A history of America’s favorite Asian takeout dishes

Kung pao chicken, General Tso’s chicken, pad thai, sushi, banh mi, chicken tikka masala — dishes that are rooted in Asia and the Asian diaspora are now firmly a part of America’s multicultural cuisine. But how did that come to be the case?

“Asian American food is as complicated and diverse as Asian American people because the category itself, Asian American, is very broad,” said Robert Ji-Song Ku, associate professor of Asian and Asian American Studies at Binghamton University. “It’s hard to generalize about Asian Americans and how different cuisines become mainstream because they really all had different processes and different developments.”

No story can be told about Asian food in America without acknowledging the influence that Chinese immigrants and their descendants had, not just on Chinese American food, but on American food. Consider the fact that people of Chinese descent currently make up about 1.6% of the American population, yet there are more than 40,000 Chinese restaurants and most people across demographics in the country have eaten or are familiar with Chinese food, particularly takeout.

The Chinese restaurateurs dressed up their restaurants to look like some sort of theme park that was very Chinese-y, because that’s what the audience wanted. They had to perform their exoticness, but at the same time, they couldn’t serve food that was too unfamiliar.

Robert Ji-Song Ku, associate professor of Asian and Asian American Studies at Binghamton University

While volumes could be written about how this came to be, the short version is that the Chinese faced intense racism as the first Asian immigrants in the U.S. They were barred from owning businesses or getting jobs after the Chinese Exclusion Act in 1882. But they were able to own restaurants and laundromats — businesses that Jennifer 8. Lee, a journalist and producer of the documentary “The Search for General Tso,” says were traditionally considered women’s work, and were non-threatening to white men.

What started in ethnic enclaves soon attracted white Americans who wanted to have an “exotic” experience eating out, explained Ku.

“The Chinese restaurateurs dressed up their restaurants to look like some sort of theme park that was very Chinese-y, because that’s what the audience wanted. They had to perform their exoticness, but at the same time, they couldn’t serve food that was too unfamiliar,” said Ku, author of “Dubious Gastronomy: Eating Asian in the USA.” “So they basically took American-style food — meat, gravy, starch, some vegetables — and they designed a cuisine that was consistent with the American way of eating.”

Additionally, Chinese restaurateurs had to adapt recipes for the ingredients that were available to them in America.

This is what Ku calls “the chop suey tradition” the rise of a distinctly Chinese American cuisine. Chop suey, essentially a vegetable medley with meat, was the first such dish to become an American sensation, and other stir-fry and gravy-based dishes soon followed. Coincidentally, what we now know as the Chinese takeout container was patented in 1894, just in time for the rise of Chinese cuisine (though the iconic red pagoda graphic and “Thank you” script weren’t added until the 1970s.)

In the early 1900s, the first Japanese and Indian restaurants started opening in Los Angeles, Chicago and New York.

Fueled by a series of events, like the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, which opened the doors to many more Asian immigrants and the Vietnam War, which led to waves of refugees from Southeast Asia, the diversity of Asian cultures in America brought with it more types of cuisine. These later waves of immigrants didn’t have to tweak their recipes or make new dishes to suit white Americans the way Chinese immigrants did, as they were mostly feeding their own.

For example, Ku explained, “In the 1970s Koreans established these enclaves and the primary customers of their restaurants were always Korean. There was very little need to tweak the recipes. So American diners caught up to Korean food as opposed to Korean food changing to make it more accessible to Americans.” (That’s also why it took until the 2000s for dishes like Korean bulgogi and Vietnamese pho to become mainstream and eventually hot culinary “trends.”)

Thai restaurants popped up all over the country as Thai students came to study in the U.S. and started opening restaurants. By the 1990s and 2000s, Thai food could be found everywhere in the U.S., thanks to a plan by the Thai government.

“The reason why Thai restaurants are so ubiquitous in America is because the Thai government back in the ‘90s had an economic agenda to open up Thai restaurants around the world as a way to bring money back to Thailand,” said Ku.

Americans’ interest in Chinese cuisine was piqued in 1972 when President Richard Nixon visited China and was seen on TV enjoying Chinese food. “That opened up curiosity for many regarding regional Chinese food,” said Ku. That’s when Chinese restaurants started advertising that they were Hunanese, Sichuan, or Cantonese.

That’s also when Americans started questioning the authenticity of Chinese American dishes — a conversation that still happens today for many ethnic cuisines. But, says Ku and a slew of Asian American chefs, that view is misguided.

“Talking about authenticity becomes very tricky because the kung pao chicken you might pick up at the corner takeout is an authentic American Chinese food,” said Ku. “It may not be found in China, but that doesn’t make it somehow not Chinese. There are a lot of examples of Chinese food around the world that you can’t find in China, and China itself undergoes so much change that to talk about Chinese food as something that is stable and fixed and has lasted for generations is fiction.”

“There was no headquarters. There were no recipes or blueprint for scaling passed down from headquarters. There was no franchisee model,” said Lucas Sin, chef and owner of New York City’s Nice Day Chinese Takeout who has spent a lot of time studying Chinese food in the diaspora. “These immigrants just figured out what worked and there’s a lot we can learn from an efficiency standpoint, from a culinary technique standpoint, from a temperature and texture preservation standpoint.”

