Since 1989, the chefs at Great Wall Chinese Restaurant have prepared an unexpected menu of authentic Chinese cuisine. The surprise lies along the pages of the menu, where the vast majority of dishes are strictly vegetarian?even those listed as "chicken" contain a faux-meat version. Dotted with little chiles to indicate a fiery level of spiciness, the menu lists favorites such as vegetarian "pork" with spicy garlic sauce, and Szechuan-style mapo tofu.
A Time Out San Francisco Critics' choice, Imperial Tea Court provides leaf lovers with access to some of the world's most desirable teas as well as unrivaled expertise in the ways of steepery. Park your carcass in one of its highly regarded teahouses for a 45- to 60-minute primer on the world's most popular beverage and its steamy history, including its medicinal roots in ancient times as an alternative to Tommy John surgery. Pouring hot cups of tea and tepid earfuls of facts, the teahouses' resident sip savants will help guests understand tea's various categories and acquaint them with the traditional Chinese gaiwan, a covered teacup developed for use on turbulent dragon flights and birthday party bounce houses. The tasting includes two samples of your choice of teas, leaving you with a pleasant aftertaste as well as a fully brewed headpot of knowledge with which to douse tea-loving coworkers at the dream factory.
With the simple motto “excellent Chinese cuisine,” the skilled chefs at Hai Sun Restaurant rev up appetites with an expansive menu, leading off with crispy fried appetizers such as wontons and egg rolls. Across the menu’s pages, entrees flock into categories including lamb, pork, and vegetables alongside seafood morsels such as sautéed scallops and cod. Dishes come laden with a fresh garden medley of veggies of baby corn and snow peas, in spicy ginger, curry, and Sichuan sauce. With pop available by the can or six pack, patrons can enjoy a soda rush without the hassle of going over Niagara Falls in a root-beer barrel.
Inside the Kitchen: Chef Kent Rathbun began his lifelong love affair with food at the tender age of 9, eventually earning an apprenticeship at a five-star French restaurant in Kansas City a few years later. When he finally became a full-blown chef, he honed his skills at a number of acclaimed restaurants in the United States and began traveling to Thailand every year to research ingredients and study new cooking techniques. He would later draw upon this eclectic, globe-spanning education when crafting Abacus's international-style cuisine, which takes influences from the American Southwest, Louisiana, the Mediterranean, and the Pacific Rim. Since beginning his celebrated career, he's been nominated several times for a James Beard Foundation Award for Best Chef: Southwest, defeated Chef Bobby Flay on Iron Chef America, and cooked at President George W. Bush's 2001 inaugural ball.
While You’re in the Neighborhood
Before: Browse local artists' contemporary pieces, as well as vintage furniture and handmade jewelry, at consignment shop Art Is Art (2811 N. Henderson Avenue).
After: Grab an afterdinner drink at Terreli's (2815 Greenville Avenue) and enjoy the live music that spans jazz, piano, and latin genres.
If You Can't Make It, Try This: Chef Rathburn operates a few other restaurants, including Rathburn's Blue Plate Kitchen, which serves upscale comfort food.
Must-Try Item: The pot stickers. They’ve been perfected over 30 years by owner James Yuan's brother, who studied Hunan cuisine in Taiwan for 40 years. The dough is thin so they crisp up nicely when fried.
While You’re Waiting: Pick out a crab from the fresh-seafood tank.
Kung pao: A spicy sweet 'n' sour stir-fry with meat, seafood, or veggies. The kick comes from a blend of peppers, chilies, peanuts, garlic, ginger, and soy sauce.
Peking duck: A Bejing delicacy in which cooks pump air between a duck's skin and flesh before covering the bird in honey, hanging in to dry, and roasting it until the skin is crispy. The skin—the centerpiece of the dish—is served with pancakes or steamed buns, and the meat is served afterward.
While You're In the Neighborhood
Before: Shop at the trendy Eden & Eden (560 Jackson Street), which carries new and vintage women's designs.
After: Sip an afterdinner cocktail at Comstock Saloon (155 Columbus Avenue) while enjoying live jazz.
While You’re Waiting: Take a look around for any famous faces. Jackie Chan, Michelle Obama, and House Speaker John Boehner have all dined at R&G.
Bird's-nest soup: a Chinese delicacy made with actual swiftlet nests. The birds attach these nests to cavern walls using saliva, which takes on a gelatinous texture when cooked in soup. Because the nests are hard to harvest, they're one of the world's most expensive foods.
Lychee: a juicy Chinese fruit with creamy white flesh that surrounds a single seed. Because the sweet taste is affected by canning, it is usually served fresh, though it is also sometimes dried.
While You’re in the Neighborhood
Before: Stopp in at Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory (56 Ross Alley) to see how two women make 20,000 cookies each day.
After: If R&G's 9:30 p.m. closing time is too early for you, head to nearby Rickhouse (246 Kearney Street) for post-dinner drinks. The bar's open until 2 a.m. every day except Sunday.