Review: Heung Yuen – Old School Chinese Fare

Heung Yuen has been in the Mission for 34 years. I think I remember once, maybe 10 years ago, going in for some take-out wonton soup on a rainy day. I don’t remember if I loved it or not, but it must not have left an impression on me. I figured it was time to go back and give it a real second chance.

The space is very Chinese-American-dive: too-brightly lit, with baskets of plastic flowers festooning the ceiling, faux wood Formica tabletops, Chinese landscape prints on the walls, and a little alter hanging by the kitchen doorway.

heung-yuen-interior-2

There are two dining rooms, and both times we visited there were never more than 4-5 tables filled at a time. I think they do a lot of take-out.

It’s not a cozy spot, but for all that, the service is friendly, and they must be doing something right to be open so many years. Being in this, our predominantly Latino neighborhood, I found it fitting and amusing that all the menu items are translated into Spanish.

Our first visit we ordered potstickers. I think you can usually judge a place by how well they do these little dumplings.

Potstickers.

Potstickers.

And they did well! These were super gingery, porky, crispy on the outside, tender on the inside. Accompanied with chili oil and white vinegar, which our server mixed together for us at the table. Excellent.

I opted for the West Lake Beef Soup. I’ve had West Lake Fish Soup at an East Bay Sichuanese restaurant several times, and I thought it would be similar, but it wasn’t at all. The fish version I’ve had is a clear broth with noodles, covered by dozens of dried red chilies. This soup is thicker, with a cloudy broth, loaded with tofu, minced beef, and vegetables. It was comforting and flavorful, and much like an egg drop soup with bits of chewy, silky beef. Very homey.

West Lake beef soup.

West Lake beef soup.

The BF ordered Mongolian Beef. It was a standard preparation, but really tasty. The velveted beef was extremely tender.

Mongolian beef.

Mongolian beef.

However, it was served over a god-awful scattering of crispy rice noodles, that weren’t all that crispy. And, their plain steamed rice isn’t very good either. Undercooked and dry, I left it aside. We took it home and the BF doctored it up for another meal.

We also had to try the Korean fried boneless chicken…

Korean chicken.

Korean chicken.

This dish gets raves on Yelp, but for me it was way too sweet, like a glazed gloopy doughnut. Our server told us it has been on the menu since day one! I’ve had better in Korean restaurants, not as sweet, not as heavily battered, and spicier. But the BF didn’t mind them as much as I did, and made short work of eating them all.

This wasn’t a stellar night, but the potstickers were so good that we ordered them for take-out another night, along with eggplant with garlic spicy sauce. The potstickers held up through the short walk home, but the eggplant was very bland, not at all garlicky nor spicy.

Our next visit, we resisted the urge to order the potstickers again. Instead, we went with a real old stand-by:  BBQ pork chow mein with bean sprouts.

Pork chow mein.

Pork chow mein.

Holy Noodle Mountain! These are the kind of noodles that you want to order in on a rainy night and eat in front of the t.v. under a cozy blanket. I literally hadn’t had this dish in probably 30 years. The noodles had that great, smoky wok hei flavor, and a good chew. The pork was plentiful and sweet, but not too. Loved the contrasting crispy celery and bean sprouts. I groaned when I saw this humongous mound, but we couldn’t stop eating it, and just about finished the whole platter. It’s probably a good thing they’re not open late, as I could see us OD-ing on these as many a late night snack after the bars have closed down.

For his main, the BF ordered a clay pot – chicken with sausage and “original gravy”.

Chicken and Chinese sausage.

Chicken and Chinese sausage.

I should have taken video of it, as it came to the table all steamy and bubbling madly, like a witch’s cauldron. The pot contained chicken chunks and Chinese sausage slices, fried tofu, and various vegetables. The veggies remained crunchy in the broth, and the “original gravy” was homey, if not very distinguishable. The BF was well pleased.

I ordered the ginger and scallion lamb dish. It’s listed as “New” on a piece of paper at the counter, but the yellowing paper looks like it has been hanging there awhile.

Scallion and ginger lamb.

Scallion and ginger lamb.

So good! The lamb was super tender, with big bites of ginger. I would definitely order this again. Even the BF liked it, lamb-hater that he is.

Heung Yuen’s menu is huge, so we have a lot to try still. Don’t judge a book by its cover, is the lesson learned here. And if you don’t like sitting under fluorescent lighting reminiscent of your elementary school classroom, you can always do take-out. Either way, you’re bound to get a tasty, nostalgic wave of the past.

Read more reviews by Maria here.

Heung Yuen
3279 22nd Street (between Mission and Valencia)
San Francisco, CA 94110
415-648-2666

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