CC Giants and I have been meaning to get together for dinner for such a long time now. It’s been difficult to coordinate our schedules, but we finally found a time and decided to head over to Mission Chinese Food. This place has been on my list for some time, but I have heard mixed reviews so its priority has changed over time. When I looked at the menu, I was quite skeptical that the food could be that good, but this place gets A LOT of praises from local and national food critics, and the Yelp reviews seem pretty positive. It seems to make various “best of” lists including Bon Appetit’s Best New Restaurant list. Admittedly, when I’ve talked to friends who have gone, the reviews have been pretty mixed, but I was really curious to give it a try, so off we went.
Thankfully, it wasn’t too busy when we arrived at 7pm, so we got seated pretty quickly. The front of the restaurant still says Lung Shan which is the former restaurant from the same owners. In fact, there is very minimal signage that would indicate Mission Chinese Food was even located there. The restaurant is VERY dark and pretty much looked like a hole in the wall kind of place. With Asian paintings hanging along the walls, it seemed like the decor was intentionally made to look like a typical Chinese to go restaurant, but none of the servers looked Asian. Nevertheless, it was quite packed inside.
We were both in agreement to order the Hainam Chicken Rice which ended up coming out quite different than what I would have expected. I’m not sure if there was actually any chicken (unless it was shredded), but instead, it looked like a fried rice which was dressed in Shaoxing wine, chicken fat, roasted peanuts and cilantro. There seemed to be a little too much liquid with a very overpowering taste of what I can only imagine was the Shaoxing wine that probably wasn’t burned off enough.
The Salt Cod Fried Rice which was much better had escolar confit, Chinese sausage, eggs and scallions. I liked the saltiness of the escolar with the scallions, but I thought the Chinese sausage was unnecessary. I would order it again.
I tend to avoid anything prepared Kung Pao style, but the idea of using pastrami seemed intriguing. The pastrami was sliced pretty thinly and stir-fried with equally thin slices of potato, celery and roasted peanuts, but it was chili flakes that made this dish explosively spicy. It was so hot that I could barely taste anything else, not even the salty flavor that comes from pastrami.
Although the Thrice Cooked Bacon had different ingredients with bacon, rice cakes, bitter melon, tofu skin and scallions, it somehow tasted exactly like the Kung Pao Pastrami. It had the same fiery flavor which I attempted to mitigate with the starchiness of the rice cake. Unfortunately, whatever bacon was in the dish was actually quite hard to find. I think I liked this dish a little bit better mainly because of the rice cakes and bitter melon.
Overall, the food was solid, but I was still rather unimpressed considering all the buzz and hoopla around this restaurant. I mean in the past 6 months I’ve heard of Anthony Bourdain, Ferran Adria and Martha Stewart coming here to eat when they were in town. Two out of three of them are legitimate foodies. That aside, it was a little frustrating to truly know what I was eating, because it was so dark that if it weren’t for the menu, I wouldn’t have been able to tell what went in to each dish. I am really struggling to understand where the reviews were coming from and what they were eating when they decided to shower Mission Chinese Food with all the praises. The air of Chinese flavors was faint, but I am thinking that maybe to the foreign palate, these flavor combinations might seem exotic and interesting. I am glad I tried it out, but I would be interested to hear what other people think. Let me know!!
Mission Chinese Food
2234 Mission St.
San Francisco, CA 94110
PAFO Ratings for Mission Chinese Food:
Ambiance 2½ stars
Food 3 stars
Overall rating 3 stars