In the world of dim sum, there are two very different realms. There are the classic sit-down experiences like beloved places like Yank Sing and Hong Kong Lounge II with food carts, lazy susans, and infantries of bowtied staff members. And then there is the other dim sum, the one that’s loud and sweaty, where you place your order behind steamed glass, and places to sit are a luxury only for those who show up early. Today we’re taking a trip to the Inner Richmond for some of the cheapest and downright homiest dim sum in all of San Francisco.
Today, we’re going to Wing Lee Bakery.
On Clement Street and Sixth Avenue, Wing Lee’s windows are cluttered with massive red letters that read “Food to go,” and “$5.99 Lunch Special,” with Peking ducks hanging in rows by their necks and dripping into pans of pork and chicken. Once you’re inside, the options can be overwhelming, and it’s easy to feel like a kid in the proverbial candy store. There are colors and textures everywhere, with classics like potstickers, har gow, sticky rice wrapped in lotus leaves, and about a million other little treats you may not recognize.
The beauty of a joint like Wing Lee is that it conveys that same feeling of any other small neighborhood bakery, right down to the sweet aproned bakers who probably arrived at 3 a.m. to prepare their daily haul. But instead of the usual breads and pastries, they’re preparing shumai, pork buns, and turnip cakes. They also have a lovely list of sweet options like egg custard, sesame balls, and pineapple buns. Everything costs about 80 cents to $2, so each order is completely customizable and no visit is like the last. Just peer over the glass barrier, point out whatever delicious little morsels look good that day, and they’ll adorably arrange your circular tray like a Kazimir Malevich painting. Here’s a little tip: If you arrive around closing time, odds are that you’ll get hooked up with a few extra dumplings that would’ve otherwise ended up in the bin.
I love a traditional dim sum experience as much as the next guy. Sitting at a table with friends for hours while small carts of delicious, bite-sized Chinese food is wheeled to your table is a deluxe experience. But the Richmond is for walking, and it’s for bouncing around from pub to eatery and smelling the glorious fumes of streets in between destinations. Next time you’re cruising down Clement, I suggest following your nose.
Wing Lee Bakery, 503 Clement St., 415-668-9481, no website