Ton Kiang fills two stories for dim sum and dinner services.
On a Saturday or Sunday, this Richmond district Chinese restaurant has a perpetual line out the door. Ton Kiang has developed a reputation for serving some of the best dim sum in San Francisco, meaning it has some of the best dim sum in America. It’s worth a wait to eat their Hakka-style food, but it’s an even better idea to show up during the week, when the waits are shorter and the food is just as good.
You won’t find any dim sum carts at Ton Kiang, which is named for the East River in China’s Guangdong (Canton) Province. You also won’t find a checklist. Instead, Ton Kiang splits the difference. Women circulate with trays of plates and bamboo steamers. By the time they navigate the room, they usually sell out, so the food stays fresh and hot.
Chin Boon Wong and Ching Su Wong founded the original Ton Kiang in 1978 in Chinatown, and this outpost has been open and thriving since the early ’80s.
Salt-and-pepper shrimp incorporated minced red bell peppers, scallions and garlic. The shrimp were so expertly fried that head, tail, and everything in between was juicy and flavorful.
Siu Choy Gao – Napa cabbage and shrimp dumplings – featured thin skins and tightly packed, naturally sweet shellfish and cabbage fillings.
Steamed baby bok choy was crisp and plentiful.
Bol Choy Gao – shrimp and spinach dumplings – were similar to the cabbage version, only with spinach, and a different shape.
My exhaustive rundown of our meal continues with Dai Dze Gao, ethereal scallop and shrimp dumplings containing crunchy carrot bits.
Cha Siu Bao – barbecued pork buns – were especially good. Lesser versions are crammed with sickly sweet red sauce and fatty pork, but these specimens were nice and fluffy, filled with big cubes of juicy hog meat.
Wah Tip – potstickers – were pretty good, but could have used thinner skins and more caramelization in the pan.
Roast duck was succulent and crisp skinned. The poultry came with ginger-infused plum sauce.
Pea shoots sautéed with caramelized garlic slivers were simple, but oh so satisfying.
Scallion pie is a highlight at most Shanghai-style Chinese restaurants, with flaky layers. Unfortunately, Ton Kiang’s version was more like a doughy pancake.
Fun Got – mushroom and shrimp dumplings – tasted fine, but the wrappers would have been more satisfying if they weren’t glutinous.
We found serious success with fried shrimp, but the calamari equivalent was less dynamic. Rings and tentacles were showered with minced bell peppers, garlic and scallions, but the batter was too greasy.
My father committed to two steamers full of Siu Mai – pork dumplings. Other dim sum restaurants mold together off cuts of pork in siu mai, but not Ton Kiang.
Xiao Long Bao – juicy steamed Shanghai pork dumplings – were served with tangy red vinegar floating with ginger strands.
Frilly wonton skins on the steamed chicken dumplings were a little charred, but ground chicken remained juicy.
Don Tah – egg custard tarts – were served warm, so the combination of yolky interior and flaky pastry practically melted in my mouth.
I last ate at Ton Kiang five years ago, when they were known for scintillating almond cookies. Sadly, the almond cookies are long gone, but their walnut cookies might be even better, browned dough balls studded with whole pecans, containing sticky walnut paste.