With that context in mind, check out the origin stories behind some of the most popular Asian takeout dishes in America:

Banh mi

This Vietnamese sandwich, a combination of colonial French and Vietnamese traditions, typically features minced meat, pickled daikon and carrots, cilantro, and aromatics like lemongrass and garlic. It’s believed to have been invented in the 1950s in Saigon (now Ho Chi Minh City) by restaurant owners Mr. and Mrs. Le, who still run a restaurant there today called Banh Mi Hoa Ma.

Jet Tila's Banh Mi Sandwich

KEN GOODMAN PHOTOGRAPHY / Ken Goodman

Bulgogi

This is a classic Korean dish of marinated grilled beef that is thinly sliced and served over rice or in lettuce wraps. The origins of this dish actually date way back to 37 BC, and it was originally cooked using skewers, a preparation called maekjeok. Bulgogi fluctuated in popularity in Korea, gaining a resurgence in the ‘80s and ‘90s and making its way to the U.S. In 2008, the Kogi BBQ truck launched in Los Angeles, creating a bulgogi taco that put a new spotlight on the Korean dish.

Mom's Bulgogi with Cucumber Kimchi Salad

Ashleigh Amoroso

Chicken tikka masala

This dish is one of the most well-known Indian takeout dishes, featuring yogurt-marinated chicken in a rich spiced tomato-and-cream sauce. Stories suggest that it was actually invented in Glasgow, Scotland in the 1970s by a Bangladeshi chef (many Indian restaurants both in the U.K. and in the U.S. were actually run by people from Bangladesh). It is believed that the chef added the gravy to the chicken tikka, a traditional North Indian dish that featured just the yogurt-marinated chicken, in order to please a customer who claimed it was dry. Others see it as a variation on a Northern Indian dish called butter chicken. In any case, it’s now Britain’s national dish and wildly popular around the world.

General Tso’s chicken

This popular Chinese takeout dish was actually invented in Taiwan by Peng Chang-kuei, a chef from the Hunan province, in the 1950s. However, the dish that’s served in most Chinese American restaurants today is very different than his original — it’s much sweeter, it’s deep fried and it’s unrecognizable to many people in China. Today, different restaurants all have their own secrets for making it.

General Tso's Chicken

Jody Horton / Clarkson Potter, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC

“I called no less than 10 chefs who are operating Chinese mom-and-pop restaurants and asked them what goes into the General Tso’s and nobody can give me a straight answer,” said Sin, who added his own version to his restaurant’s menu. “Some guy will say, hey, oyster sauce is the most important; someone else will say ketchup; a third person will say maltose. And it seems like there are like 200 ingredients in General Tso’s. Nobody really knows what it is. It’s a sweet, sticky, slightly spicy chicken, but everyone has their own approach to it.”

Kung pao chicken

Originally called gong bao, this spicy, saucy chicken stir-fry with peanuts comes from Sichuan province in southern China. There are regional variations, but what’s found in China is very different from the Chinese American version, which is much sweeter and often includes ingredients like orange juice, sugar, and cornstarch, in addition to the chicken, vegetables and chilies.

Mapo tofu

“Mapo tofu is a regional Sichuan dish that was invented a couple hundred years ago in Chengdu,” explained Sin. “It was originally a beef dish with tofu, garlic and scallions, and finished with Chinese chives and fermented bean paste. One of the versions that’s evolved out of this original Sichuan version is a Cantonese American version of mapo tofu. It’s not as spicy, it’s made out of pork instead of beef, and it’s more braisey — there’s a little bit more liquid to it.”

Pad thai

The stir-fried noodle dish with vegetables and protein is found on almost every Thai restaurant menu. It turns out, this dish was introduced by the Thai government in the 1930s under the leadership of Prime Minister Plaek Pibulsonggram. The government launched several measures to modernize the country, and created the dish as a way to improve nutrition and to rally people around a national dish. To make this happen, the government shared the recipe and encouraged street vendors to make and popularize the dish. The catch? Other than the chilies, none of the ingredients were native to Thailand, and in fact the dish is more rooted in Chinese cuisine.

One-Pot Pad Thai

Maggie Shi

Teriyaki

This sweet sauce, used at Japanese restaurants as a marinade on meats and fish, is said to have been created by Japanese immigrants in Hawaii who originally made it by blending pineapple juice and soy sauce. Today, teriyaki sauce is usually made with soy sauce, brown sugar, garlic, mirin and sake.

Related:

What’s Happened to All of Those Cool, Creative Pandemic Takeout Dishes

Dear fellow diners, can you remember, not so many months ago, when we were fully locked down and the light at the end of the week tunnel was — takeout? The world was upside down, but this city still loves to eat, and San Franciscans became obsessed with chasing down cool, creative takeout items during the pandemic. Chefs with no alternatives rose to the occasion, coming up with many inspiring ways to put food into bags. Do you remember the chirashi bowls, swimming with finely sliced fatty tuna? How about those bento boxes, mini chicken skewers racked in a row? The whimsical pastry boxes, the baby bottle cocktails, the over-the-top trays? That fried chicken sandwich — claw still attached! — that reached out and seized the collective conscious of a city craving comfort, never freeing us from its grasp?

