There’s a certain freedom that comes with being a tourist: time becomes irrelevant, laws and legal rules become little more than guidelines, and somehow all prices seem reasonable. For the past week my brother flew out to the foggy city to visit and without plans or conceivable itinerary we set out to see all of San Francisco. One of our first excursions was to spend an evening in the Far East.
Neither of us have had the chance to visit China, Japan, Thailand, or the rest of the exotic east, and so we set out for a day of total immersion and had no interest in a guided tour or fortune cookie hunt. We wanted to see the real chinatown – hidden bars and restaurants, irresistible food with sweet and spicy flavors, and even happy asian men striding freshly from receiving their obligatory happy ending. After work, walking through the crowded and bustling streets we poked our head into strange shops and asked around for the locals favorite restaurant, emphasizing we were looking for a place with “No tourists”, If they knew a good place to eat they had been sworn to secrecy by the Chinese government, we got a lot strange looks and absolutely no answers. Left to our own devices I suggested a noisy staircase that descended from the sidewalk – no sign, no menu, no nothing.
Any look of confusion hanging on my brother’s face was washed away quickly when the waitress dropped a couple of icy cold Tsing Tao beers at our table. Huddled in the corner we could see all the tables filled with locals and watched as they ordered, laughed, and slurped their food down. When a young waitress was assigned our table her heart must have sunk, thinking oh these guys will never leave a tip. We weren’t sure what to order so we made it easy on her – ordering a plate of fried prawns with spicy sauce that smelled of pineapple, hot peppers, and tangy orange. And yes I left the tip…setting a troubling precedent for the entire trip. (Disclaimer: If Seth Krugel were to read this he would poop his pants, this was a week that was in no way Frugal. I penciled the expenses in at roughly $800-$1,000 for the week, your welcome brother.)
We ascended back onto the busy sidewalks and walked a few blocks, lured by the sounds of live street music and the promise of more food. A place packed with locals and draped in gaudy orange banners from the outside caught our eye. Simple white letters above the door read, Capital Restaurant. It turned out to be ridiculously good: cheap, locals only, spicy, smoky, and the kitchen was operated by loud, angry old men now impervious to pain after years on the line sizzling away with giant Wok pans the size of coffee tables.
Afterwords we wandered aimlessly, admired the sights, and had a few more Tsing Taos…at one point I think we marched into what was either some guys kitchen or a very, very local restaurant. It was a great way to start off our week of touring San Francisco and a great way, probably even the only way to really experience Chinatown.
Updates on our other stops throughout the city and where all that money was spent coming soon.