Although a fairly specific type of dining experience, dim sum exists on a broad continuum.
Yank Sing’s elegant carts will probably never be dislodged from their top position, in spite of the obvious superiority of its competitors. Chinatown classic Great Eastern and Daly City’s immortal Koi Palace — which never got enough credit for nabbing a James Beard nomination in 2018 — plus the latter’s Richmond District spinoff Dragon Beaux and Ghirardelli Square’s new Palette Tea House have legitimate claims to the throne.
Toward the humbler end are the bakeries, like Stockton Street’s magnificent Good Mong Kok and the underappreciated Sunshine Wheat Field on San Bruno Avenue in the Portola. In between those poles, though, are neighborhood spots where you find the most adventure and the most variety. There may be lazy susans (or not), big fish tanks (or not), mismatched china (or not), but combing through the full menu before falling back on QQ favorites like shrimp har gow is a must — because what there almost certainly is not are pictures or descriptions. Don’t let your brain signal that you’re about to seriously over-order, bringing the deliberations to a premature halt. Read first! The fun stuff is usually in the latter two columns.
At S&T Hong Kong Seafood Restaurant on Noriega Street at 33rd Street, fried pumpkin with salt egg yolk is a sleeper hit. It has the texture of a fat sweet potato fry, with a supremely salty batter that imparts next to no crunch. Apart from that, they could be a variety of Cheetos that aren’t available in the U.S., all umami and starch. Dipping one in spicy mustard seems like too much at first, until you do it and the sinus tang takes over. It’s overdrive, not overkill. It’s bliss.
Rice noodle rolls are also where S&T stands out. There are about a dozen, from the palate-cleansing bitter melon with chicken to the purely gratifying barbecued pork. Even standbys like fried turnip cake — chili oil is always its best friend — arrive flecked with pork, making them deeper and more luscious than almost anywhere.
S&T’s drawback? Its Xiao long bao, or Shanghai dumplings. They’re pretty much all wrong: too gluey, with hardly any broth inside, served with a wan sweet-and-sour sauce in lieu of black vinegar and garlic. If ordering two portions of XLB constitutes the backbone of your dim sum habit, S&T may be a hard sell. But the joy of dim sum, one of the prelapsarian small-plate cuisines, is that if one dish goes kerplunk you have others to touch the heart. Amid the Hello Kitty iconography and the framed photos of late Mayor Ed Lee and other bigwigs, this restaurant at the very center of the Sunset may become the very center of your dim sum radar.
S&T Hong Kong Seafood Restaurant
2578 Noriega St., 415-665-8338, no website.