Well, the time has come to report some good and bad news: With dining rooms reopening, chefs are clearing out the takeout containers, which is wonderful, in that they get to return to their preferred service style. But for diners, that means yet another adjustment, after a year of adjustments, and maybe a touch of takeout anxiety. (It could be worse than contemplating real pants and going to the office.) Are you quite ready? Sorry, but you should know:

Farmhouse Kitchen is officially retiring the Little Lao takeout platter. Rintaro has already served the last of its beautiful bento boxes. Mercifully, the fried chicken sandwich with the claw has taken on a life of its own, and Birdsong will be opening a fast-casual spinoff in its honor. But when it comes to all of the hottest takeout items we clung to throughout the pandemic, other fates remain unknown.

The “Lao Table” takeout tray from Farmhouse Kitchen Thai

Patricia Chang

The Farmhouse Little Lao Set? Ending June 15

Farmhouse Kitchen had the biggest social media sensation to hit the Bay Area during the pandemic: Their Little Lao Set is an over-the-top tray filled with noodles, fried rice, fried chicken, curry sauce, fresh rolls, samosas, and the works, generously feeding two parents and a kid for $70. Farmhouse says that to date, they have served 100,000 sets, but with the city reopening, they plan to end the Little Lao Set on June 15, when the state of California fully reopens. Chef Kasem Saengsawang says they created the Little Lao Set as a special pandemic treat to cheer people up at home, but given the high food and labor costs, they can’t keep it forever. However, the Son & Garden tea party will still be available for takeout, as well as a robust menu.

Katsu curry bento from Rintaro

Patricia Chang

The Rintaro Beautiful Bento Boxes? Already Gone

Chef Sylvan Mishima Brackett had a bento box catering business before opening to Rintaro izakaya, so the day the city locked down, he walked out of the kitchen, bought a burner cell phone to take orders, dug a hundred bamboo boxes and soy sauce packets out of storage, and got to work. His beautiful bento boxes have been selling out ever since, as many as the team can make. “I was a little surprised, maybe last June or July, when one day we made as much on a Friday as the previous year,” says Brackett. “It only happened like three times, but it was shocking and great. It got crazy to keep up with demand.”

He believes the appeal was the presentation: He refused to use flimsy cardboard clamshells and went straight to nice wooden boxes, and of course Rintaro has always had meticulously plated food, with paper-thin sliced cabbage. But despite the success, Brackett says “it feels like a party” to go back to the energy of indoor dining, and he quietly wound down the bento boxes on April 25, although they may come back on rare occasion, if they get in some beautiful fish, and if he feels like sliding it onto social media. This chef was never going to outsource to a ghost kitchen.

Fried chicken sandwich on a hamburger bun, with cabbage slaw and a fried chicken foot coming out from the side

Patricia Chang

The Birdsong Fried Chicken Sandwich? It Will Claw Back

Birdsong seized the imagination of diners when it debuted a fried chicken sandwich with the claw still intact, which has taken on a life of its own. Chef Christopher Bleidorn says chickens were always integral but invisible on the fine-dining menu, which focuses on shellfish, but when the crisis hit, they had a walk-in full of chickens, heads and feet still on, to make the richest stocks and sauces. The chef thought their regulars might be intrigued by a sandwich with a claw. “Everyone sees the claw and takes photos … ” he says. “But this is the thing — you shouldn’t be scared of a sandwich with a claw. You should be scared of a sandwich without a claw,” referring to cheap chicken, raised inhumanely. But he never expected it to take off. The sandwich has since been named “Claude the claw,” and he’s made the rounds on national media, even appearing on SNL.

Claude is taking a break at the moment, while Birdsong reopens for indoor dining. But on the wings of this success, Bleidorn confirmed he is planning on officially opening Birdbox as a fast-casual spinoff and he’s eyeing a beautiful brick building near the ballpark in SoMa. He hopes to ink the deal shortly and open at the end of 2021 or beginning of 2022. In addition to the specialty sandwich, the plan is really to do all kinds of fried chicken boxes, featuring whole chickens, chicken parts, sandwiches, pot pies, and maybe even the occasional fried quail.

Torima yakitori takeout box from Hina Yakitori

Patricia Chang

The Hina Yakitori 20-Buck Chicken Boxes? They Might Come Back

Other restaurants are pausing popular takeout items, making promises about bringing them back, but staying secretive on the details. Hina Yakitori, the omakase-style counter that specializes in chicken skewers, served up hot takeout with their bento boxes, which were a steal at only 20 bucks, for a gorgeously skewered and arranged chicken box. Hina Yakitori reopened their counter for sit-down dining on May 18, putting a hold on the Torima bento boxes. But the restaurant has set up a separate website and social media account. A rep for the restaurant said “while we envision a return, we don’t have a location or a timeline at this point.” So stay tuned.

