Dim sum is one of the greatest culinary creations in the history of man. Ostensibly invented just as a bunch of snacks to go along with a midmorning tea break, the genre is now wide-ranging, from the steamed to the fried, from vegetables to pork to seafood, from the cheap to the wildly expensive. Because it's Cantonese, the flavors are a crowd-pleasing mix of sweet and umami — there's a reason people eat dim sum on their days off. Trying to put in a full day's work after a feast like this would be a fool's errand. On this list we've included the six very best dim sum options in the county, plus a geographic anomaly that will more than suffice in a pinch. Get ready to grub.
6. ixlb DimSum Eats
This stand-at-the-counter, quick-service restaurant in Hollywood certainly isn't as decadent as the dim sum palaces further east. But Westsiders need dumplings too. And as modern as the restaurant's design is, the dim sum is as classic as can be. There are har gow (shrimp dumplings), with a translucent, pleated starchy dough covering. The wrapping of the har gow isn't broken (a positive sign) and has a soft chew to it, with juicy shrimp on the inside. You'll also find on the menu a baked cha siu bao (those sweet, glazed, fluffy buns stuffed with barbecue roasted pork), flaky egg custard tarts and pan-fried turnip cakes. While all the items are made traditionally, the scallion pancake — which normally is a flat, flaky pancake — comes out as a deep-fried, bun-like pastry with sesame seeds on top. The dishes may not be as transcendent as you would find in the San Gabriel Valley, but the quality is better than some places we've been to in Chinatown and the 626. The dim sum comes out piping hot and fresh, and if you have some time, we suggest eating it right away at the counter — even if you have to stand. —Jean Trinh
5900 Sunset Blvd., Hollywood; (323) 848-4766, ixlbdimsumeats.com.
5. China Red
China Red covers all its bases with the classics: The menu is huge and full of hits done quite well, like baked barbecue pork buns and all the variations of shrimp steamed in rice noodles. The dinner menu here is fairly experimental, and some of that wild kitchen energy seeps into the dim sum menu. For instance, there's a giant soup dumpling, one to an order, that's a bit of a novelty — but it tastes good, too. China Red is currently quite hip (even though, or maybe because, it used to be a Sizzler, and from the outside definitely looks like it). Get there quickly, and order all the standards, with some wild cards thrown in. —Katherine Spiers
855 S. Baldwin Ave., Arcadia; (626) 445-3700, facebook.com/chinared.
4. Sea Harbour Seafood Restaurant
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 hardcore 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 an issue when you order off a checklist accompanied by a picture menu with numbers. Sorry, traditionalists: no carts here. 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). —Clarissa Wei
3939 Rosemead Blvd., Rosemead; (626) 288-3939.
In the increasingly competitive San Gabriel Valley scene, the reputations of top-tier dim sum houses can shuffle as quickly as NBA power rankings. But like the perennial team that seems to never miss the playoffs, Elite has managed to remain in the forefront. At this unassuming banquet hall on Atlantic Boulevard in Monterey Park, you’ll find no old-school carts but sharp service and an illustrated menu, which will relieve some of the stress accumulated by hourlong waits on the weekends. Few establishments can top Elite’s buttery, flaky Hong Kong egg tarts or its golf ball–sized shu mai dumplings crowned with bright orange fish roe. And few culinary joys can match that feeling when your table is blanketed in metal steamer tins and you’re passing around niblets of spare rib in black bean sauce, crispy turnip cakes and soft cream buns that ooze yolk-colored decadence. —Garrett Snyder
700 S. Atlantic Blvd., Monterey Park; (626) 282-9998.
2. King Hua
Though it's located across the street from a Target, King Hua exudes the atmosphere typical of a Chinese wedding banquet hall. The bottles of cognac lining the walls are an indication of higher prices. The menu is largely the same as at any other dim sum restaurant, but King Hua does have a good handful of standouts. For one, the rice noodle rolls have a unique bitter melon filling that distinguishes the dish from others. The steamed shrimp and pea-tip dumplings wins our nomination for most unusual dim sum dumpling: stuffed with chopped shrimp and snow-pea shoots and topped with wolfberries, pea and corn. There is a picture menu and a checklist. Tea is charged per head. —C.W.
2000 W. Main St., Alhambra; (626) 282-8833.
Since the changeover from Triumphal Palace, Lunasia has risen to the top of the dim sum ranks. It has a nontraditional setup, with large plasma TVs and a casual decor, but what distinguishes Lunasia from 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 mai are huge. As with most dim sum places during key hours, the wait can be a little daunting, but soon enough you'll have your hands on those plates of spare pork ribs floating by on silver platters. —C.W.
Two locations; lunasiadimsumhouse.com.
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