Lai Hong Lounge's Must-Have Cheong Fan | Chinatown, San Francisco

Two Chinatown sources for a Cantonese classic

Ugly name, pretty dish.

Cheong fan, those steamed rice-noodle rolls on dim sum carts around town, were given their Cantonese name, "intestine noodle," for their shape, not their contents.

Made by pouring a batter of rice and tapioca flours onto trays and steaming it, cheong fan are often grainy, thick or gummy.

Not at the new Lai Hong Lounge, which has brought bright color and polish back to the former Lichee Garden space. The dim sum restaurant's dumplings and buns are solid–and inexpensive–enough to lure in half of Chinatown. But its cheong fan with fish and yellow chives ($4) are remarkable.

The texture of the gossamer rice noodles is pure satin, the fish's delicate flavor brightened by the allium bite of scallions and yellow chives.

If you'd rather eat cheong fan at home, Yummy Dim Sum & Fast Food, one of Stockton Street's many takeout joints, has some of the most attractive rice-noodle rolls ($1) we've seen displayed. 

The two-foot-long, translucent rolls enclose pink curls of dried shrimp or, more strikingly, enough cilantro leaves to give the noodles the look of patterned silk.

Lai Hong Lounge, 1416 Powell St. (at Vallejo St.); Yummy Dim Sum & Fast Food, 930 Stockton St. (at Clay St.)