Inari sushi from Yubu by the Shota

Patricia Chang

The Fatty Tuna and Inari Pockets from the Shota? They Might Come Back

The Shota, that luxe omakase counter downtown, had a takeout hit when it introduced Yubu by the Shota, filling beautiful boxes with fatty tuna donburi and cute inari pockets stuffed with crab and mushrooms. They say the takeout operation “temporarily” shut down on April 30, in preparation for reopening indoor dining on May 13. However, Yubu by the Shota is still active as a separate Instagram account, so it might be worth keeping an eye on it.

Those Fancy Fine Dining Meal Kits from Lazy Bear? Yeah Gone

Remember those fancy fine dining takeout experiences, with many courses and drink pairings, to sear and plate at home? They were once the takeout that pandemic birthdays and anniversaries were made of, but they may not be long for this reopening world. Lazy Bear has wound down their Camp Commissary walk-up window, fancy meal kits, and cocktail bottles. At the time of writing, the restaurant is offering indoor and outdoor reservations starting at $245 per person.

Hoagie from Palm City

Patricia Chang

The Philly-Style Hoagies from Palm City? Still Going Strong

Big sandwiches were a big trend to come out of the pandemic, like the sizeable Philly-style hoagies from Palm City Wines, loaded with mortadella and dripping with spicy mayo. Palm City opened in April 2020, as a wine shop with a few food offerings, but the pandemic made it a sandwich destination. What now? Will they keep making hoagies? Are they tempted to swing back to an original concept? Co-owner Dennis Cantwell says the hoagies are still going strong, although they may become slightly smaller and cheaper (as opposed to “the size of your forearm,” his description), as the restaurant finally pulls out a few tables and chairs, and prepares to ease into indoor and sidewalk seating in the next couple of weeks.

That Extra Cheesy Burger from Nightbird? It Might Pop Back Up

Nightbird fine-dining restaurant flipped to takeout with their Nightburger, a “super classic” burger with double patties, lots of cheese, 138 sauce, and pickles on the side (don’t forget the waffle fries). Chef Kim Alter says it’s last call this weekend and next, so get those final orders in before Sunday, June 6. However, the restaurant says they might bring it back as a pop-up once a month, to “satisfy burger cravings.”

Drool pastry box

Drool

That Unusual Pastry Box from Drool? It’s Still Selling Out

Bakery boxes were also an enduring trend during the pandemic, which appears to have lasting appeal. Star pastry chef Nick Muncy, formerly of fine-dining kitchens, is still selling out every weekend and continuing his solo project. He’s currently revamping the menu for Drool, so expect a fresh set of highly unusual pastries to debut shortly. The online orders drop on Mondays, and the boxes are available for weekend pickup and local delivery.

Wait, What About Bottled Cocktails? Well, That’s Up to California

For now, cocktail bars like Horsefeather do seem to be continuing with their takeout cocktail programs, so never fear, you can still get a 4-pack of baby bottle cocktails, complete with the flying pony label, and a side of duck fat fries. But their future is in the hands of the state of California. Cocktails to go were supposed to be temporary, but there’s a proposal to make them permanent. Senator Bill Dodd in Napa proposed State Bill 398, which has already been approved by the State Senate, is now up for a vote in the State Assembly, at which point it will move to Governor Gavin Newsom for approval. Let’s not forget, our governor owns several bars in San Francisco, so here’s hoping that he’s sympathetic. Stay tuned for takeout cocktail updates.

4828 Telegraph Ave, Oakland, CA 94609
(510) 593-2004

3416 19th Street, San Francisco, CA 94110
(415) 874-9921

oregonlive’s Logo

There’s a modest blue home where Southeast 46th Avenue operates into Division Avenue. Inside, brown paper bags crammed with takeout orders hold out on a table in a home dressed for a prohibition-era seance, with copper cups, artwork nouveau antiques and spectacular blue wallpaper. If you walk by tomorrow, you may come across the door propped open up with a classic stitching machine. 1 of these baggage might be ready for you.

This is Malka, not the downtown diamond store, but the long-awaited cafe version of the cult-favourite foods cart Carte Blanche, and just one of the far more curious new restaurant openings in the latest memory. Listed here, in a room with the eclectic vibe of Portland’s Rimsky-Korsakoffee House, chef Jessie Aron would make a menu all her personal, with a dozen otherworldly dishes, some listing more than 20 elements, each individual named as if from a desire or inside joke.

I was very first meant to take a look at Malka a tiny about a yr in the past, on an precise day, but when we confirmed up for our reservation, my spouse and I identified a line stretching out the door of the transformed Craftsman (turns out, our reservation experienced granted us an purchasing time slot, but in those early times, Malka was still accepting wander-ins as effectively). With our babysitter meter jogging, we ended up at the just-opened, given that-closed Bar King as a substitute. And that ended up getting our final meal out for virtually a calendar year.

By the time I produced it again, Malka was almost a 12 months previous. Opened in February 2020 immediately after an arduous a few-12 months buildout, the restaurant arrived just in time for COVID-19 to convert our planet upside down. But after six a long time at Carte Blanche, Aron and organization husband or wife Colin McArthur ended up well suited for the takeout pivot, rapidly changing their small business into “basically becoming a food cart all over again, except in a dwelling,” Aron mentioned.

