{SF} ¡Chino! : Asian Fusion & Margaritas

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¡Chino! lies along my commute. Thanks to passing it five days a week and the fact that its bright pink sign and lightbulb-ridden ceiling make it impossible to go unnoticed, I think about it a lot. We have a special connection.

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Rumors fly about the food at ¡Chino! It’s known for its Asian-fusion small plates and world-fusion cocktails – all things I like very much. “Delicious,” said one friend. “Overrated,” said the next. The thing about restaurants, though, is when you go expecting everything to be amazing you will most likely be disappointed by the slightest thing to go wrong – be it a dish, a price number or an interaction. If you go expecting it to be overrated, it will probably be amazing.

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The wait for a Thursday night without a reservation was much longer than any normal person should like to wait (over an hour). So officially ‘good’ or not, people flock here. ¡Chino! is the brainchild of Tacolicious‘ owner and his acquaintances well versed in Asian cuisine. Tacolicious is another love-it-or-think-it’s-overrated kind of place. If you ask me, this guy (Joe Hargrave) has learned how to run a successful restaurant.

The inside gets a 10 on the visually appealing scale. The space itself is not huge, but the high ceilings make it appear that way. The Edison lightbulbs, although ultra-trendy, and large colored lanterns are awesome. Basically, I would live here.

The drink menu is highly diverse. I had the Chinatown Iced Tea ($11), which consisted of baijiu, China’s most consumed liquor that we know nothing about (it’s a grain alcohol like vodka), almond milk, passion fruit, and lipton tea. It was sweet. The server gladly pointed out how cool it was they have a Margarita on the menu, too. Hi Tacolicious, I remember you. The food was great as well, all of it actually. And the prices weren’t scary.

Favorites in descending order:

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Korean-American Rice Cakes: Spicy braised pork, bok choy, fried pepper paste, $8.

This dish wasn’t what I expected in the best way possible. The rice cakes weren’t rice cake-y at all but, in fact, were little balls of soft chewy rice paste browned to a perfect crisp. The rest of the ingredients were filled with flavor. I’m not sure why it wasn’t advertised as stir fry, but it can be forgiven. Get this.

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XLB Traditional Shanghai Soup Dumplings: 6 for $9.75.

When these dumplings were dropped at our table we were given the following warning, “Have you had soup dumplings before?” “No.” “Well they can be very dangerous, be careful. And don’t eat the cucumbers on the bottom, they’ll be disgusting.” Then the dumpling deliverer walked away. There was no humor anywhere in that speech, it was terrifying. They key is to scoop one dumpling onto your soup spoon and poke through the hole at the top with your chopstick so the steam gets out and won’t burn you to death, I guess. We all survived to taste their yumminess.

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Cold Sesame Noodles: Cucumber, summer squash, $ 6.50.

These noodles were just really, really good. Normally warm noodles are more appealing, but these and their vegetables were perfect. The sesame (and peanut?) paste was just sweet enough.

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Shrimp Fried Rice: Egg, carrot, scallion, $8.

This is the only dish I would say is skippable. Maybe it’s because the rice came to us last, but the flavor wasn’t anything bold or special. It really wasn’t there at all.

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Nick Balla’s Dope Ass Japan-o-Mission Wings: Fishy-lime-hot-n-sour sauce, $ 9.75.

These were great chicken wings. The skin perfectly crisped and seasoned, they offered lots of meat with each bite. But it’s not hard to find great chicken wings. I understand the dish is indeed an authentic Korean and Japanese offering but I can’t disassociate wings from greasy American dives. The other options seemed a tiny bit more satisfying.

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Matcha Soft Serve: Straus family cream, fruity pebbles, mochi, $7.

We ordered the green tea soft-serve strictly for picture-taking purposes. And then, of course, we were stuck eating circumstantially. We couldn’t bear to see it melt alone.

And there you have it. If you’re deciding whether or not to go, remember this:

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¡Chino!
3198 16th St
The Mission
SF, CA 94103

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