UPDATE: I was told Mayflower Restaurant is now closed. I’m told it was due to a frivolous lawsuit and not bad business. I’m bummed to see this place closed down. In its place, however, it another dimsum restaurant called “Shai Lai”, which I have not visited.
Growing up, I had several opportunities to take family vacations to Hong Kong. Even at an early age, my tastebuds were smart enough to recognize excellent dim sum. When told we were going to Hong Kong, Iwould start to dream about dumplings and noodles knowing that my dad would wake us all up early in the morning to head out for great food.
In my adult years, I experienced some amazing dim sum in Vancouver, Canada. Never in the continental United States have I had dim sum that fresh and good. In San Francisco, I chose Yank Sing as my dim sum of choice — but after receiving a bill for about $100 for two people for dim sum about 30 times, I came to the conclusion that this was unacceptable.
You see, dim sum shouldn’t be expensive. This isn’t gourmet dining, and it’s not fancy food. It’s simple, greasy, fresh, and tasty food at an economical price. Paying $100, my money or not, for “dim sum” just doesn’t sit well with me.
So while I have yet to find a place that can give me Shanghai Dumplings anywhere near as good as Yank Sing’s (for which they charge more $12+ per order, mind you), I did manage to find a “go-to” place in San Francisco for good, fresh dimsum.
Enter: Mayflower Seafood Restaurant.
I always order the same things first. Without good siu mai, dim sum would lose all meaning for me, and Mayflower Seafood Restaurant makes one piping hot and fresh siu mai. It’s topped with a small shrimp and roe, and the pork filling is juicy and “porky”, the way I like it. It will burn the roof of your mouth and tongue, and if not careful, you may not taste anything for the rest of your meal if you don’t let these cool off for a minute first. Compared to other dim sum restaurants, Mayflower Seafood Restaurant present very large siu mai. Four to an order, it’s a tasty and cheap order. I know some tiny girls who could get full off of one order of these delicious concoctions.
I am not one of them.
Some people would say that har-gow is the staple of a dim sum restaurant. If this is true, then Mayflower Seafood Restaurant falls a bit short of being the best as these are significantly better at Yank Sing. The shrimp filling is not the difference; it’s the pasty wrap that makes all the difference. At Mayflower Seafood Restaurant, har-gow comes with a significantly thicker and starchier wrap; it’s stickier and gooier than Yank Sing. At Yank Sing, the wrap is thin, and perfectly oiled.
However, Mayflower Seafood Restaurant’s har-gow are bigger and about 1/2 the price of the har-gow at Yank Sing, so you do the math. I like these, but how these taste are not a dealbreaker for me.
The pan-fried turnip cake was a must-try addition to my typical dim sum menu only recently, when my Chinese friend ordered them at Yank Sing. It’s slightly like potatoes, a bit like taro, a bit turnippy, and a little bit oily; put together, these are simply outstanding. Having tried these at both Yank Sing and Mayflower Seafood Restaurant, I daresay Mayflower’s is better.
Another thing I love to order, and Mayflower Seafood Restaurant presents a pretty delicious one, are the beef meatballs. These are not your typical meatballs. In fact, I tend not to like meatballs very much as I am one to find most things made out of ground beef rather dull and boring. But dim sum beef meatballs float my boat. I have no idea how they get the beef so soft, dense, smooth and flavorful, but there is a hint of oiliness that is balanced out w/ some cilantro-like flavor. With a bowl of rice, I’d be happy orders about three of these plates and going to town. (Note: the photo taken was after I already consumed one meatball. Mayflower Seafood Restaurant gives you three to an order.)
I’ve come to realize that the best way to distinguish the Koreans in a dim sum restaurant is by the sheer number of dishes we order. The Chinese folks come to have an order or two with their hot tea and newspaper; the Koreans show up to eat their last meal, or so it will appear.
Hence, it’s only proper that I represent Korea by going to a dim sum restaurant, ordering several orders of all of the above, and STILL order an entree.
At every dim sum restaurant in San Francisco that I have been to — the seafood pan-fried noodle is available for ordering, even if not on the regular dim sum menu. If you like crispy noodles — this is your dish. I like my noodles crisped then mixed in with the delicious sauce. Mayflower Seafood Restaurant makes sure that each seafood item is cooked PERFECTLY. Never will you find squid, shrimp and scallops all cooked so well in one dish. None are chewy, and all are seasoned perfectly. Mixed in with the gelatinous sauce that this dish comes with — you have the perfect accompaniment to dim sum — if your stomach as any room leftover.
I’ll even include a photo of what this delicious dish looks like once stirred up.
Given that I almost always order the same amount of food each time I go to a dim sum restaurant (for two people), it’s easy for me to do a cost comparison. To be fair, I’ll do a cost comparison for the same two people eating at both restaurant.
Big appetite friend + me at Yank Sing = $92 plus tip.
Big appetite friend + me at Mayflower = $38 plus tip.
Keep in mind both incidents included an order of the pan-fried noodles, too.
All in all, Mayflower Seafood Restaurant is a gem in my book.
On any given Sunday – I will round up friends to hit up dim sum with me here. We’ve had groups as big as 15 people get together here to eat – and Mayflower Seafood Restaurant has accommodated us willingly. On the weekends, the line out the door can get a bit ridiculous, and it can be up to an hour wait. I suggest getting here before 11 AM or after 2 PM if you want to avoid the ridiculous wait. Or, have a Chinese friend call and make a reservation if you have a big party going — that always seems to work for us.
Mayflower Seafood Restaurant is located at 6255 Geary Blvd, at the corner of Geary and 27th Ave, way out there in Outer Richmond. The drive can be quite a hike for some San Francisco residents, but it’s worth it. The food is good; the service is relatively friendly given that it is, afterall, a Chinese restaurant. I find that the more often I go, the friendlier the servers have become.
Dim Sum: it’s how you do breakfast!
Ambiance: 6/10 (nice, but not a Steakhouse feel)
Addictive Factor: 8/10
Overall Rating: 7.6/10
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.