“When the pandemic hit, it was like, ‘OK, I guess we can just sling meals in to-go containers.’ Our foods for the most component travels definitely effectively,’” Aron stated. “The complete cafe issue: serving, pouring wine, conversing to individuals, building every thing really feel stylish? That was what was new and scary prior to the pandemic, and is and will be once again.”

The only hiccup to Malka’s easy-functioning takeout procedure? Figuring out what to purchase from a listing of dishes with names like missing tracks from some sci-fi funk album. Here’s a swift manual: The Essential Helmet from Outer House, Malka’s most well known item, is a pulled pork and jasmine rice bowl with an apricot-curry barbecue sauce. The Quick Chair is rooster and matzo ball soup. The Spaceman Spiff is a kale, chicory and apple salad that also has carrots, beets, pomegranate, fried onion, parsley, pomegranate, fried onions, togarashi, tahini, miso-mustard vinaigrette and sesame, sunflower and pumpkin seeds. And the standout Bellflower is a “crispy rice salad” with a description that consists of 23 distinctive substances.

With so much going on, it’s not often simple to parse out what each individual component adds to the whole. But taken collectively, some similarities emerge from dish to dish. Aron enjoys to layer textures, with seeds or nuts — or relatively, seeds and nuts — combining with crispy rice and fried shallots in a rogue wave of crunch. You may possibly sense a distant whiff of 1970s Portland macrobiotic cooking below and there, maybe in that barbecue sauce the Rhododendron Backyard garden, a stir-fry with natural ramen noodles, basil, coconut product and fried shallots, could just about have come from your preferred community Thai location. Aron credits her cooking design in part to her dad, a colorful, charismatic determine who “loved each individual solitary edible factor, and didn’t have an understanding of that some issues really do not go with other factors,” Aron explained.

Takeout from Malka, the new Southeast Portland restaurant, includes instructions to "stir enthusiastically."

Takeout from Malka, the new Southeast Portland restaurant, incorporates guidelines to “stir enthusiastically.”Michael Russell | The Oregonian

Aspect of Malka’s pre-pandemic draw was the presentation of these kitchen area-sink dishes. At dwelling, you’ll need to acquire treatment when transferring your glistening greens to a bowl, and make certain to adhere to the tiny slips with their dreamy guidelines to “stir enthusiastically” to reveal the “secret delights and sauces at the base of this box.” Nonetheless, the melted queso Oaxaca that ties with each other the Jolene may have pooled into a sort of tacky leather-based hammock beneath the fried tater tots in red mole, guajillo-lime salt, roasted butternut squash, jalapeños and charred scallions. You are going to still finish them off.

When Malka reopens its garden seating afterwards this spring, the Jolene will be a ought to-buy dish, and a person I glance ahead to attempting once more, perhaps with an appealing cocktail served in some vintage glassware. I could see individuals tots joining the first totchos at Oaks Bottom pub and the fish sauce taters at Bottle Rocket on Portland’s greater tater tot pantheon. When there, I’ll make place for dessert: Some of the tastiest things at Malka are found on the sweet facet, which includes a surprisingly uncomplicated coconut milk rice pudding with chopped fruit, as perfectly as a cookie with white and milk chocolate, potato chips and pretzels — an acknowledged homage to the famed Compost Cookie at New York’s Milk Bar.

Even in a takeout surroundings, considerably from the restaurant’s ample decor, Malka can be frustrating. In my notes, I explained the However Satisfied To Be Below, a za’atar-rubbed sourdough focaccia toast with goat cheese, grilled mushrooms and garlic honey, as a “Venusian croque monsieur.” A Malka food before this 12 months reminded me most of the time, almost 20 many years ago, when I 1st checked out the Captain Beefheart album “Trout Mask Reproduction,” on a whim, from the public library. The Zappa conspirator’s 1969 album, with its twisted time signatures, horns that audio like strangled geese and herky jerky guitar solos all broken up by summary poems, is an avant-rock masterpiece. But soon after spending my youth listening to Nirvana and Tupac, I lacked the context to value the songs, permit by itself the artists it had influenced.

Is Malka the cafe model of “Trout Mask Reproduction,” an forward-of-its-time visionary beloved by followers, even though at periods mystifying to the masses? They unquestionably have just one matter in prevalent: You have to expertise them at minimum after.

Beverages: Bottled and canned sodas ($3), cold brewed oat milk mint coffee from Tōv ($6), craft beer and cider ($3-$13), to-go cocktails ($9-$10, out there sans alcoholic beverages for $5), bottled wine, which include a few from Landmass Wines ($13-$28).

Ordering: Although Malka backers Sweet Yiu and Akshay Dua run an Astoria-only cafe application, Malka alone does not currently present on the net ordering or shipping. Rather, examine out the menu on line, then connect with 503-899-4245. The staff members was supremely affected person with my quite a few concerns, and our to-go food items was all set soon just after I arrived.

Seating: None at the second, however with staff having attained their second vaccine photographs, Aron is thinking about reopening the restaurant’s backyard garden seating, complete with additional vintage sewing equipment sprouting right here and there, later this spring. Until then, you could head home, or to the pocket park just all over the corner on Southeast 47th Avenue, in which I not too long ago scarfed a terrific shrimp burger from Malka’s neighbor, Demarco’s Sandwiches.

