The Ultimate Guide To Dim Sum In The San Gabriel Valley
Whether you want dim sum that is cheap or high-end, traditional or modern, we've got you covered with this dim sum guide to the San Gabriel Valley.
An iconic part of the traditional dim sum experience is the salesmen-esque ladies that circle around your table with pushcarts filled with different types of dim sum. Although this is a great food porn experience and ideal if you want your food immediately, it's not the best way to get fresh food—critics say it's no better than the food you get sitting out under heat lamps. Another disadvantage is that certain cart ladies (and they're almost always ladies) who are not diligent in their routes, circle certain areas more than others, leaving certain tables sad and dim sum-less.
But now most higher-end dim sum in Hong Kong as well as the U.S. have a "we don't steam it until you order it" motto. Food takes a bit longer to arrive at your table, but the dim sum comes out hot and piping fresh. You also get the peace of mind that your food hasn't been sitting in a cart making its rounds all day. All dim sum varieties are clearly labeled on a paper menu—which you may not enjoy if you're the kind of person who decides what to eat by peeking into the carts.
Drinking tea is almost as important to dim sum as the actual food itself. The typical teas available include Chrysanthemum, Jasmine, Oolong and Pu-erh. The restaurant will charge you for tea whether you drink it or not, so choose a tea you will enjoy, since you'll end up paying for it anyway. Think of it as a tea tax. Most dim sum restaurants also charge for condiments. Don't let your dim sum experience go by without ordering a chili sauce, an XO chili sauce, and a Chinese mustard sauce. They are most excellent and will elevate your dim sum legitimacy to the next level.
Traditional dim sum classified their dishes according to small, medium, large, special, or A-D. Each cart lady would come by with a stamp that corresponded with the price. At the end of the meal, all the stamps would be tallied up. However, the stamps got muddled up and the process looked so complicated that it was often hard to check your bill. New school made-to-order dim sum is clearly marked on a paper. Dishes are usually the same prices and straightforward. Everything is clearly printed on a receipt to make double-checking the restaurant's math easier.
Must-orders: A traditional dim sum experience includes various types of buns such as BBQ pork buns (steamed, pan-fried, or baked), rice noodle rolls, egg tarts, pineapple buns, roasted meats, porridge and dumplings. Modern restaurants still serve the traditional dishes, but also have taken traditional favorites such as a pineapple bun and included a salty egg yolk "lava" that will flow out of the bun and make your taste buds ask for more. A regular soup dumpling at a modern restaurant could include a deluxe ham and pork soup with a giant dumpling with faux shark's fin inside.
Here are our recommendations for where to get dim sum in the San Gabriel Valley whether you want something cheap and quick or you're willing to wait a long time for the best.
China Red (Photo by Kristie Hang/LAist)
Located in Arcadia, China Red is a newly-opened dim sum restaurant that has food that is on par with Hong Kong's modern style dim sum. Everything has a modern East-meets-West vibe. No ugly red and gold dragon phoenix decorations here. Don't expect to see any push carts, but do expect the traditional favorites as well as fun and inventive fusion dishes. All dishes are clearly labeled on a paper menu. There are no pictures so you'll need to study up on your dim sum dishes before going. Dumpling skins are delicate, thin, and chewy and buns have lots of flavor. China Red's tea is quite fancy. It comes with a sifter to prevent flowers and tea leaves from entering your drink.
FYI: Parking may be tough, but there's an additional lot located next door that many people don't know about!
Price: $1.98 to $4.98 per dish
Tea Charge: $1.20 per person
Favorites: Green spinach flour dumplings, pan-fried pancake with sweet paste and crushed peanuts, baked BBQ pork bun, multi-layered sponge cake
China Red is located at 855 South Baldwin Avenue in Arcadia, (626) 445-3700
Sea Harbour (Photo by Kristie Hang/LAist)
Sea Harbour is the dim sum place everyone wants to visit, but ends up chickening out on. Weekday or weekend, there's no avoiding a wait at Sea Harbour. From the outside, the restaurant looks run-down, but the lines that circle around the restaurant front no matter the time of day speak for itself. Go there on a weekday or early to save yourself from a long wait.
Sea Harbor has perfected their dim sum, and everything is on point. Like China Red, there are all the traditional favorites, as well as some creative fusion items such as a shrimp and roe dumplings, egg tofu in abalone sauce, green spinach pork buns, deep fried fish paste with chives, to name a few. There are no pushcarts. All dim sum is made-to-order and comes out fresh, though servers will sometimes walk around with certain dim sum straight out of the oven and recommend it to you. The food is delicious, but it's pretty pricey for dim sum in the area.
