Walking by Lin's Cafe in November, the various meats and poultry displayed in the window looked good, so I poked my head in. No one was in the place other than the lady cashier and the male meat chopper behind the counter.
From the looks of the whole soy sauce chickens hanging --- slimmer and longer legs and wings, less breast meat, prominent breast bone --- I thought these might be of a heritage breed rather than an American commercial chicken. I asked if they were "wong mo gai", yellow-feathered chickens, and the two staffers became very animated and excited that I could recognize and appreciate the difference. Neither spoke much English, but they could understand me well enough.
Then I turned to examine the hunk of roast pork. They pointed out that this was only the prime belly cut. I was offered a sample to taste. This kind of made me feel like being at Katz's in New York where you can sample the pastrami before you buy. But here I did not have to leave a tip for this bite.
Beautifully bubbled golden brown and crisp skin, and tender meat striated with sweet fat seasoned just right. The pale area includes some of the white meat and is not just fatty tissue.
Instead of just throwing my chopped meat purchase into a paper carton the way other Chinese delis typically do, the meat was precisely cut into bite-size pieces and arranged carefully on a tray.
My soy sauce chicken rice plate ordered to-go was laid out beautifully as well. Good quality long-grain rice as a base drizzled with some of the master sauce, then a careful array of the half chicken hacked into pieces, a dollop of ginger-scallion oil condiment, and a side of Napa cabbage. Note that the bone was removed from the breast, a nice touch.
Cost for both was less than $20 and enough for several meals. Prices are about 20% lower here than Chinese roastie destination, Ming Kee, on Ocean Avenue. I found the roast pork belly superior at Lin's. The soy sauce chicken was a tad sweeter and not as complex in flavor, plus the skin did not have the perfect snap of Ming Kee's. That said, the chicken was still very good, just not the tops in the City.
Since both Ming Kee and Lin's require a drive across the City for me, I'm more likely to select the former. But if I had roast pig in mind, I would come here. And if I lived in Lin's neighborhood, I'd probably walk over here at least once a week.
The staff were sweet as could be, happy to have a new customer. They thanked me profusely and encouraged me to come back for their other dishes.
4935 Mission St
San Francisco, CA 94112