1180 El Camino Real
Millbrae, CA 94030
Old school dim sum charm. Zen Peninsula is a Cantonese Chinese restaurant in Millbrae. Millbrae is ground zero for some of the best Chinese food in the SF Bay area with spots like:
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Be sure to read our article How to order in authentic Chinese dinner
Zen has been around since 2004 and specializes in a wide selection of Dim Sum for lunch and special dishes for dinner. They have an extensive printed menu that you order on, and a small number of carts, servers serving dim sum on the weekend. We last visited in 2020 after someone recommended it again. Zen Peninsula Dinner has a separate review.
Be sure to read our Introduction to Chinese Dim Sum.
This place is a very busy and a super noisy Chinese restaurant on the weekends, with lots of families and friends eating together. We came during the week in 2020 and found it pretty quiet. Typical decor for a place like this. Lots of flat screen TVs. Weekdays are a lot less busy, but freshness becomes a concern if you come too late. You can easily pick out Chinese Cantonese restaurants, as most have tanks of fresh fish, crustaceans.
This place is one of the few to serve fresh eel from the tank.
Zen Peninsula Menu pics (Click to zoom in on any picture)
Website Zen Peninsula Menu – Their menu is pretty much old school. At an era with newer places like HL Peninsula or Dragon Beaux pushing modern dim sum, this place is very traditional. Fairly standard compact menu. Items have been removed over the years.
Zen Peninsula Food Picks:
Minced Beef Balls ($3.25) are a combination of beef, egg, cilantro, and other items rolled up and steamed. Zen makes an excellent version of this universal dish, with pretty huge meat balls and a spicy kick to it.
Steamed shrimp dumplings ($4.95) or har gow (4) were decent and had good shrimp flavor. They were hot out of the kitchen. 8/10
Pork Siu Mai ($3.95) had 4 small dumplings. A bit scrawny but reasonable. 7.5/10
Shrimp & chives dumplings ($4.95) were 3 big ones with lots of filling. Not enough shrimp, making this almost like a vegetarian dumpling.
Chiu Chow steam dumplings ($3.95) had 3 large and fragile dumplings possessing a nice balanced flavor of zest and savoriness. They were fresh out of the kitchen and fell apart as we were picking them up.
Egg Rolls ($4.95) or spring rolls are deep-fried delicacies full of chopped vegetables like daikon, meat, and other ingredients wrapped in a egg based wheat wrapper and deep-fried. This one was ordered from the kitchen. Hot, golden brown, perfect.
Steamed Pork Buns ($3.25) – 3 small ones to an order. Texture and meat were fine. Ordering during peak busy times ensures freshness. 7/10
XO Sauce Rice Crepes ($7.50) was a good sized dish with chopped up rice noodles in a slightly zesty XO sauce. Done well. 8/10
Fried Pork Dumplings (Ham Soi Gok) ($3.25) – Fresh and hot out of the fryer. Large and crisp. Good meat filling, not a lot. 8.5/10
Steamed Spare ribs in Black Bean (pai gwat) ($3.95) – Tender meat and good flavor. Not too oily or salty.
Zen’s Roast Pork ($5.50) with a peanut sauce was top notch. Nicely thinly sliced BBQ pork or char siu with a nutty topping.
Golden Kabocha Fries ($5.50) is a top 10 seller, a large serving of deep fried Kabocha squash. Anything deep fried is good..! Healthy veggies inside too..
Seaweed and Jellyfish ($5.50) was a very good dish with good sized portions of tender and jiggly jellyfish and slightly salty seaweed.
Pan Fried Turnip Cakes ($3.95) were a solid rendition of the classic. Good size, nice crust, fully blended turnips, made for a good dish.
Marinated Chicken Feet ($4.50) was a big classic dish of cartilage and skin on a bed of pickled vegetables. Very well done.
String beans with minced pork ($5.50) is a top 10 seller. A nice tasting dish of chopped up stir fried beans with some bits of pork.
Conpoy & pea sprouts dumpling ($3.80) were 3 big open top dumplings with roe on top. Excellent dish with strong shrimp flavors and a big of a messy element because they are big.
Fried tofu skin with shrimp & pork ($3.80) was pretty good with a nice sauce, good portion size, and some tender tofu.
Mini beef brisket with clear broth ($5.95) were freshly steamed and consisted of tender pieces of beef along with daikon. Be sure to order some rice for this dish.
Sesame Balls ($3.25 for 3) – Warm, recently out of the fryer. Filling was not too sweet. A solid version. 7.5/10
Rose Lychee Jello ($3.95) was a very good simple and jiggly dessert. Not too sweet and just right balance of lychee fruit on top and jello.
Red Bean Lychee Jello ($3.95) had translucent lychee jello on top and a pinkish red bean jello on the bottom. A nice Chinese style jello with a blend of textures, mild sweetness, and unique flavors.
Sesame Mochi ($3.95 for 3 was a very sweet dessert for those into tempting desserts. The filling was way to sweet, but the mochi and nuts on surface were good. 6.5/10
Chicken Feet in black bean sauce ($3.95) was average in quality. Tender and fairly average sauce.
Shrimp Rice Noodle or Crepes (Shrimp Chung Fun) ($3.80) – Chopped into many small pieces, normal amount of shrimp, not too oily. Beef version was about the same, quality wise.
Glutinous Rice Wrapped in Lots leaf ($4.95) – Were of average size and filled with decent tasting and very little pork, egg, and other goodies. 7/10
Fried Shrimp Taro Dumplings ($3.95) was average at it had sat around for a while. No piping hot filling, but still a good amount of crispiness on the outside.
Peking Duck ($12) for half is far more generous than Yank Sing’s mini slices. Quality was fair as it seem like it had been made a while ago, making the meat dry. Buns were too tiny.
BBQ Pork ($5.50) was pretty average and very sweet. Get the similar Zen’s roast pork instead.
Fried Milk ($5.50) was a top 10 seller than pretty marginal. Slightly crispy outside, gooey inside with little flavor. Sugar for dipping.
Egg yolk buns ($3.95) were yellow and had a oily, runny interior.
Shanghai style pork dumpling soup ($3.95) were thought to be classic Shanghai dumplings but was a soup with 3 balls of meat in it! Taste and broth was fine, but someone needs to correct this dish.
Crab & pork dumplings ($4.50) are just as bad as the Shanghai dumplings. No soup and thick wrapper.
Zen Peninsula’s service was a little better than average for a place like this. With less carts jamming the aisles, servers were patrolling more often. The breath of items was excellent, more extensive and more inventive than nearby places Hong Kong Flower Lounge, The Kitchen. This high quality dim sum, this is a very good choice for lunch. Asian Pearl Peninsula and Koi Palace better Zen Peninsula’s quality.
Call ahead and get a number on weekends, this will reduce your wait time on the weekend. If you do not know what to order, look at our pictures and also consider the top 10 items colored red on the menu. The menu also list a lot of vegetarian items.