Details: Malka is open from midday to 9 p.m. Tuesday-Sunday at 4546 S.E. Division St., 503-899-4245, malkapdx.com

Michael Russell, [email protected]onian.com, @tdmrussell

The 100 Best Restaurant Takeout Dishes in San Francisco 2021

The 7×7 Big Eat sheltered in place last year when, just as we were about to press publish on our list of the 100 best things to eat in San Francisco, restaurants shuttered statewide due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

But start your stomachs: The Big Eat is back for 2021. What’s new? We’re serving it to you in takeout boxes.


Yes, SF restaurants are beginning to reopen for indoor dining, and as spring takes hold, patios and parklets will be filling up. But with limited capacity and many residents still anxiously awaiting vaccines, takeout is still the biggest restaurant game in town. Good thing our phenomenal restaurateurs have really upped their games in that department these past 12 months.

The below list represents the very best to-go dishes we’ve had in the past year that you can still order up today. Please note that some dishes may be seasonal and menus change frequently, so check with the restaurant for what’s available.

With that, we’re sending elbow bumps and heartfelt thank-yous to all the members of our local dining community for your incredible work under pressure-cooked circumstances during the pandemic. We’ve lost some beloved eateries in the past year, but we’ve also gained some very creative new concepts and scrumptious bites. Eat and enjoy.

Maison Danel’s Paris-San Francisco is an updated take on the iconic Paris-Brest pastry. The best part? It’s gluten-free!(Courtesy of @maisondanel)

1. Paris-San Francisco (v and gf) at Maison Danel, 1030 Polk St. (TenderNob), maisondanel.com

2. Khao soi at Jitlada Thai Cuisine, 1826 Buchanan St. (Japantown), jitladaironchef.com

3. Kale chaat (v and gf) at Ritu, 3111 24th St. (Mission) ritusf.com

4. BBQ pork rice noodle roll at Sam Wo, 713 Clay St. (Chinatown), samworestaurant.com

5. Fresh vegetable tamales (v) at Yo También Cantina, 205 Hugo St. (Inner Sunset), yotambientropical.com

6. Turkey momos at Bini’s Kitchen, 1001 Howard St. (SoMa), biniskitchen.com

7. Kaya toast (v) at Breadbelly, 1408 Clement St. (Outer Richmond), breadbellysf.com

8. Mezze sampler (v) at Beit Rima, 138 Church St. (Duboce Triangle), beitrimasf.com

9. Classic yakitori bento at Torima by Hina Yakatori, 808 Divisadero St. (NoPa), hinasf.com

Eat up the culinary trend du jour, quesabirria tacos, at the Mission’s Tacos el Patron.(Courtesy of @tacos.elpatron)

10. Quesabirria tacos at Tacos el Patron, 1500 S. Van Ness Ave. #100 (Mission), tacos-el-patron.com

11. Beignet flight at Brenda’s French Soul Food, 652 Polk St. (Tenderloin), frenchsoulfood.com

12. Margherita pizza (v) at Del Popolo, 855 Bush St. (TenderNob), delpopolosf.com

13. Carne asada burrito at La Taqueria; 2889 Mission St. (Mission), facebook.com/LaTaqSF

14. Roast chicken for two at Zuni Café, 1658 Market St. (Hayes Valley), zunicafe.com

15. Dungeness crab Louie salad (gf) at Swan Oyster Depot, 1517 Polk St. (Nob Hill), swanoysterdepot.us

16. Raviolo di ricotta with egg and brown butter (v) at Cotogna, 490 Pacific Ave. (Jackson Square), cotognasf.com

17. Guava li hing sorbet (v and gf) at Garden Creamery, 3566 20th St. (Mission), gardencreamery.square.site

18. Stoner garlic bread (v) at Zero Zero, 826 Folsom St. (SoMa), zerozerosf.com

19. Dungeness crab pavé (gf) at Routier, 2801 California St. (Pacific Heights), routiersf.com

20. Chicken pot pie at Black Jet Baking Co., 833 Cortland Ave. (Bernal Heights), blackjetbakingco.com

Keep things interesting by ordering the Local Special, a rotating weekly flavor at Churn.(Courtesy of @churnsf)

21. The Local Special ice cream (v and gf) at Churn Urban Creamery, 2646 Portola Ave. (Portola), churnsf.com

22. Seasonal kouign amann (v) at B. Patisserie, 2821 California St. (Pacific Heights), bpatisserie.com

23. No. 18 sandwich at Mark ‘n’ Mike’s NY Style Deli at One Market, 1 Market St. (Embarcadero), onemarket.com

24. Nigiri (especially the zuke king salmon) at Saru Sushi, 3856 24th St. (Noe Valley), akaisarusf.square.site

25. Seasonal fruit strudel (v) at 20th Century Cafe, 198 Gough St. (Hayes Valley), 20thcenturycafe.com

26. Bulgogi kimchi fried rice at Um.Ma., 1220 9th Ave. (Inner Sunset), ummasf.com

27. Pozole verde at El Pipila, 879 Brannan St. (SoMa), elpipila.com

28. Slow-cooked garlic pork empanadas at Chao Pescao, 272 McAllister St. (Civic Center), chaopescaosf.com

29. Smoked duck with root vegetables at The Morris, 2501 Mariposa St. (Mission), themorris-sf.com

30. Chocolada clam ceviche (gf) at Billingsgate, 3859 24th St. (Noe Valley), billingsgatesf.com

Need some greens? Don’t miss the kale salad at Quik Dog by Trick Dog.(@lofivephoto via @quik_dog)

