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Chinese Burrito = Chinito

Monday was the opening of Mission Chinese Food, the latest bizarre yet tasty concept from laconic young San Francisco chef Anthony Myint. A favorite among the food blogger set, Myint leaped onto the scene a few years ago when he started a gourmet taco truck called Mission Street Food. After ditching the truck, Mission Street Food moved inside a divey Chinese restaurant on Mission Street, where it morphed into an experimental fancy street food–inspired pop-up restaurant that donated part of its proceeds to a local food bank. Another pop-up called Mission Burger followed, operating out of an Asian market a few doors down. Now Mission Street Food and Mission Burger have bit the dust and Myint is in the process of opening a stand-alone restaurant next door to Lung Shan. Now operating out of Lung Shan: Mission Chinese Food. Yes, that’s right, a Chinese restaurant inside a pre-existing still existing Chinese restaurant.

Sitting down inside the water-stained, cobwebby interior of Lung Shan, one might become confused. Under the glass tabletop, both Lung Shan’s usual menu and Mission Chinese Food’s menu are displayed. You can order off either. The kitchen is split in back with Myint and his co-chef, Danny Bowien, working one side, and the Lung Shan cook on the other. Both deliver.

My dining partner and I came for lunch and skipped the ma po tofu and Islamic lamb hot pot (a friend eating near us said they were very, very spicy), also bypassing the braised Mongolian beef cheek and roasted ginger chicken. Instead, we ordered the vegan chinito—a Chinese doughnut wrapped in rice noodle and stuffed with vegetables— as well as salt cod fried rice; baby choy sum; and a side of pickled vegetables.

The chinito, originally created for Mission Street Food, is a kind of Chinese burrito, full of textural excitement (crunch from vegetables, then a layer of puffy, airy doughnut, cocooned in silky noodle). It was cut crossways, like a giant sushi roll, so you could see what was stuffed inside: avocado, shiitake mushrooms, and bean sprouts in a tangy, saucy soy sauce.

Baby choy sum was not overly salty nor greasy stir-fried baby bok choy with plenty of slivered ginger. The fried rice was delicious, with egg, tiny pieces of salt cod, diced Chinese sausage, and plenty of cilantro and scallions on top. The pickled vegetables, featuring chile oil–coated briny slices of cucumber, daikon, and roasted peanuts, were my favorite thing of all. The flavors were clean overall, and the food was not too heavy, salty, or garlicky.

Myint and Bowien, both Asian Americans, plan to take a somewhat loose interpretation of Chinese food, perhaps drawing from other Asian cuisines. When the restaurant was first announced, Myint described the concept as “Americanized Oriental Cuisine.” Apparently his humor didn’t completely translate, as he later spelled it out on his blog: “For us, as Asian-American cooks, using this loaded term is an indictment of the Eurocentricity of fine dining, but it’s also meant to desensitize the term in that transcending-racism-by-not-interpreting-every-single-thing-as-racist way. You know, like the ‘queers’ did.”

I just couldn’t get over the strange-bedfellow relationship of the old-school Chinese restaurant and nouveau Chinese restaurant. I asked Myint, who features a Lung Shan dumpling dish as a kind of homage on his own menu, whether Lung Shan chefs would be “trained” to make items off the Mission Chinese menu, too.

“They don’t really need our training,” he said, pausing to let the ridiculousness of the question sink in. “They’ve actually taught us some things.”