Nestled in amongst residences on Noe Street, with the signage covered up by trees, is an establishment named “House of Chen” that has been serving Chinese food since 1989 — a true family business. A friend of the family had talked about this restaurant with me, knowing that I review restaurants — and asked me to consult on why it was slow. I gave my usual disclaimer that if it’s bad, I may reserve from posting on SF Food about it, but I won’t make up a good review either. She agreed; I made plans to go. I arranged to meet my favorite dinner companion, Mr. K, here for dinner. Due to House of Chen being hidden by one massive tree, I almost drove right by if not for him standing in the street waiting for me on this raining night. Upon entering, I was immediately struck by the awesome brick wall on the entire left side of the wall. Nice building and cute, clean decor, they have seating capability for large or small parties. Perusing the House of Chen menu, I noticed that it was a blend of very Chinese dishes mixed in with an extremely Americanized “Walnut Shrimp” type of entrees. I pondered what to order to get the best feel for this restaurant and decided I have to try dishes I would normally order elsewhere, so I started with the hot and sour soup. Always start with the soup; if it’s bad, you can still get up and leave, right? The Food at House of Chen
House of Chen’s soup was actually quite delicious. I always put more hot sauce in (I’m Korean – what can I say?) and needed to do the same here. All the ingredients in the soup were fresh, and given that there weren’t many people here for dinner on this evening — I was surprised how it tasted like they had made it just now, just to serve me.
Then came the “Green Onion Pancake” at House of Chen. It’s exactly what the name states — a Chinese pancake with green onions. The seasoning was perfect with the soy sauce mixture they served – and the crispness of this fried dish was notable. You don’t get overpowered by the taste of onions, but it serves as a nice partner to a cold glass of beer. We were drinking Tsing Tao that night, so…. Where House of Chen really started to convert me was their Steamed Pork Dumpling. I’m told the dumplings are handmade on location, and you can taste that with every bite. Steaming hot, it came out in a little dim sum dumpling stainless steel tub. One bite and I said, verbatim, “Wow, this is better than any dim sum — I could eat 10 servings of this by myself.”
Yeah – that good. You can taste the freshness of the filling, and the outside had just the perfect amount of softness mixed in with chewiness. I absolutely loved this dish. When I go back to House of Chen, I will keep my word and order 10 servings of this dish alone. Six pieces offered for $5.99. But these were just the appetizers. Being particularly hungry, we ordered the Hong Kong Crispy-fried Noodle, Fresh Scallop and broccoli entrée, spicy shredded pork w/ peppers, and a dish I would not have chosen but Mr. K wanted — Sesame Beef. (I know…girl can eat.) With our rice, these were served up almost one after the other at House of Chen, once the food started coming out, though it did take a significant wait. First, each dish at House of Chen was so freshly made that it a taste of any one of them would take off the roof of your mouth. But the taste of these dishes was enough to warrant having less of an upper palate than I did when I walked in. What’s even more impressive, though, is the chef at House of Chen managed to match my taste palate precisely. There was not one dish which made me feel like it was too bland or too salty. Not that I could cook any of this, but if I did — this was EXACTLY how much I’d season these dishes. Absolutely perfect.
The scallops and pork were as tasty and perfectly cooked. What was interesting was the Sesame Beef at House of Chen. I don’t think I’ve ever had this dish before as I just don’t order meal item that is sweet, but it’s a deep-fried tempura type of beef dish, crunchy on the outside with a sweet and tangy sauce drizzled all over it. As expected, sesame seeds were sprinkled all over the dish. I tasted it with rice, and while I am normally not thrilled about sweet food, this was pretty good. It remains unchanged, though, that sweet is something I save for dessert — not the meal.
Best-in-show, hands down, at House of Chen was the Hong Kong Crispy-fried noodles. These were out of this world. If you like Crispy Noodles, show me on place in San Francisco that serves up the noodles fried to this type of crisp. Mixed in with the sauce, the fried noodles STILL retained crunch. The sauce was perfect; the beef and chicken were perfectly cooked and gracing the amazingly fried noodles. The aromas coming from this dish were enough to make me hungry all over again while I was finishing up my meal. But I love, love, love noodles, so…. While in-house business is on the slower side of things for House of Chen, as it is for the entire nation for the most part, I couldn’t help but notice that their delivery orders were flowing in all night long. Through my 2.5 hour dinner, the phone rang off the hook with orders from Noe Valley and most likely the Castro Area. I could see why the neighborhood would opt to order from here as the food was unusually fresh and nothing beats delivery that is fast and served piping hot. As far as the lack of customers in-store, location was definitely part of the problem as it’s on a mostly residential street. There were other tips I shared with the family, and hopefully, in-house business picks up rapidly. That tree in front….while I am all about conserving trees, it’s in dire need of a trim. House of Chen is located at 335 Noe Street in San Francisco; the cross street is Market. This family run business has no official website and doesn’t market at all. They are opened daily from 12 PM to 10 PM or so, and offer a speedy delivery service for their local area. While I am sure delivery is good, the food here is so fresh that it would be worth the trouble to go to this area and eat on location. My recommendation? Order 10 servings of the Steamed Pork Dumplings, one order of the scallops, and as many orders as you can of the Hong Kong Crispy-Fried Noodles! Service: 8/10 Ambiance: 7.4/10 Food: 9/10 Addictive Factor: 8.5/10 Overall Rating: 8.7/10
Grace Keh is the author of "Food Lovers' Guide to San Francisco" and the critic, editor and photographer behind San Francisco Food. In her regular day job, she consults for corporate clients in marketing and event strategy. Once the sun sets, she's on the hunt for great food in what she considers to be one of the world's greatest cities, San Francisco.