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Still the King of Dim Sum: Yank Sing

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Yank Sing carts serving food in the indoor lobby patio to accommodate the crowds.

I have gone all over this city in search of the perfect dim sum, not because I haven’t found it, but solely because where I found it costs “an arm and a leg”, if not both legs — and I have an inherent belief that the appeal of dim sum is to have tasty food that is also extremely economical.

On San Francisco Food, I have reviewed quite a few dim sum / yumcha places in San Franciso – and will undoubtedly continue to do so, but after five years of searching, I’ve resigned to the fact that I will most certainly never find one place in San Francisco that does dim sum the way that Yank Sing does.

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So popular, they need these notifying machines. Plan for an hour wait on weekends.

Have you ever been to a dim sum place that hands you a gadget that will buzz you when your table is ready? No joke, what you see to the left is what Yank Sing hands you, usually telling you how long your wait will be, “It’s going to about 40 minutes.” They do, however, “under-promise and over-deliver” as my wait has always been shorter than what they guesstimate.
Until Yank Sing, never have I looked at one gadget so longingly, willing it to buzz so I can be seated! As much as I hate lines, at Yank Sing – I have waited over an hour to be seated. On some weekends, it feels like all of San Francisco is waiting at Yank Sing, most people patiently awaiting their turn, showing a rather massive amount of patience for the chance at great food. I also run into no less than 3 other groups when I come during the weekend.

The crowd is completely mixed. All but the truest of Chinese folks seem to come to Yank Sing; I suspect the real Chinese folks think it’s ridiculous that we even come to Yank Sing instead of Hong Kong Lounge, Ton Kiang or Mayflower, where the wait is long, the food is good, but the prices are so reasonable compared to Yank Sing.

At Yank Sing, you see people like me who come for the Shanghai Dumplings that I can’t find anywhere else, yuppie-esque folks who haven’t tried any other place and would never be caught dead going to the Richmond district, or expense account folks who don’t really care how much this costs and come just because the taste is reliable.

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More servers on carts…the most polite Chinese restaurant servers you will ever encounter.

Twice, I have vowed off Yank Sing, swearing I’d never come again, after brunch for two exceeded $100 before tip. Paying that amount for any kind of brunch sounds ridiculous, but paying that sum for dim sum was simply unheard of in my book.  I had first tried dim sum in Hong Kong — where the taste is amazing and the cost is shockingly low. In the US, I had gone to many dim sum restaurants where the taste wasn’t quite that of Hong Kong, or Vancouver, where I’ve had the next most amazing dim sum — but the price also remained cheap and completely guilt-free.

Then, I’d spend six months trying everything else only to realize I miss Yank Sing — and inevitably, I’d go back and wait for my seat, then gorge on their delicious food.
And pay over $50 a person to do so, too.
Quietly.
That shut me up.

On weekdays, Yank Sing has just the main restaurant open for service; on weekends, the entire indoor mezzanine/patio area of the building is open for business and fully packed along with the main restaurant. It’s quite an impressive sight to behold, actually — with service moving through the indoor and mezzanine area efficiently well.

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Families, hungover young adults and business folks all come to Yank Sing

I’d be remiss not to touch on Yank Sing’s service, which perhaps reigns as supreme, if not more so, than even the great food. I can declare with near certainty that no Chinese restaurant in this country, at least none that I know of, can compare to the level of service that Yank Sing offers. (Keep in mind I am comparing only to other Chinese restaurants; this isn’t a Chinese French Laundry by any means.) It’s to the point that halfway through your meal, you have heard “thank you” more times than you want to, and it becomes almost irritating and disruptive as you reply back with the like to each cart server that has rolled by. With as many times as I tend to ask for something off a cart, and considering the servers thank you even when you decline anything off of their cart — that is a lot of “thank yous” in one visit! The staff is predominantly very friendly, most are fluent or at least conversational in English, and even the managers are incredibly courteous. It’s watching Yank Sing’s service that convinces me that this establishment is not made for the Chinese people; this is made for the ideal business luncheon. It is, hands down, one of the most Americanized Chinese restaurants I can think of off the top of my head.

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Shanghai Dumplings!

Pictured above is the famous Shanghai Dumplings for which Yank Sing has become renowned. Shanghai Dumplings are piping hot dumplings filled with a slightly gelatinous beef soup along with the meat. It’s requisite that the soup be hot, and even more important, that the thin wrap encase the soup successfully until it *pops* in your mouth. All of the Shanghai Dumplings I have had outside of Yank Sing make the wrap so thick that while the soup doesn’t leak out -the subtlety of the soup is masked by the overwhelming taste and texture of dough. Not Yank Sing’s, though!

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Shanghai dumplings – closeup

Here, the dough is thin and delicate, but somehow, if you are careful, it keeps the soup inside until you bite into it to let the delicious soup ooze out in your mouth while you chew the outstanding dumpling.

