Having haunted many a food hall and marketplaces around the globe, we were over the moon when we heard the news that San Francisco would be welcoming its very own Asian food emporium this year. We love exploring foodie meccas like Torvehallerne Market in Copenhagen and even the many delightful stalls in San Francisco’s Ferry Building, but China Live is different. It’s a foodie temple dedicated to Chinese cooking located near the entrance to the Broadway Tunnel. China Live is nestled in the thick of the action since it’s centrally located on the border of San Francisco’s historic Chinatown and bustling North Beach neighborhoods.
The Bay Area, and San Francisco in particular, has always had an appetite for foreign foodie fare. It’s no secret that there are loads of fabulous Chinese Asian fusion options in SF like Dragon Well in the Marina District and Pejiu Wu Betelnut (often referred to simply as Betelnut) in Cow Hollow. China Live is the brain child of founder George Chen and is a megaplex dedicated to exotic Chinese flavors. China Live isn’t Chen’s first culinary rodeo. He was also the creative force behind Betelnut when it first arrived on the scene with its distinctive Asian style street food back in 1995.
First things first. If you plan on dining at the China Live Market Restaurant making a reservation online ahead of time is a wise decision. Second of all, the best seat in the house hands down is at the dim sum bar beside the service area. We had a tough time not reaching out and grabbing every amazing dish that whizzed passed us.
China Live offers a plethora of craft cocktails. From the honey on the South Side (a mix of Apóstles yerba matte gin, lemon and matcha honey, muddled peppermint and basil mixed with seltzer) to the unbound (made with Paul John whisky of India, Kavlan Taiwanese whisky & Famous Grouse scotch that gets shaken with coconut rum, fresh lemon and a house made ginger syrup), you’ll likely find something that will wet your whistle.
We opted for a gold mountain which is a mix of Bender’s 7 year rye stirred with Camus V.S. cognac, coconut sugar, house made iron Buddha bitters and a bar spoon full of Greenbar Distillery’s Grand Poppy Liqueur. It was a delightful beverage for watching the dim sum production behind the bar.
If booze isn’t your thing, the tea selection at China Live is quiet lovely. We went with a pot of the 8 treasure tea made with lotus seed, longan, jasmine pearl tea blend, hawthorne, goji, jujubee date, rosebuds and rock sugar. It was so stunning we almost didn’t want to pour it.
For dinner we barely ventured out of dim sum territory. It’s hard not to taste test all of the dumplings and pot stickers if you’re seated at the dim sum bar. Our first foray into China Live’s menu was with the pork belly lotus buns which were served with a delicate pao tsai cabbage and a spunky peanut glaze. Chen’s mouthwatering buns were so good, we could have just kept ordering more, but we figured we ought to give the rest of the menu a chance.
We were glad we decided to stray. Six of China Live’s xiao long bao (XLB) arrived in front of us piping hot and filled with a rich consommé. A side of vinegar and ginger was provided for dipping.
Next up we tried eight of the Sichuan working hands dumplings bathed in a lovely sesame butter and a spicy peppercorn chili broth. Make sure you scoop up the broth from the bottom of the dish and place it on your dumplings, otherwise you’re liable to be licking your bowl in an effort to savor every last drop.
After sneaking a peek at the dessert menu before ordering our mains, we though it would be wise for us to save room for dessert. We went big and ordered both the durian soft serve ice cream and the passionfruit milk chocolate cream puff. The durian won hands down. Not only was it unique and unlike any other dessert we’ve ever tried before, but those dang caramelized sunflower seeds ought to be labeled as human crack. If China Live sold bags of the caramelized sunflower seeds in its marketplace, we’d be in big trouble.
The passionfruit milk chocolate cream puff was perfectly okay, but if we had to do our dining experience at China Live all over again, we’d likely swap out the cream puff for more of those amazing dumplings.
All in all our dining experience at China Live was excellent and we’re looking forward to popping in again sometime soon. The service was excellent and the decor throughout the building is quite lovely.
From the saucy bathrooms…
…and the elegant art…
…to the peaceful front seating area, there’s a lot to love about China Live. One of our favorite spots in the building is China Live’s marketplace. No visit would be complete without a wander through the massive building’s shopping area.
While we didn’t have time (or the extra stomach required) to partake in any of the tastings that were on offer…
…we did thoroughly enjoy peeking at all the foodie goodies in the shop.
Visitors to San Francisco might opt to pick up some of China Live’s fresh Sichuan small hot chilis or a package of Asian smoked tea rub. Small, compact and not liquid means that China Live’s spices make for excellent souvenirs.
If checking a bag, or having something sticking out of your luggage is an option, the giant wooden spoons sold in China Live’s marketplace are sure to be a big hit with the foodies in your life. We couldn’t resist the adorable, “I’m all that and dim sum,” shirts China Live sells from the quirky Southern California brand Bad Pickle Tees. (In fact, we may just have to add Bad Pickle’s, “Duck duck confit,” tee to our holiday wish list this year.)
Whether you’re in the market for the perfect pair of chopsticks or an enjoyable meal, China Live is a welcome addition to the SF foodie scene for locals and visitors alike.
Address: 644 Broadway
San Francisco, California 94133
Hours: Monday Through Thursday 11:00am to 10:00pm, Friday 11:00am to 11:00pm, Saturday 10:30am to 11:00pm, Sunday 10:30am to 10:00pm
Phone: (415) 788-8188
Pricing (All in USD): Starters $5.00 to $24.00, Big Plates $12.00 to $60.00, Beer $6.00 to $12.00, Rice Dishes $2.00 to $21.00, Noodles and Soups $12.00 to $19.00, Cocktails and Drinks $13.00 to $15.00, Fine Teas $3.50 to $15.00, Other Non-Alcoholic Beverages $4.00 to $7.00, Desserts and Pastries $6.00 to $10.00