metal carts stacked with steamer baskets and the trolleys lined with plates—but the size of this place boggles. The restaurant proper sits 250, and on weekends it fills the center's soaring lobby, decorated with WPA-era murals depicting moments in Northern California's history (some of them violent), with tables to feed another 250. It can feel like brunching in a stadium. The roving trundles are plentiful, though, and the service is swift.