The Year of the Rabbit begins on January 22, according to the Chinese zodiac, and is said to be a year of hope. While the dim sum scene has changed in recent years — there don’t seem to be nearly as many rolling carts around and some long-running favorites have closed — the flavors of southern China where dim sum originated are especially on display right now.
Families trek to the edge of Chinatown for the traditional XLB and baked barbecue pork buns, but the playful “tapas” menu includes a doughnut noodle roll (really!) and Peking duck. An all-American wine list and popular sweet treats (custard buns, durian puffs) are worth waiting in line for. Don’t miss the Malaysian sponge cake. 615 Jackson St, San Francisco.
After what seems like the requisite 15-minute wait for a table, dig in on platters of chewy X.O. pan-fried noodles and snappy garlic string beans. If chicken feet are your thing (and they should be), the ones here are deep-fried and puffy, like the fluffy taro puffs and turnip puffs, all fun foods to look at and eat. Consider yourself warned about the buttery egg yolk buns — they squirt.
662 Commercial St, San Francisco.
Be sure to make a reservation at this Koi Palace spin-off in San Francisco’s Richmond District or be prepared to wait for the rice crepe rolls stuffed with shrimp and black bean sauce spareribs. A steamer of Five Guys Xiao Long Bao is especially colorful and Instagram-worthy, as is a burnished wall with red-hued insets that perfectly showcases a tea pot collection.
5700 Geary, San Francisco.
With two locations within walking distance of each other in San Francisco’s SoMa neighborhood (the Spear Street location nabbed a 2022 Michelin Bib Gourmand), negating the line may be worth a shot to try one of the 100+ dim sum available, many on carts at the Spear Street location. An extensive menu of vegan and vegetarian dim sum — mushroom dumpling, snow pea shoots dumpling, bean curd rolls, steamed vegetarian rice noodles — complements the more expected siu mai and soup dumplings.
101 Spear St. and 49 Stevenson St, San Francisco.
Tucked onto a quiet street in San Francisco’s Parkside neighborhood is a no-fuss dim sum restaurant with big tables and a plentiful dim sum array. The cross-cut salt and pepper spareribs and salt and pepper crab are musts, but you can’t go wrong with the crispy taro duck — it has great flavor and mouthfeel and the same brown mushroom gravy that has been accompanying the dish for years.
1201 Vicente, San Francisco; 415.759.8828.
Christina Mueller is a long-time Bay Area food writer. She hails from the East Coast and has spent way too much time in South America and Europe. She discovered her talent as a wordsmith in college and her love of all things epicurean in grad school. She has written for Condé Nast Contract Publishing, Sunset, and the Marin Independent Journal, among others. She volunteers with California State Parks and at her childrens’ schools, and supports the Marin Audubon Society, PEN America, and Planned Parenthood. When she is not drinking wine by a fire, she is known to spend time with her extended family.