The chili hot sauce, Chinese mustard, and soy sauce come in small individual serving dishes. There is a properly translated English menu complete with pictures, except for one rather funny improper translation. (I'll let you find it.)
Prices: $2.88 to $5.98 per dish
Tea Charge: $2 per person
Favorites: Baked BBQ pork with sweet French style topping, salt and pepper calamari, deep fried chicken knees, steamed buns with preserved salty egg, durian pastries, BBQ pork pastry, sticky rice ball stuffed with salty egg yolk dessert
Sea Harbour is located at 3939 Rosemead Boulevard in Rosemead, (626) 288-3939
Elite (Photo by Kent D.)
Elite in Monterey Park is another higher end dim sum restaurant. Ordering is done via paper menu. No carts here, but they do have staff walking around with trays of fresh dim sum. Elite’s dumpling portions are bigger than average so you feel more like you are getting your money’s worth. Whereas most dim sum restaurants only have the typical BBQ pork, shrimp, or beef rice rolls, Elite has all that and their own take with a shrimp-and-asparagus rice roll. In addition to their traditional buns and dumplings, Elite also has fusion items such as fried taro cake with pork that has a crust that will fall apart and melt in your mouth, a pork and wood ear mushroom-stuffed bean curd wrap in oyster sauce, scallop dumplings, and fried shrimp dumplings that other restaurants don’t typically serve. Don’t expect to sit and talk after your meal though, the staff will usher you out as soon as you pay the bill to make room for other customers.
Prices: $2.38 to $4.38 per dish
Tea Charge: $1 per person
Favorites: Snowy mountain bun, Macau roast pork, "shark fin" and red clam dumpling in soup, white almond fluffy bun, steamed turnip cake, pork dumplings, baked durian pie, BBQ pork pastry puff
Elite is located at 700 S Atlantic Boulevard in Monterey Park, (626) 282-9998
Lunasia (Photo by Winnie Schroeder)
Want dim sum day or night? Lunasia is your answer! They don't steam it until you order it. No carts here. The venue is grand and ornate and their dim sum are enormous. The traditional har gow (shrimp dumpling) and siu mai (pork dumpling) are jumbo-sized.
Prices: $2.88 to $5.98 per dish
Tea charge: $1.25 per person before 3 pm (and free afterward)
Favorites: Almond milk soup served with egg white and topped with a flaky puff pastry, jumbo dumplings spinach & shrimp dumplings, coconut-filled sweet bread, purple taro filled sweet buns, salty egg yolk "lava" buns, Hong Kong-style pork soup dumplings
Lunasia is located at 500 West Main Street in Alhambra, (626) 308-3222
King Hua (Photo by Jennifer Ng)
While their dim sum is not as refined as Sea Harbor, King Hua poise themselves as their closest rival. King Hua is on the higher-end of the dim sum spectrum in the SGV, but they're slightly cheaper than Elite or Sea Harbor. King Hua has a wide variety of dim sum and lots of different dumplings and buns to try. There is a properly translated English menu with pictures to order from.
Wait time is significantly less than competitors Elite or Sea Harbor. No pushcart service here, but the staff walk around with fresh dim sum in trays. But word to the wise, watch the person calling out the numbers like a hawk! (King Hua is not very good at hiding their tendency to let friends and family cut in line.)
Prices: $2.48 to $6.88 per dish
Tea Charge: $1 per person
Favorites: Shrimp and chive dumplings, 3 different kinds of barbeque pork buns, durian pastry, steamed milk buns with a crispy crust, taro roll, coconut roll
King Hua is located at 2000 West Main Street in Alhambra, (626) 282-8833
Empress Harbor (Photo by Kristie Hang/LAist)
Empress Harbor is a mid-range dim sum restaurant that still does the traditional pushcart service. Located in a rundown Monterey Park plaza on the third floor, there is close to zero wait time to eat here. Empress Harbor is nicer and cleaner than most dim sum places of the same caliber. They also have good service so there's no need to aggressively flag down the cart lady to ensure you get fed. Don't eat pork? They offer a special chicken siu mai. Dim sum runs until 3 p.m.
FYI: If you're here for dim sum, the best time to come is before noon since they have much more variety at that time. They also offer 20% off on weekdays and a 20% discount if you finish before noon.
