Los Angeles is a special place. While the rest of America opts for eggs and a mimosa on Sunday mornings, a good portion of Los Angelenos prefer Chinese banquet-style restaurants for their weekly fix of turnip cake and tea. The long impatient lines and lack of parking spaces on Valley Boulevard is proof of that.
With the San Gabriel Valley, the city boasts so many of the top Hong Kong-style restaurants in the United States that it's hard to pick just one — much less ten. Many of the menu items are identical, service is notoriously lacking and the wait time can reach up to two hours in a crowded parking lot. Even the decor is similar. And in the SGV especially, a lot of the top restaurants have at some point or another swapped chefs or owners. But the distinctions, however subtle, are there. Turn the page for our round-up of the 10 best dim sum restaurants in Los Angeles.
10. New Capital Seafood:
New Capital Seafood is located on the upper floor of Focus Plaza and, in many ways, is the ideal no-frills dim sum place. The food is served via carts and the service is slow. But while it's not haute cuisine, New Capital is known for solid dim sum fare and very cheap prices. For the frugal foodies out there, all the plates are served at a fixed price under two bucks. Stand-outs? The sticky rice wrapped with a lotus leaf and the chicken feet. 140 W. Valley Blvd., San Gabriel; 626-288-1899.
This is the only place outside of the SGV to make our list. Yes, the decor is reminiscent of P.F. Chang's and yes, they take Open Table reservations — but don't let the westernization of this restaurant deter you. Since its launch last year, Bao Dim Sum House is beginning to make a name for itself. Its location in West Hollywood has become an advantage for the business, drawing in clientele unwilling to make the trek to the SGV. It also boasts a happy hour menu with unique Asian-inspired concoctions, like a $10 Honey Ginger Mojitio. The prices are exorbitant (average $5 per plate) and the menu limited, but the food is authentic and comparable to the veterans. 8256 Beverly Blvd., Los Angeles; 323-655-6556.
With over 60 choices of dim sum and five different types of shu mai, 888 is known for its variety. Service is minimal, so try to snag a seat by the kitchen to get first dibs on the dishes. The tacky aqua and reddish sign says it all — 888 has been here for years. But the fact that it has lasted this long and still remains popular says something about its food. Highlights: the gai lan (Chinese broccoli), turnip cake and pineapple bun. And if you're getting sick of the usual shrimp har gow, they have lobster gow (in limited supply). 8450 Valley Blvd., Rowland Heights; 626-573-1888.
A rising star in the dim sum scene, Shanghai No. 1 is steeped in luxury. It was built to impress, and the interior channels the bohemian glamour of 1930s Shanghai. It's one of the newest dim sum restaurants, and with scarlet walls, ebony wood and chairs with a hint of silver — an ideal place to take a date. As with most high-end places, the portions are small, but the bites are freshly made. Try the stone-pot fried rice and the perfectly pan-fried pork buns, or shen jian baos. 250 W. Valley Blvd., Alhambra; 626-282-1777.
With other locations in Irvine and Arcadia, Capital Seafood is a dim sum restaurant that has been making rounds around Southern California lately. The Monterey Park location is cart-style. Parking is hard to find and lines are the usual long, but it's affordable. The main take-away here is the almond souffle: almond milk that comes in a porcelain cup topped with a flaky bread crust. It may be unconventional and slightly French, but it's one of those dishes you'll find yourself thinking about long after your meal. 755 W. Garvey Ave., Monterey Park; 626-282-3318.
Empress Harbor is the best dim-sum-on-carts joint in the area. The highlight is the service, which is impressive given the reputation of the cuisine. If your desired har gow is missing from the nearby carts, the managers have a track record of going out of their way to get it for you. The decor is Chinese banquet-style at its finest, and the golden pillars and crystal chandeliers create an atmosphere set to make Chinese transplants feel right at home. There is an amazing steamed taro cake — and two people can easily eat their fill for around 20 dollars. Note: they offer chicken shu mai for those opposed to pork. 111 N. Atlantic Blvd., Monterey Park; 626-300-8833.
Since the changeover from Triumphal Palace, Lunasia has risen to the top of the dim sum ranks. It has a non-traditional set-up, with large plasma TVs and a much more casual décor, but what distinguishes Lunasia from all of its competitors is that you can have dim sum here all day long. Yes, you can finally get your har gow fix after the sun sets, as dim sum is served until 9 p.m. In terms of food, Lunasia takes pork shu mai to a whole other level. No fillers here — the shu mais are huge. As with most dim sum places during key hours, the wait can be a little daunting but thankfully there's a Tea Station next door to hold off eminent starvation as you watch the plates of spare pork ribs float by on silver platters and into the mouths of voracious patrons. 500 W. Main St., Alhambra; 626-308-3222.
3. King Hua:
Though it's located across the street from Target, King Hua exudes the atmosphere typical of a Chinese wedding banquet hall. The bottles of Conjac lining the walls are an indication of higher prices. Though the menu is not unlike any other dim sum restaurant and mirrors that of Sea Harbour's, they do have a good handful of stand-outs. For one, the rice noodle rolls have a unique bitter melon filling that distinguishes it from run-of-the-mill rice noodles. The steamed shrimp and pea-tip dumplings wins our nomination for most unique dim sum dumpling: stuffed with chopped shrimp and snow-pea shoots and topped with a wolfberries, pea and corn. It may not be the most user-friendly restaurant, but there's a picture menu and a complimentary checklist. Tea is charged per head. 2000 W. Main St., Alhambra; 626-282-8833.
2. Elite Restaurant:
Nestled in an unassuming plaza on Atlantic, Elite is an all-around favorite of SGV foodies. It's on the higher end of dim sum joints: clean and devoid of rushing carts, tacky dragons and glaring red wallpaper. The egg custard, or dang ta, has a cult following in and of itself. It's piping hot with a flaky crust that is rich and creamy but not overwhelmingly sweet. An honorable mention is the sticky rice in lotus leaf simply because it is filled with a good ratio of shrimp and pork nibbles. The staff speaks an adequate amount of English and although the wait can be horrendous on a weekend afternoons, you'll be sufficiently happy with the pork shu mais (topped with a scallop) to justify it. 700 S. Atlantic Blvd., Monterey Park; 626-282-9998.
Turn the page for our #1 pick...
No surprise that Sea Harbour has topped yet another one of our lists. You know you've stumbled into a quality dim sum restaurant when the chef is generous with the roe on top of the shu mai; no pathetic sprinkling of orange here. Sea Harbour Seafood Restaurant is one of the few dim sum places that really pays attention to both quality and portions. Although the restaurant has become a Mecca of sorts for hard-core dim sum pursuants, there is no loss of authenticity. The staff is pure Cantonese. Even fluent Mandarin speakers struggle a bit, but the language barrier isn't that big of an issue when you order off a checklist accompanied by a complimentary picture menu with numbers. Sorry traditionalists: No carts here. But what it loses with the lack of speeding dim sum ladies, the restaurant makes up for in atmosphere. There's no heckling or unbearable noise levels; you can enjoy your breakfast in peace. Dishes fly out of the kitchen steaming hot and the restaurant makes a point of creating a menu that combines classic dim sum dishes (har gow, pork ribs, rice noodles) with eclectic new flavors (radish cubes in pastry cups, baked BBQ buns). The tab comes out to be bit on the pricier side, but the selection, quantity, quality and overall attentiveness of the staff makes Sea Harbour number one on our list. 3939 Rosemead Blvd., Rosemead; 626-288-3939.
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