31. Kale salad (v) at Quik Dog by Trick Dog, 3010 20th St. (Mission), trickdogbar.com

32. Churros with dulce de leche dipping sauce (v) at Chalos, 2240 Taraval St. (Parkside), chalossf.com

33. Ahi and spicy tuna poke bowl (gf) at Amitis Café, 800 Masonic Ave. (NoPa), amitisdelisf.com

34. Blistered Iacopi brussels sprouts (v) at True Laurel, 753 Alabama St. (Mission), truelaurelsf.com

35. Chili honey catch of the day at Liholiho Yacht Club, 871 Sutter St. (TenderNob), liholihoyachtclub.com

36. Spaghettoni at Altovino, 1358 Mason St. (Nob Hill), altovinosf.com

37. Shrimp siu mai at Good Mong Kok Bakery, 1039 Stockton St. (Nob Hill), 415.397.2688, yelp.com

38. Basuku cheesecake (v and gf), available at The Morris and Nightbird weekly; instagram.com/basukucheesecakes

39. California Dreamin’ pizza at Little Original Joe’s, 393 W. Portal Ave. (Forest Hill), littleoriginaljoes.com

40. Garlic roast pork hoagie at Palm City, 4055 Irving St. (Outer Sunset), palmcitysf.com

Maison Nico’s pâté en croûte de canard makes for a très special hors d’oeuvre or host gift.(Courtesy of @maison_nico)

41. Pâté en croûte de canard at Maison Nico, 710 Montgomery St. (Jackson Square), maisonnico.com

42. Globe eggplant “parm” (v) at SPQR, 1911 Fillmore St. (Pacific Heights), spqrsf.com

43. Braised beef rib with cheese (kalbijjim) at Daeho Korean BBQ & Beef Soup, 1620 Post St. (Japantown), instagram.com/daeho_official

44. Brown butter chocolate chip cookie (v) at Merchant Roots/The Roost, 479 Ellis St. (Tenderloin), buttery-bites-and-bottles.myshopify.com

45. Spaghittusu cun Allu Ollu e Bottariga at La Ciccia, 291 30th St. (Noe Valley), laciccia.com

46. Salt and vinegar fries (v) at Ungrafted, 2419 Third St. (Dogpatch), ungraftedsf.com

47. Ube flan cake (v) at Ube Area at Excelsior Coffee, 4495 Mission St. (Excelsior), ubeareabakery.com

48. Gamtae gyeran mari kimbap (v) at Queens, 1235 9th Ave. (Inner Sunset), queenssf.com

49. Five spice chicken vermicelli bowl at Sai’s, 505 Washington St. (FiDi), yelp.com

Nari’s set dinner menu might include the likes of this gaeng kiew wan nuea, a tender braised bone-in beef short rib in spicy green curry.(@hungryhungryhooker via @nari_sf)

50. Dinner set for two (v optional) at Nari, 1625 Post St. (Japantown), narisf.com

51. Moussaka at Kitchen Istanbul, 349 Clement St. (Inner Richmond), kitchenistanbulsf.com

52. Kalamansi truffle (v) at Kokak Chocolates, 3901 18th St. (Castro), kokakchocolates.com

53. Forbidden rice chao at Lily on Clement, 225 Clement St. (Inner Richmond), lilyonclement.com

54. Irish breakfast at New Taraval Cafe, 1054 Taraval St. (Parkside). newtaravalcafe.com

55. Carnitas with fresh corn tortillas at La Palma Mexicatessen, 2884 24th St. (Mission), lapalmasf.com

56. Vegetarian combination (v, gf optional) at House of Tadu Ethiopian Kitchen, 1130 Fourth St. (Mission Bay), taduethiopiankitchen.com

57. Potato pesto pizza at DamnFine, 3410 Judah St. (Outer Sunset), damnfineco.com

58. Pain au chocolat (v) at Arsicault Bakery, 397 Arguello Blvd. (Inner Richmond), arsicault-bakery.com

59. 500 Club sandwich at Turner’s Kitchen, 3505 17th St. (Mission), turnerskitchensf.com

60. Canelé (v) at Le Dix-Sept Patisserie, 3376 18th St. (Mission), ledixsept.com

61. Lasagna Bolognese at Che Fico Alimentari, 834 Divisadero (NoPa), cheficoalimentari.com

62. Jū-Ni chirashi bowl at Jū-Ni, 1335 Fulton St. (NoPa), junisf.com

63. West Coast chop salad (v, gf) at Flour + Water Pasta Shop, 3000 20th St. (Mission), flourandwaterpastashop.com

Fancify your takeout night with Pinoy Heritage’s seven-course at-home experience.(Courtesy of @pinoyheritage)

