As the only remaining theater in Chinatown, The Great Star Theater’s nearly three-year closure from 2018 until June of this year made the venue’s future seem bleak. Luckily, married couple Roger Pincombe and Alice Chu stepped in as a nonprofit to take over the theater, which historically played host to stars of Chinese opera and classic kung-fu movie screenings. Executive Director Pincombe says of being in Chinatown, “I never had that sense of community with neighbors [until now]. It’s mutually beneficial. We bring people to Chinatown, they bring people to us.”
As a Class A historical building, old fans of The Great Star can admire the replicated blue tiles on the facade, as well as the old altar honoring Chinese opera and projectors that remain. Get your theater nerd friends early presents to the variety show Dark Kabaret, the San Francisco Youth Ballet’s version of The Nutcracker, or musical comedy artist Rizo in a holiday show full of burlesque and rock ‘n’ roll. There’s also a possibility of bringing the Center for Asian American Media’s annual film festival back to the venue next year, so keep an eye out for that
How to visit: Purchase tickets for events online.
This normally bustling restaurant was one of the many eating establishments at risk of closing last year, having laid off most of its staff and forced to spend thousands of dollars on a parklet. It was in part kept afloat by partnering with pandemic-born nonprofit SF New Deal, using donor funds to provide meals for the needy, and its close proximity to Portsmouth Square and foot traffic helped (once people started returning to Chinatown). Indulge in comforting Hong Kong-style diner meals, like cheesy baked pork chops in tomato sauce over rice, or tea time specialties like deep-fried peanut butter French toast and Hong Kong milk tea. Go to the bakery side and get a box full of milk tarts, almond red bean buns, and pork floss buns for the carb addicts in your life. Or buy digital gift cards for those who long for the nostalgia of the restaurant year-round.
How to order: Walk in, call for takeout, or order delivery via apps.
Out of the many touristy gift shops on Grant Avenue, the Chinatown Kite Shop stands out as probably the most fun specialty store. From child-sized kites of colorful fish to more serious, elaborate handmade Chinese dragon kites at $399, there really is something for everyone. Serious buyers can order custom kites. The store also sells toys, lanterns, traditional Chinese outfits, and other gifts if somehow kites aren’t your thing (but why wouldn’t they be?). There’s even a Zoltar outside of the shop, which fans of the movie Big will appreciate. As lighthearted as the store ambiance is, it did suffer from vandalism last year, making patronage all the more needed.
How to visit: Walk in or order online.
The Chinese American confectionary invention is a classic, and the Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory has been cranking them out since 1962. Weekends would see lines out the door of this small alleyway business, with visitors craning their necks to see fresh fortune cookies coming hot off the irons and deftly folded by hands of experienced workers. It was sad during 2020 to see the factory either closed, or nearly empty when it was open. What didn’t change was the staff’s generosity with samples, and the variety of giftable fortune cookie treats like matcha- and dark chocolate-drizzled ones, giant fortune cookies, and seasonal ones, like those sprinkled with tiny hearts for Valentine’s Day. The fortune cookie flats were and are always the best, though. If patrons buy enough goods, the cashier may throw in some free misshapen fortune cookies or a branded tote bag, too. Add a factory-branded mug to the mix, and you’ve got a great gift bag. Despite the pandemic difficulties, “We still look forward to good fortunes ahead. We are the Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Company after all,” says owner Kevin Chan. “Each cookie is made with love, by hand by bakers who have worked at the factory for years, if not decades,” he says with pride.
How to order: Walk in; large and custom orders can be placed in advance via phone at 415-806-8243.
The Chinese Culture Center (CCC) was founded in 1965 as a racial justice organization and cultural anchor in Chinatown. As a cultural and art institution, the CCC fulfills its mission through education and art, in both the center itself and offsite galleries and public art. All are free to visit, with donations accepted. The CCC Visual Art Center is currently exhibiting “Women: From Her to Here,” an expression of feminine, queer, and nonbinary liberation. The CCC Design Store is a great gift shop that features items related to current exhibits, like these bad-ass queer narrative ‘zines, as well as contempoary art periodicals, Chinese American history books, and cheeky items like hair pomade packaged in bean paste jars and Kewpie mayonnaise angel enamel pins.
How to visit: Walk in or book an appointment online; some CCC Design Store goods are available online.
The flower shop has been run by the same family for three generations, dating back to 1927. The shop is popular for birthdays, weddings, funerals, and even lavish grand openings for new businesses, with arrangements like lush tangerine trees decorated with lucky red envelopes. The shop has a generous delivery radius spanning from San Mateo to Alameda counties, and it does try to keep flower arrangements seasonal, which may yield pleasant surprises in each finished bouquet, wreath, or pot. The owners are helpful in crafting customs requests, so don’t be afraid to have a chat with them.
How to order: Walk in or order custom arrangements in advance via phone at 415-982-3997.