Without being too negative and droning on about cheap plastic junk shops and appalling food, let me simply recommend that you avoid San Francisco's Chinatown. I might enjoy the occasional walk through, but it is no means worth your time if in town for a limited period of time. That said, I was pleasantly surprised by a recent experience at the old-school institution, The Empress of China.
The Emperess of China has been around just about forever and I imagine that while tastes have changed, their menu has not. The place is a real throw back and seems to have changed little for decades and cruises on reputation alone. However, a couple of friends of mine swore that they had a happy hour worth stopping by for, and seeing that I seem to have a surpluss of time as of late, I tagged along. I was not disappointed.
From the hours of three to five there is a rather pleasant happy hour. This is early enough in fact to avoid the tourists who follow the unfortunate advice of their guidebooks or hotel staffs that recommend that they visit the Emperess of China for their rather pricey and mediocre fare. A lot the reviews suggest to go only for the view and with this I cannot argue.
From the Lounge, which is where the ahppy hour is held, you are treated to a lovely view of the very touristy (and junk shop lined) Grant avenue. It makes for one of the more pleasant views of Chinatwon I have enjoyed. And with your view you can enjoy a ridiculous drink. I chose the popular Empress Mai Tai.
Normally I draw the line at umbrellas in my drink, but for a half off drink I was willing to forget my self respect for an hour or two.
Emperess of China (Happy Hour 3-5 pm)
838 Grant Ave
San Francisco, CA 94108