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SF Oceanic: Visiting SoMa's online Chinese takeout leader

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SF Oceanic Restaurant

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Those who use GrubHub or similar services to order Chinese takeout while up in San Francisco may notice an otherwise unfamiliar restaurant up at the top of the list: SF Oceanic. It isn't a Chinatown restaurant, it doesn't have the renown of like Lung Shan, San Ting, or Yank Sing, nor does it have the hipster cachet of Mission Chinese Food or Heaven's Dog. Its reputation is only recent and built up largely through online ordering: Sf Oceanic offers well-made food at a reasonable price and delivers it almost anywhere in San Francisco city limits.

SF Oceanic bills itself as a "Mandarin and Hunan" restaurant. Like most area "Hunan" restaurants, that's to be read as "Taiwanese": by "Hunan" they mean spicy sauces are featured and a few smoked meats are on the menu. For real Hunanese one has to go to the South Bay. Judged as what it is, it's quite good--and it's easily better than the Jade Cafe, the only other Chinese restaurant reasonably close to Mission Bay and Potrero Hill. If you like Hunan Home's or Hon Lin, or (perhaps more to the point) Henry's Hunan, you will like SF Oceanic.

Ordering off of the "Oceanic's Specialties" portion of the menu is the best option, if only to narrow down an overly broad set of choices. Food from Oceanic doesn't leave the kitchen bland, overcooked, oversweetened, or oversauced--nothing in my experience comes out truly bad in the way so much Chinese food can be bad--but the restaurant is right about what its strengths are. To narrow the choices down further, just try the Hunan lamb: tender slices stir-fried with onions and two kinds of chile pepper and tossed with a truly hot and only slightly sweet chile, garlic and cumin sauce. That's not an easy dish to find, and it's even rarer to find it done so well or at such a good price: $10.25, which is less than some of the vegetarian options.

The restaurant is hidden on a side street just south and west of where the Central Freeway meets the 101; an old factory or warehouse office has been converted into a small and casual but comfortable two-story dining space with some of the quirkiness typical of "mom and pop" Chinese restaurants. The trunk of a kumquat tree being grown indoors is wrapped with an oversized piece of laminated paper with Broderbund Print Shop-style letters saying "Kumquat". Before peak hour--just like at Ming's in San Bruno--one of the tables is taken by string beans being picked over and trimmed for the kitchen. Expect attentive and neighborly service. Also expect the very loud phone ringer, with talking caller ID, to go off frequently. SF Oceanic is a restaurant, but it's also a base of operations. The real heart of the business is delivery and takeout, and customer comfort takes second.

That having been said: SF Oceanic is a good alternative to Chinatown prior to an evening date in San Francisco, worth walking to for lunch from UCSF Mission Bay or the Design District, and a great choice for pickup when headed back to the Peninsula from San Francisco or points beyond.

For more information, including the current menu and hours of operation, visit the restaurant's website.

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