Watch the first video ever on this blog where I try to show you how to eat these dumplings — and also where I’m worried I can’t be edited out and Mr. K assures me that I won’t be seen on camera:

Do be careful, though — as these really tend to be incredibly hot. The issue is that they are best when hot, because the soup does gel up pretty quickly when cooled down, detracting significantly from the taste and experience. I guess it depends on how much you value the roof of your mouth, tongue and esophagus…. I risk mine to get these while they are good, and the parts that were edited out of that video is basically me blowing steam out of my mouth and my eyes rolling to the back of my head because they tasted heavenly while my mouth was on fire.

As shown on the video, you take a spoonful of the red vinegar sauce with ginger that is offered each time you order these dumplings, then dip your carefully-picked dumpling into the spoon before devouring it.
That said, at $11.20 per serving, which makes each dumpling a wee below $2.00 — this thing better be a party in your mouth!

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Fried turnip cakes

My friend’s husband was the first one to ever order this dish, and since then, I’ve always ordered it. While turnips are not my favorite, these turnip cakes taste like Korean rice cakes blended in with some potatoes, fried nicely and packed with goodness. They are soft and break apart easily, and is always a great start to the meal. But this leads me to what else makes Yank Sing special.

yank sing hot sauce

I mean…their own secret hot sauce!

I don’t know what’s in this that makes it so different from other chili sauces, but mixed in with a little bit of soy sauce and the Chinese mustard, it becomes a sauce that makes all of your food taste extraordinary. I dip everything at Yank Sing into this! Sometimes, I will even skip the vinegar sauce that comes with the Shanghai Dumplings and just slather this on it. It’s available for purchase at Yank Sing, though I am not sure at this time how much it costs.

I’m also wondering why I didn’t buy this myself, as I could have tried all of the other dim sum restaurants with this in my handbag!

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Shrimp and chive dumplings

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Siu Mai — amazing

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Har gow — shrimp dumplings — one of the best!

In the order displayed, we tried the shrimp and chive dumpling which was quite tasty. Compared to other dim sum places that may have just as tasty of a filling, what makes Yank Sing stand out is the delicate wraps they make, in this case a rice wrap — which never overplay on the filling. Once you take a bite into it, it’s clear what the filling is made of, and the wrapper always balances it out.

The Siu Mai, made of pork, is extremely “porky”, but distinctly lacking in oiliness, though I have no doubt this thing is filled with fat and oil. Dipped into the special sauce Yank Sing Chili Sauce and mustard combination, this little dumpling rocks your world — but I daresay the Siu Mai at Mayflower is actually bigger, better, hotter — and tastes like the pig and shrimp just jumped out of their respective dwellings to sacrifice themselves for your dumpling.

The Har-Gow, on the other hand, is better here than other dim sum joints in San Francisco. The rice wrapper on these dumplings tends to be too sticky and “gooey” at other places where as Yank Sing’s wrappers are JUST enough to stick to the basket, but not enough to stick to the other dumplings or rip a hole into the dumpling. Absolutely PERFECT.

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Lotus leaf wrapped sticky rice — “sticky rice”

This is one of my favorite dishes but mostly for nostalgic reasons. I grew up loving this dish as a child, and to this day, I just like ordering it and eating the sticky rice. The inside is a mix of shrimp and Chinese sausage with a savory sauce — and together, one order of this is enough for two people to share before gorging on dumplings. Yank Sing’s sticky rice is pretty good, but no better or worse than the sticky rice elsewhere; the light scent of lotus leaf pervades throughout the rice and it makes for a nice and filling choice during a dim sum brunch
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Unlike other people, I do not take anything from the dessert cart when at a dim sum restaurant, so I really could not tell you whether the choices are good or not. Based on the quality of food available at Yank Sing, it’s not hard to imagine that each offering on the dessert cart would be at par, or better. I also don’t really do the fried foods at Yank Sing; to me, an egg roll is an egg roll is an egg roll.

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$17.50!!! For a small piece of seabass I’d gulp down in 3 bites!

The above Sea Bass is an example of what I have learned, the hard way, to never order at Yank Sing. The small chunk of fish pictured above costs $17.50! While Sea Bass is an expensive fish, comparatively speaking — it’s also not so spectacular that one lukewarm serving of it at a Chinese dim sum place should cost $17.50. If you live to eat Sea Bass, it might be worth it to you.
Once was enough for me!

What’s not pictured in this review is the delicious Seafood Pan-Fried Noodles, available for special order and costing $22 or something to that effect. (You start to see how my bill exceeds $100 for two people…) It’s delicious and the noodles are crispy-fried, but I’ve never missed it on the occasions where I don’t order it as it’s not really what I crave when I go to dim sum.

While the majority of the popular items are served via carts, not all are — and you can specifically order anything off of the menu to have the kitchen prepare it for you. This is a plus for those of you who want something other than dumplings or the typical dim sum fare.

