Tuesday, March 8, 2011

The Traffic by Waverly Place

Waverly Place is the true heart of Chinatown, the peaceful promenade for those who live here. This secondary street, the road going left (south) to right (north) here in this photo, doesn't attract tourist so much as Grant Avenue -- the money-making artery -- or Stockton Street where a zillion wet & dry shops butt up against butchers and fishmongers. Neither bald commerce nor foodstuff claims this Place. Here instead are barbers, the mystical Masonic Temple, historic Spofford Street on its western flank -- home to the Revolutionary Doctor Sun Yat-sen, fomenting a separate Republic offshore from the Middle Kingdom -- and Tin How, the oldest temple in the city on a top floor with sweeping views of San Francisco. Tin How comforts sailors, prostitutes, unborn children, and wandering souls in-between worlds.
Uncles Cafe on Waverly & Clay
The revitalized YMCA anchors the street's southern end. Sacramento Street bifurcates it, as you see in this photograph. The southerly block is the domain of Tin How and various Benevolent Associations and Mah Jong parlors.
Uncle's Cafe dominates the southwestern corner of Waverly & Sacramento, there in the middle of this shot. It is a simple diner, nothing fancy at all.
Most Chinese restaurants in Chinatown follow the Hong Kong diner model featuring an odd mix of Chinafied American dishes and Americanized Chinese dishes. Dim Sum, strictly a breakfast food in HK, strikes me as mainly greasy grubby fair -- fried or boiled, monochromatic and unbalanced. I usally avoid it. The best restaurants in the district are the hybrid ones. Vietnamese of Chinese descent, a people called the Hoa, run a few terrific spots. My very favorite, though, is Straits dining at Penang Garden, on Portsmouth Square at Kearny and Washington Streets serving Malay, Indonesian, and Chinese as from Singapore. They serve Chinatown's most surprising food, spiked with fruits and new flavors, in a room with a tree in the middle of it full of good luck wishes.

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