Restaurants & Bars

SF Chinatown Cheap Eats: Yee’s Restaurant

Melanie Wong | Feb 25, 200310:39 PM     2

Slept in very late Sunday but started feeling a bit peckish after 2pm, and headed to Chinatown in search of simple food that might appeal after the previous week’s celebrity chef excesses. A little shopping and then a stroll down Grant Ave. put me in front of Yee’s Restaurant, which was packed at 3pm in the afternoon. Hmm, what’s going on here?

There’s a busy barbecue and prepared food counter for take-away on the right side of the storefront, and an array of tables on the rest of the floor. In the middle was a big round table arrayed with self-service plates of various cuts from the barbecue station – roast duck, soy sauce chicken, giant squid, fried chicken wings, braised pigs feet, fried smelt – and they’re priced at $2 per plate between 3pm and 6pm for a “tea time” special. There’s also a mark-down list with reduced prices on some dishes from the regular menu.

I eyed the various plates and picked the roast duck – about a quarter of a duck with the drumstick and some sliced breast pieces. The plate was garnished with fresh stalks of cilantro, but none of the candied soy beans like the high end dim sum parlors. But hey, this is only $2. I liked being able to see the serving to choose just the cut I wanted and to judge the quality of the skin. Then I was lucky to get the last two-top for myself, otherwise, small parties can share one of the big tables. I also ordered the sam see chow mein with gravy for $4.50 on the specials menu, marked down from $5.95. Looking around the room, the pigs feet seemed to be the most popular item on the other customers’ tables.

The duck was a reasonable rendition, and a bargain at the price. Nicely browned and crackly skin, decent flavor intensity, tender meat, and just a little too much fat under the skin of the drumstick. The chow mein was very tasty, if a bit dry, since there was none of the promised gravy. This was made from the very fine egg noodles fried until crisp in the jin mein style, but then tossed with the “three shreds” (sam see) of moist and succulent dark meat chicken, barbecue pork, and a little bit of beef. These weren’t the fine “see” type of shreds I was expecting, but bigger and heftier. The mix also included yellow chives, bean sprouts, and slivers of green onion. I had enough left over for my lunch today.

A mug of tea was complimentary, and I also ordered fresh orange juice, $2, that was squeezed to order and frothy on top. The signs on the wall indicate fresh watermelon or honeydew juice are also available, but there was none this day. Lots more signs in Chinese with special dishes that I’ll decipher some day, but in the meantime, the menu in English offers lots of choices.

I’ll be back at another tea time to try the pigs feet.

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