Yank Sing also has a beer/wine menu that many people seem to utilize throughout their meal, which is always surprising to me given the brunch hour. The drinks appear to be moderately priced.
The main thing not to miss at this restaurant is the Shanghai Dumpling. While definitely pricey — it’s one of those things you simply have to try, and you’ll be hardpress not to order two orders of this.

Summary

Yank Sing has two locations — but I have only been to the one at One Rincon Center, located at 101 Spear Street; the other location, which I’ve been told is lesser than the Spear Street location in quality and selection, is 49 Stevenson Street in San Francisco. Located adjacent to the both locations is a “Yank Sing 2 Go” section, which enables people to order for takeout without having to wait in line — that menu is available here (though I have never tasted this food). Parking is free on weekend inside the Rincon Center parking lot, and validated for two hours for $4 on weekdays, with valet parking.

Yank Sing is a perfect venue for a business luncheon, fancy lunch date, or brunch/lunch with friends or family. Everything we had on this day, for two people, is pictured above, noting that we had two orders of the Shanghai Dumplings. This brunch cost $68.77 prior to tip, coming to $80 when fully paid — and that’s low only because we actually had another lunch to go to, but I was craving dimsum. Even $80, for those who don’t know, is an astronomically high bill for two people eating dim sum, but dare I say it — Yank Sing is ALMOST worth it — at least, until I find another place in San Francisco that offers comparable Shanghai Dumplings.

When I do, I doubt I’m coming back as I can think of 500 things to do with the leftover money!
But until then – where else is a girl to go?

Service: 8.8/10
Ambiance: 9/10
Food: 9.1/10
Addictive Factor: 9.3/10

Overall Rating:  9.1/10

Grace Keh About Grace Keh
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.

  10 comments for “Still the King of Dim Sum: Yank Sing

  1. Al Cheng
    April 15, 2011 at 10:13 am

    Thank you for sharing your review of Yank Sing. I, however, beg to differ from your assessment that Yank Sing is "Still King of Dim Sum." To me, Koi Palace reigns in terms of quality, variety, and value. Additionaly Koi Palace continually creates new dim sum in synch with what's happening in Asia.

    I do agree that Yank Sing serves a very good xiaolongbao (Shanghai dumplings). The best in the West though are found in Vancouver, BC, Canada.

    Everytime I visit Yang Sing, I feel like "eating money". So expensive. That takes away a lot of enjoyment. Also the tea selection is weak.

    Koi Palace continues to embrace much of the "yum-cha" tea drinking with dim sum traditions of Guangzhou, a place I often visit.

  2. April 15, 2011 at 10:36 am

    Hi Al!
    Thanks for your input!
    I wholeheartedly agree re: Vancouver, which I mentioned in this review. I've never had yum cha that delicious!
    I've been to KP, and also agree, it's good; in fact, I went there a lot during the times I was boycotting Yank Sing, haha — until I found Mayflower, which is my choice for dim sum now.

    But neither Mayflower nor KP can hold a candle to the Shanghai Dumpling at Yank Sing. It doesn't even come close — which is ultimately always my reason for heading back to the dreadfully expensive restaurant!

    I still have to try Hong Kong Lounge and figure out what that ridiculous line is all about!

    • Al Cheng
      April 15, 2011 at 10:58 am

      Forget Hong Kong Lounge…just cheap. You will not enjoy it having had dim sum at KP and YS. Mayflower is ok. Try Champagne in San Mateo. Also Tai Wu in Daly City. Still prefer KP overall…especially the coffee ribs.

  3. April 15, 2011 at 5:07 pm

    Al, can you take me to dim sum one of these days? :)

  4. April 15, 2011 at 5:32 pm

    I was in San Francisco for 3 weeks last year and didnt even find a good place for dim sum… We searched everywhere in Chinatown… Should have read this earlier :(
    Next time I will try it out.

  5. April 19, 2011 at 10:36 am

    When I eat here with a friend, we NEVER spend less than $100. For some reason, I never had the Shanghai Dumplings and will have to try them next time. Now that I know how to eat them! I will have to skip the chopsticks though.

    I've seen the Yank Sing chili sauce for sale at many Asian markets.

    Great review. Thanks Grace!

  6. Taunya
    January 6, 2013 at 4:44 am

    The Shanghai Soup Dumplings are absolutely incredible! I have never described any food as being almost better than sex, but these little gems did indeed make my eyes roll back…tender, thin wrappers, unctuous broth, kurobuta pork filling…Ooooo, and with perfectly seasoned vinegar and slivered ginger. And the Sea Bass was pure decadence and worth every penny…perfectly carmelized, juicy and tender. We started 2013 here and loved it so much we went back the next day for lunch before heading home, priced be damned! Go! At least once! And ask for Xiao Jian as your head server. She is wonderful.

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