New Lun Ting, One of San Francisco's Last Bachelor's Cafes

Rice Plate Journal is a yearlong project to canvas Chinatown, block by block, discovering the good, the bad, and the hopelessly mediocre. Maximum entrée price: $10.

​New Lun Ting Cafe, on Jackson and Beckett, has been around for longer than you, and probably your parents as well. Some say it was founded before World War II; some think the cafe is even older. It has several nicknames in Chinatown: “pork chop house” — for the cafe's most famous dish — or one of the neighborhood's “bachelor's cafes” that single men used to frequent for homestyle American food. New Lun Ting has its own Facebook fan page. Its technicolor gravies are mysterious as they are famous.

For a restaurant whose decor has barely changed since the last world war, the place has worn well. The wood paneling that stretches two-thirds of the way to the ceiling is unscratched, the brown tiles underfoot dated but not scuzzy. The owners took out a U-shaped counter in the 1970s, one Chowhounder remembers, but replaced it with a long counter along the left wall that faces the tables and booths that crowd the dining room. 

Older men wearing everything from camo jackets to business suits make their way in, spy friends, and sit down. Younger men in black suits, their hair gelled up to a precise crest, lean into their pork chops and spaghetti as if they're braving time and the elements to finish their food before the lunch hour runs out. Customers call across the room to the waitress in Cantonese, then return to gossiping with their tablemates in English.

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