Diana’s Special Meat Pie at Hunan Restaurant

by foodhoe on November 15, 2007

924 Sansome St (between Broadway & Vallejo), SF, CA

Years ago I used to love reading an early precursor to the modern foodblog, Journey Through the Menu at Henry’s Hunan, one man’s dedicated effort to document his progress through each and every item on the menu at the Soma location. There are pictures and short descriptions of each dish, concise and sometimes just a few words, but providing so much more insight than the menu. This may possibly have inspired my own obsession with documenting food, who knows? Another interesting fact is that the author currently resides in Japan and is actively blogging here with occasional pictures of food, yay. You may or may not know that I lived in Japan for a year as an exchange student a very long time ago and am a big fan of Japanese food and culture, but I digress…

There are very few restaurants that evoke strong reactions in people, and this particular branch of the Hunan Restaurant chain in San Francisco definitely is the kind of place that makes you either love it or hate it. The most common complaint is that it is too greasy and that it’s not authentic, so why go there especially since Chinatown is just over the hill… It is pretty greasy, but Chinese food is generally pretty greasy… The only dish that people regularly rave about is the Meat Pie. One of my co-workers Debbie is a big fan and after much pestering by me, we finally coordinated a lunch along with BP and PG. It’s really close to our office, which adds much to the appeal of eating there.

There it is, the Meat Pie. Inside is a dense ground pork filling mixed with a garlicky chili sauce with a whiff of lemongrass or perhaps ginger, topped with refreshing slices of iceberg lettuce, all sandwiched in between fried bread. It resembles a mexi-cali tostada in many ways, but with fried bread rather than tortilla. The bread is heavenly thin but somehow puffy and floury, fresh out of the fryer and deliciously crisp and a little sticky when you bite into it. The combination is heady from the first bite and I want to know where in China this comes from because I want to try more dishes like it.

As far as I’m concerned, its reputation is sound and well-earned. You can order either a whole pie, which comes quartered, or they serve a slice with the special of the day.

Not surprisingly, the menu has a lot of Hunan dishes which are known for their use of red chili peppers, pungent aromas and deep color as well as for smoked and preserved meats, which abound on the menu. We decided to order family style and share. In the spirit of being a protein star, I ordered from the Smoked Specialities section Smoked Ham with String Beans. There was a proliferation of sliced ham in the dish that had a rich smoky flavor infused with garlic and chilies but were a little dry in texture. The green beans were refreshing and succulent with a nice crunch to them, but the overall dish was really really salty. It would have been much better over rice, but since I’m not eating rice right now… its shortcomings were very apparent.

PG ordered the Hunan Velvet Chicken, which was gorgeously burnished and smelled fantastic, but I think that the moist velvety texture that I expected was lost in order for the chef to obtain the golden seared exterior and that was a shame. It had a strange spongy texture rather than velvety… The vegetables were cooked perfectly.

BP ordered the Eight Vegetable Delight, which was a very pedestrian combination of cabbage, onion, carrots, broccoli, bell pepper, bamboo shoots, green beans and snow peas stir-fried with some chilies. The texture was good and crunchy and it definitely was not bland. Tasty, crunchy, not incredibly thrilling, I was glad we had other dishes though… don’t think I’d be satisfied with just this plate for lunch!

Debbie got the Sizzling Rice Shrimp dish that arrived in two different dishes that were combined at the table so that the crispy fried rice crackled and sizzled when the hot sauce was poured onto it. The presentation was very festive and exciting, much more exciting than the actual eating of the dish, as the sauce which proved to be very sweet and the rice was dry and hard in the manner that can shred the roof of your mouth.

We had a good sampling of various plates from the menu which left me I intrigued enough to come back to try some of the other dishes. This also inspired me to re-journey the Menu at Henry’s leaving me with many ideas of what to try next.

I came across an interesting quote from Mao Zedong who hails from Hunan province, you can’t be a revolutionary if you don’t eat chilies…

{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

rowena November 16, 2007 at 8:43 am

I am just speechless. My eyeballs quickly picked up ‘Meat Pie’ in the feed, but I wasn’t prepared to be treated, visually, to all of these scumptious dishes that you’ve shared here. I’m still hooked on the Meat Pie though….between fried bread…man!!

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Passionate Eater November 18, 2007 at 11:23 pm

Sorry I have been so quiet on your blog lately! Working in New Orleans has been more than a handful. But I just wanted to comment and say that you put it very well when you explained how people either love or hate Hunan Restaurant. Yes, I agree. I am afraid that I often fall in the latter category, but your pictures make me want to fall in the former category! I hope you are doing well, it looks like you have been from your posts! 😉

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foodhoe November 21, 2007 at 2:20 am

Rowena, put those eyeballs back in! Yes the fried bread makes the dish.

PE it’s definitely been hectic all around hasn’t it? I haven’t had enough time to keep up with everything either, let alone post… I’m enjoying reading about New Orleans on your blog!

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dnvrbronco April 24, 2008 at 11:07 pm

I used to work @ Broadway & Battery in SF in the early 90’s. Just today I thought of that wonderful meat pie. Looked it up, and “wa-la” there it was. These are pure heaven! I miss them in Las Vegas!

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foodhoe April 25, 2008 at 1:04 am

dnvrbronco, yes this dish is unique to the restaurant, I’m not sure you could find it anywhere else, as we all agree that it doesn’t seem very Chinese! But it is delicious…

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Snope February 23, 2017 at 11:59 am

I have worked on downtown SF for almost 30 years now, and Diana’s Meat Pie may be my favorite dish of any restaurant in a sea of fantastic restaurants.

In the 90’s, I worked on the Options floor of the Pacific Stock Exchange. Every few weeks, we would compile a four-figure order for many on the floor. Diana’s Meat Pie always figured prominently in the order. Truly, an inspired dish, loved by all who have tried it.

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foodhoe February 24, 2017 at 8:14 am

Hi Snope, thanks for visiting and your comment, I don’t work in the City anymore and haven’t thought of the Meat Pie in a long time… now I’m craving it! I’m not sure what a four-figure order means, the bill is more than $1k? Dang, that is a lot of food!

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Gary February 24, 2017 at 6:28 am

In June it will be 40 years since my best friend got me hooked on Hunan. Prior to that I didn’t like hot food. Most people don’t know that about me. It became a common chant at the Pacific Stock Exchange HUNAN! HUNAN! Henry is and was always a great host and would walk around in the old days and taste your dish to make sure it was authentic. If not he would send it back. All the restaurants are run by his heirs. I recently had the chance to stop in and have diner with my son at Franks on Minna & Natoma and the food was incredible as always. It’s the one place I miss the most about S.F. I’ll be back for my 40 year anniversary diner in June. All I can say is. If you like hot food try it you’ll get hooked. If you don’t like hot food….Try it you might like it and get hooked like me.

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foodhoe February 24, 2017 at 8:15 am

Hey Gary, would your bf be Snope? 🙂 You guys are killing me, I hope they are open on the weekend… thanks for visiting!

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Barbara July 19, 2017 at 4:56 am

I lived in SF for 17 yrs !! Loved all the locations of Henrys..Diana’s special was my fav but also Ling ling chicken wings!
Plus don’t forget on the Diana’s special with meat and lettuce was Parmasian cheese!!!
Really miss the food in SF, south Florida doesn’t compare with Asian food on a whole!

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