64. The seven-course at-home experience from Pinoy Heritage (inside Bluestone Cafe at Emblem Hotel), 562 Sutter St. (TenderNob), pinoyheritage.com

65. Chicken tinga sopes at El Buen Comer, 3435 Mission St. (Bernal Heights), elbuencomersf.com

66. Farm egg, arugula pesto, goat cheese and prosciutto pizza at Pizzetta 211, 211 23rd Ave. (Outer Richmond), pizzetta211.com

67. Lox bagel sandwich at Early to Rise, 1098 Jackson St. (Nob Hill), earlytorisesf.com

68. Chocolate chunk cookies with wagyu tallow at Gozu, 201 Spear St. #120 (Embarcadero), gozusf.com

69. Ko’ko wings at Prubechu, 2224 Mission St. #A (Mission), prubechu.com

70. Surprise Ending (v) at Shizen, 370 14th St. (Mission), shizensf.com

71. Buttermilk fried chicken with biscuits at Nopa, 560 Divisadero St. (NoPa), nopasf.com

72. Tea leaf salad at Mandalay; 4348 California St. (Inner Richmond), mandalaysf.com

73. Roasted lamb shank at Z Zoul Cafe, 295 Eddy St. (Tenderloin), zzoulcafe.com

Order up a classic San Francisco dish—clam chowder in a sourdough bread bowl—from a new SF classic restaurant, Lord Stanley.(Courtesy of @lordstanley_sf)

74. Clam chowder in a sourdough bowl at Lord Stanley, 2065 Polk St. (Russian Hill), lordstanleysf.com

75. Falafel sandwich (v) at Falafelland, 133 Sixth St. (SoMa); order via Doordash

76. Sourdough focaccia (v) at Sorrel, 3228 Sacramento St. (Presidio Heights), sorrelrestaurant.com

77. Tarte tatin (v) at L’ Ardoise Bistro, 151 Noe St. (Duboce Triange), ardoisesf.com

78. Sichuan working hands dumplings at China Live, 644 Broadway (Chinatown), chinalivesf.com

79. Braised duck leg noodles at Hai Ky Noodles, 707 Ellis St. (Tenderloin), haikynoodles.com

80. Maine lobster roll at Spruce, 3640 Sacramento St. (Presidio Heights), sprucesf.com

81. Kukhurako ledo (chicken cashew cream curry) at Cuisine of Nepal, 3486 Mission St. (Glen Park), cuisineofnepal.com

82. Maw Maw’s gumbo at Gentilly, 4826 Mission St. (Excelsior), gentillysf.com

83. King George sando (v) at Family Cafe, 362 Columbus Ave. (North Beach), family-northbeach.com

84. Vegan curry with veggie UP topping (v) at Konomama, 4601 Geary Blvd. (Inner Richmond), konomamasf.square.site

85. Prawn vindaloo (gf without naan), Viva Goa, 2420 Lombard St. (Marina), vivagoaindiancuisine.com

86. Nightburger at Nightburger by Nightbird, 330 Gough St. (Hayes Valley), exploretock.com

Cassava takes toast to the next level with house baked Japanese milk bread and kewpie and Meyer lemon kosho spread.(Courtesy of @cassavasf)

87. Ghibli fried egg toast (v optional) at Cassava, 3519 Balboa St. (Outer Richmond), cassavasf.com

88. House cold noodles at Chong Qing Xiao Mian, 915 Kearny St. (Chinatown), chongqingxiaomian-sf.com

89. Cochinita pibil taco at Akna, 399 Grove St. (Hayes Valley), aknasf.com

90. Clam chowder pie at Sunset Squares Pizza, 59 Ninth St. (SoMa), sunsetsquares.com

91. Josey Baker’s Adventure bread (v, gf) at The Mill, 736 Divisadero St. (NoP), themillsf.com

92. Slice of onion tart (v) at Rich Table, 199 Gough St. (Hayes Valley), richtablesf.com

93. Breakfast sandwich with Spam at Sunday Gather, 4100 Third St. (Bayview), thesunday.family

94. Croque madame at Foreign Cinema, 2534 Mission St. (Mission), foreigncinema.com

95. Charred cauliflower tacos at Son’s Addition, 2990 24th St. (Mission), sonsaddition.com

96. Butter chicken (gf without naan) at Rooh, 333 Brannan St. #150 (SoMa), roohsf.com

97. Manti at Halal Dastarkhan, 1098 Sutter St. (Tenderloin), halaldastarkhan.com

98. Mushroom mapo tofu (v) at Mamahuhu, 517 Clement St. (Inner Richmond), eatmamahuhu.com

99. Seven-course Crenn Kit Luxe at Atelier Crenn, 3127 Fillmore St. (Cow Hollow), ateliercrenn.com

100. House of Prime Rib cut with mashed potatoes at House of Prime Rib, 1906 Van Ness Ave. (Nob Hill), houseofprimerib.net

The mapo tofu (center) is a star on the takeout menu at Brandon Jew’s Mamahuhu.(Courtesy of @eatmamahuhu)

(Note: “v” is vegetarian and “gf” is gluten-free)