Did you know San Francisco's Chinese New Year Parade is "the largest celebration of Asian culture outside of Asia"? Well that's what its handy website is saying. Superlative statements aside, it's always fun to hit the streets for glimpses of the 250 foot Golden Dragon and Miss Chinatown U.S.A.—in doses. This year, we'll be there, but not without several "breaks" for respite from the jam-packed street, a drink, or a delicious bite along the way. Make the parade your excuse to follow our crowd-dodging itinerary.
The cavalcade of fireworks, floats and frenzy begins at 5:15 p.m. on Market and 2nd Streets. (Here's a guide to the full parade route.) For a few hours beforehand at the Press Club (20 Yerba Buena Lane) Joy Sterling of Iron Horse Winery will be pouring limited edition glasses of Chinese cuvee to celebrate. The kitchen even pulled together a $12 platter of Asian-themed bites to go with it.
If that's not enough to fortify you, grab a cream puff at our local rep in the Asia-based Beard Papa (845 Market St.) chain, but you'll probably want to save room for future stops.
Cocktails along the way
Taverna Aventine (582 Washington St.) opens at 3 p.m. on Saturday, and would be a good option if Rickhouse (246 Kearny St.) is too packed. Of course, you can stick with the Chinese theme and hit any number of Chinatown bars. We love Mr. Bing's for a quick-and-dirty Tsingtao at its boomerang-shaped bar, and Li-Po for a Mai Tai in a Disney-esque Chinese cave. Remember there's nothing like taking the elevator up to the penthouse bar at Empress of China (838 Grant Ave.) for incomparable views and reluctant service. Just steer clear of the cocktail list.
Post parade dinner
If you like spicy food, seek out one of the few Sichuan Chinese restaurants in Chinatown, The Pot Sticker (150 Wavery Pl). Look for its green awning just off Washington St. and order anything with the word "numbing" in its description.
The spice-phobic are in luck in Chinatown because most of the cuisine is milder Cantonese. For an authentic hole-in-the wall with rock bottom prices, and great pork spare ribs, we like Dol Ho (808 Pacific Ave.) If you want something (a touch) cushier, try to get a seat at Great Eastern (649 Jackson St.) where you can bank on some of the fresher seafood options in the neighborhood.
It's a bit off the parade track, but a trip to DeLise (327 Bay St.) is certainly worth it. Over on the Wharf, owners Dennis and Eloise Leung are hand-baking Chinese New Year-appropriate sweets: black and white sesame seed macaroons with white chocolate and adzuki bean ganache, candied kumquat-walnut britte ice cream, and their crowd favorite: savory Peking duck scones made with layers of "pure gold" duck fat folded into the batter.
Take a peek at the Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Co. tucked away on Ross Alley (off Jackson). It's amazing how many shapes, sizes and colors of fortune cookies they pump out. Grab a bag for the road if you're feeling particularly festive.