Last week, Freddie Wong, a content creator, self-titled professional “Dungeons and Daddies” player and co-founder of RocketJump, a production company that focuses on video game content, went viral on TikTok and Twitter for his 3.5 star “authentic” Chinese food rule. On Twitter, it was viewed 7.7 million times.

The 51-second clip shows Wong sitting against a cement wall while he explains his rule. “The easiest way to find authentic Chinese food … is to go on Yelp and look for restaurants with three and a half stars,” he said. “Exactly three and a half — not three, not four. Three and a half stars is the sweet spot for authentic Chinese food.” (Disclaimer: Wong, whose Twitter profile says he lives in LA, says that the rule works best “in a major metropolitan area.”)

He supports his claim by pointing out that P.F. Chang’s, a chain restaurant serving “Asian fusion” and Chinese food, has only 2.5 stars. 

On the other hand, Din Tai Fung, a world-renowned soup dumpling chain from Taiwan, has 4 stars. In Wong’s opinion, that’s too many.

“Din Tai Fung — four stars. Too many stars, too many white people like it,” he said, in a tongue-in-cheek manner. “The service is too good, the food is not as good as it could be.” 

He then shows the Yelp page of a 3.5-star restaurant called Shanghai Dumpling House in San Gabriel, saying that while the waiters are not going to pay attention to the customers, the food will be better for it. “They are going to be rude, but it’s going to taste better,” he said.

Wong points out that this theory is rooted in the fact that cultural expectations are different in Asia. 

“People on Yelp are insufferable. They’re dinging all these restaurants because the service is bad,” Wong explained. “However, the food balances it out, so you end up at three and a half stars. It’s the sweet spot, trust me.”

His theory arose when he noticed a pattern while going to Chinese restaurants with his mom. As to why he made this video?

“Yelp is a depository of restaurant reviews from, in my opinion, the most irritating people on Earth,” he told SFGATE via Twitter DMs. “so it gives me great pleasure that from the piles of garbage food takes these people write, we can extract some kind of useful, actionable data.”

Pork XLB dumplings at United Dumplings in San Francisco on Aug. 29, 2022.Douglas Zimmerman/SFGATE

Julia Zhu, co-owner of United Dumplings in Bernal Heights, said that she agrees with the theory “to some extent,” even as her restaurant boasts 4.5 stars on Yelp. 

“When I am back in China nowadays,” she told SFGATE, “top restaurants there now not only serve tasty food but also provide outstanding services.”

In her view, Wong’s hypothesis might be a more “vintage” view of authentic food. Perhaps times have changed for the idea that Asian cultures do not provide a Western style of service.

This video also raises the question of when is it appropriate to label food strictly based on its authenticity. Plenty has been written about how Yelp reviewers’ use of the word “authenticity” is white supremacy in action or how authenticity is different for everyone. But Wong said to him the only thing that matters when it comes to food is if it tastes good or not. 

“Deliciousness knows no borders,” he said. “… When it comes to Chinese food, there are entire universes that we aren’t even exposed to in the states, although thankfully that’s changing slowly. Only sheep sort their search results by ‘Top Rated.’”

Yelp is also a platform for vitriol, and poor ratings are often subjective, so it’s not always the best place to look for recommendations. What is objective, though, is that a higher rating on Yelp does lead to more revenue, sometimes by as much as 9%.

As it turns out, San Francisco is home to 67 amount of Chinese restaurants that hit Freddie Wong’s “sweet spot” rating of 3.5 stars. They include some that regularly make “best of” lists, from Hong Kong Lounge to Z&Y. Some restaurants with four-star or higher ratings in the city include New Fortune Restaurant, Dumpling Home and Hunan Cafe 2.

But there’s one caveat to the rule. More contemporary Chinese restaurants that meld Chinese flavors with California cuisine, such as Mister Jiu’s and Mission Chinese, are also rated at 3.5 stars.

SF’s 3.5-star Chinese restaurants

Soo Fong Restaurant – Bayview-Hunters Point
Mandarin House SF – Bernal Heights
Makli Restaurant – Castro
Red Jade – Castro
China Live – Chinatown/NorthBeach
Great Eastern Restaurant – Chinatown/North Beach
House of Nanking – Chinatown/North Beach
House of Xian Dumpling – Chinatown/North Beach
Hunan House – Chinatown/North Beach
Mister Jiu’s – Chinatown/North Beach
Lai Hong Lounge – Chinatown/North Beach
Little Szechuan – Chinatown/North Beach
R&G Lounge – Chinatown/North Beach
Yuet Lee – Chinatown/North Beach
Z&Y Restaurant – Chinatown/North Beach
7 Mission Restaurant – Financial District/SoMa
Fang – Financial District/SoMa
Henry’s Hunan – Financial District/SoMa
New Ming’s – Financial District/SoMa
Yank Sing – Financial District/SoMa
Jo Jo’s Cafe – Ingleside
Big Lantern – Mission
J&E Restaurant – Mission
Mission Chinese Food – Mission
Wild Pepper – Mission
Golden Horse Restaurant – Nob Hill
Tai Chi – Nob Hill
Eric’s Restaurant – Noe Valley
San Wang Restaurant – Pacific Heights
Eliza’s – Pacific Heights
Kingdom of Dumpling – Parkside
Ming’s Diner – Parkside
Old Mandarin Islamic – Parkside
Old Pier Hot Pot – Parkside
Riverside Seafood Restaurant – Parkside
S&E Cafe – Parkside
Shandong Deluxe – Parkside
Sunset’s Best Seafood Restaurant – Parkside
Win’s Restaurant – Parkside
Ling Ling Cuisine Restaurant – Portola/Excelsior
Beijing Restaurant – Portola/Excelsior
Emperor Palace Restaurant – Inner Richmond
Hong Kong Lounge – Inner Richmond
Taiwan Restaurant – Inner Richmond
Chili House – Inner Richmond
China First Restaurant – Inner Richmond
The Claypot House – Inner Richmond
Five Happiness – Inner Richmond
Green Island Restaurant – Inner Richmond
Hakka Restaurant – Outer Richmond
Empero Taste – Outer Richmond
Top SF BBQ – Outer Richmond
Kirin Chinese Restaurant – Outer Richmond
Shanghai House – Outer Richmond
Superior Palace – Outer Richmond
Tsing Tao Chinese – Outer Richmond
Shanghai Dumpling King – Sunnyside
Dumpling Park – Inner Sunset
May Lee Chinese Restaurant – Inner Sunset
Noriega Cafe – Outer Sunset
Ming Tai Wun-Tun Noodle – Outer Sunset
Hong’s Kitchen – Outer Sunset
Tak Kee Lee – Outer Sunset
Golden Kim Tar – Tenderloin
King Kee – Union Square
Buffalo Kitchen – Visitacion Valley
Lazy Susan – West Portal

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By Xi Fun