The “banquet” style of Chinese restaurant may be a bit more familiar to American travelers. Banquet restaurants offer tasty meat, seafood, and veggie dishes, and rice, soups, and appetizers, all served family-style. Tables are often round, with a lazy Susan in the middle to facilitate the passing of communal serving bowls around the table. In the City, most banquet Chinese restaurants have at least a few dishes that will feel familiar to the American palate, and menus often have English translations.
The R&G Lounge (631 Kearny St., 415/982-7877, www.rnglounge.com, daily 11 a.m.–9:30 p.m., $12–40, reservations suggested) takes traditional Chinese-American cuisine to the next level. The menu is divided by colors that represent the five elements, according to Chinese tradition and folklore. In addition to old favorites like mu shu, chow mein, and lemon chicken, you’ll find spicy Szechuan and Mongolian dishes and an array of house specialties.
Salt-and-pepper Dungeness crab (served whole on a plate) acts as the R&G signature dish, though many of the other seafood dishes are just as special. Expect your seafood to be fresh, since it comes right out of the tank in the dining room. California cuisine mores have made their way into the R&G Lounge, in the form of some innovative dishes and haute cuisine presentations. This is a great place to enjoy Chinatown cuisine in an American-friendly setting.
Another great banquet house is the Hunan Home’s Restaurant (622 Jackson St., 415/982-2844, http://hunanhome.ypguides.net, Mon.–Thurs. and Sun. 11:30 a.m.–9:30 p.m., Fri.–Sat. 11:30 a.m.–10 p.m., $20). This one’s a bit more on the casual side, and it’s even got another location in suburban Los Altos. You’ll find classic items on the menu such as broccoli beef and kung pao chicken, but do take care if something you plan to order has a “spicy” notation next to it. At Hunan Home’s (and in fact at most Bay Area Chinese restaurants), they mean really spicy.
© Liz Hamill Scott from Moon California, 2nd Edition