Tucked away among the bustling markets and dim sum restaurants in San Francisco’s Chinatown is China Live, the newest culinary destination in the city. This complete renovation of the former Gold Mountain restaurant space is now a combination restaurant, café, bar, and retail shop that aims to educate visitors about Chinese cuisine and culture.
Make Lunch a Destination
The owner and creator of China Live, George Chen, wanted to create a modern showcase for Chinese gastronomy and make it accessible to everyone. Located at the border between Chinatown and North Beach, this sprawling emporium offers a little something for everyone and makes a nice stop for a family outing to the city—go by for a bite of lunch or a snack before heading to the Exploratorium, Pier 39, or Washington Square Park.
Sip Some Chinese Tea
Currently only the first floor is open to the public; Eight Tables, a fine dining restaurant, and a lounge are slated to open later in the year. The first floor offers a more casual, family-friendly experience with plenty for kids to explore and eat.
The Oolong Café at the entrance to China Live offers walk up counter service and a stunning variety of artisanal teas, many of them imported from China and Taiwan, along with coffee and some to-go selections. If you’re not in the mood for a full meal or the kids are too impatient to wait, this is a good alternative option. Don’t miss the gorgeous blue and white mural done in the style of Ming Dynasty ceramics, and which includes several clever references to local San Francisco, including the Golden Gate Bridge.
So Many Choices!
The Market Restaurant is a full service restaurant that offers lunch and dinner. Several different stations around the seating area specialize in different styles of Chinese cuisine, such as barbecue or dim sum. Currently they do not take reservations. Planning tip from the staff: if you show up for the restaurant, get your number, then go get a drink from café or bar, or browse the retail area until your number is called; this typically takes less than 30 minutes. The best times to go for a shorter wait time are right when China Live opens for lunch, and early in the evening before 7. Try to get a spot at the dim sum station or at the counters along the left hand side: your kids will love watching the cooks in the open kitchens assembling their food.
The menu, which changes regularly based on seasonal ingredients, features an extensive selection of classic Chinese dishes updated and retooled with modern touches. Our picks for kid-pleasers are the ultra-crispy fried chicken wings, the “SJB” or Sheng Jian Bao – pan fried pork dumplings, the Peking duck buns, the and the fried scallion bread. For dessert, kids will love the sesame soft serve topped with mango shaved ice, or the coconut rice pudding with passion fruit.
Don’t Miss the Market
The marketplace, which takes up the other side of China Live, features a curated selection of cookware, condiments, teas, and gift items selected by George Chen and his wife Cindy. Some of the items have been custom made for China Live, like the gorgeous dinnerware. There are also children’s books, toys, and tasty Asian snacks for your littles.
China Live opens for lunch and stays open through dinner time. In the future they plan to open the café earlier in the morning for breakfast, and to expand to the second floor. However, the current setup already offers more than enough to explore and eat, to make it a fun new destination to explore Chinese cuisine.
San Francisco, Ca
Hours: Sun.-Wed. 11 a.m. -10 p.m., Thurs.-Sat. 11 a.m.-11 p.m.
Have you ben to China Live yet? Tell us about your favorite spots in the comments below!