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SAN FRANCISCO

East inhabits West

If you're eating Chinese, your options in San Francisco reach beyond Chinatown. And if you're looking for another Chinatown, there are plenty to choose from in the West.

March 25, 2007

WHERE TO EAT

I gorged on good and cheap food in San Francisco's Chinatown, not fine cuisine. If that's what you're after, you may want to look beyond Chinatown's core area.

THE BUZZ

In local polls, three of the perennial favorites are Ton Kiang on Geary Street, Yank Sing (two locations south of Market Street) and Tommy Toy's (on Montgomery Street). I didn't eat at any of those places, nor at the widely admired R&G Lounge at 631 Kearny St. (closed for renovations until Tuesday, [415] 982-7877) because I'd had a fine meal there only six months before and wanted to explore.

THE DEALS

Instead, never spending more than about $9 on a dish, I set out on a dining itinerary that included:

Gold Mountain, 644 Broadway; (415) 296-7733. An excellent dim sum breakfast (amid mostly San Francisco locals).

Hang Ah Tea Room, 1 Pagoda Place; (415) 982-5686. Tasty dim sum lunch.

Utopia Cafe, 139 Waverly Place; (415) 956-2902. Down-home cafe good for a hearty bowl of won ton soup.

House of Nanking, 919 Kearny St.; (415) 421-1429. I had a pleasantly spicy dinner. (This place often has lines out the door, but when we waltzed in a little before 6 p.m., a third of the tables were empty.)

THE STALWARTS

If you're looking for old-fashioned restaurant glamour along the main drag:

Empress of China, 838 Grant Ave.; (415) 434-1345. Its ornate sixth-floor dining room offers views to Coit Tower, and its lobby wall of fame boasts glossies of Jayne Mansfield, Sammy Davis Jr., Peter Lawford, Mick Jagger, Jackie Chan, Marcel Marceau and our governor. (You have to guess which two of those were dining together.) I prowled around but didn't eat there.

Four Seas Restaurant, 731 Grant Ave.; (415) 989-8188. I did eat a fairly good lunch (with a tour group) at this similarly showy spot.

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ABOUT TOWNS

San Francisco had the first Chinatown on the West Coast, but many others followed, and these days, California, Oregon, Washington and Canada's British Columbia hold many, some old and urban like L.A.'s, others more recent and suburban.

Oakland

Almost as old as San Francisco's and centered on 8th and Webster streets, this Chinatown includes about a dozen blocks, where those with southern Chinese roots have been joined by other Asian immigrants.

Honolulu

This Chinatown, pictured above, had 5,000 residents by 1884, suffered a three-day fire in 1886, then rebuilt, only to gradually devolve into a crime-ridden district. Since the early 1990s, night life and art galleries have burgeoned. The 15-block district's center is at North Hotel and Maunakea streets.

Seattle

Seattle's first Chinatown was moved to make room for another civic project. Now known as the Chinatown International District -- ID for short -- the area lies south of downtown on reclaimed tidal flats, neighbored by other Asian immigrant communities. It measures about six blocks by eight, bordered by Yesler Way to the north and Dearborn Avenue to the south.

Vancouver

This Chinatown claims to be North America's second- biggest, topped only by San Francisco's. It dates to the late 19th century and is centered at Pender and Main streets, with the Millennial Gate serving as the entrance on Pender. Apart from markets, restaurants and a museum, banners mark a "silk road" walking route.

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