Prices: $1.49 to $6.29 per dish
Tea charge: $1 per person
Favorites: Coconut custard buns, salty egg custard "lava" buns, $1.99 wonton soup special, and the very delicious almond pastry soup
Empress Harbor is located at 111 North Atlantic Boulevard in Monterey Park, (626) 300-8833
Atlantic Seafood (Photo by Kristie Hang/LAist)
Atlantic Seafood & Dim Sum Restaurant
Located in the Atlantic Times Square Plaza above 24 Hour Fitness is Atlantic Seafood, a dim sum restaurant that has a good ambiance and is quite affordable. If you're a wine lover, you'll love the grandiose displays of expensive wine they have on the shelf. If you have a large party, there are bigger, private rooms that they can use to accommodate you. Expect to wait in line, unless you go on a weekday. Atlantic Seafood is also located in a plaza where there is lots to do and see. It’s hard to be bored in what is known as the Atlantic Times Square. Although most the dishes here are above par, the star dish hands down is the mini salted egg yolk pineapple buns that are carried out on trays. There’s no tier pricing. Germaphobe? The dim sum cart ladies wear masks over their mouth while pushing the carts around.
Prices: $1.58 (weekdays) and $1.88 (weekends and holidays) per dish
Tea charge: $1.18 per person
Favorites: egg tarts, mango pudding, steamed, fried turnip cake, mini salted egg yolk pineapple buns
Atlantic Seafood is located at 500 North Atlantic Boulevard in Monterey Park, (626) 872-0388
Ocean Star (Photo by Clarissa Wei)
Ocean Star has reasonable prices, a big variety, and the classic cart-pushing experience. The restaurant is gigantic—it can host more than 300 people—so wait times are minimal.Their dim sum might not the best best, but it is solid. The restaurant has a team of 12 people whose job it is to work solely on dim sum There are only a few unique dishes such as their snow bun with sweet taro paste, but for the most part Ocean Star’s forte remains with doing the the traditional must-haves right such as shrimp rolls, siu ma pork dumplings, beef and chicken buns and BBQ pork buns. There's an easy to read menu loaded with tons of pictures. There is a large $15 crispy lobster noodle lunch special you can order during dim sum hours.
Prices: $1.98 (weekdays) and $2.38 (weekends)
Tea Charge: $1 per person
Favorites: Chinese crueler wrapped in rice noodle, almond milk puff pastry
Yum Cha Café (Photo by Kristie Hang/LAist)
Yum Cha Café
Cheap, fast and in a hurry, Yum Cha Café is the Panda Express of dim sum. Don’t expect any ambiance or service. They also have Cantonese barbeque like roasted duck, BBQ pork, salted chicken, as well as Hainan Chicken, congee, and pan fried noodles available. Biggest plus is that dim sum is served from the time they open until the time they close, so it's perfect for those late-night dim sum cravings. Depending on the store you go to, they are open until 7 or 8 p.m.
Prices: $1.40 to $1.70 per dish
Lincoln (Photo by Daisy C.)
If you want a real Chinese dim sum experience, Lincoln Seafood is it. The restaurant is located in a “hotel” that has not been renovated for at least 30 years. Hoards of Chinese tourists take the bus to and from the hotel at any given moment. The restaurant chairs and décor hasn’t been changed in a decade or more. They have the corny red and gold dragon and phoenix statues hanging out of the wall, but all that is just part of the fun. Food is cheap. The venue is shady and presentation is non-existent, but the dim sum tastes delicious and continues to be one of my favorite restaurants to dine at.
You can feed your whole family and grab to-go for under $20. It's also cheaper if you grab the check before 11:30 am. Lincoln also has very affordable and tasty lunch specials such as the Roast Duck Yee Mein for $1.99 and the lobster noodles for 7.99. It’s so good they’ve had to set a limit of one order of each per table.
Prices: $1.60 per dish on average
Favorites: Chicken Feet, Chicken Bun with Pineapple Top, BBQ pork bun, turnip cake
Lincoln Seafood is located at 123 South Lincoln Avenue in Monterey Park, (626) 288-1312
East Gourmet Seafood Restaurant (Photo by Kristie Hang/LAist)
East Gourmet Seafood Restaurant
Not picky about your food? East Gourmet Seafood Restaurant has an express side right next to their restaurant where all dim sum is only $1 once the clock strikes 3 p.m. Any dim sum dishes that were not sold during their dim sum hour are moved to this barbeque section where eager shoppers stand in line well before the 3 o'clock mark to secure their coveted space in line.
East Gourmet Seafood Restaurant is located at 8118 Garvey Avenue in Rosemead, (626) 288-9128
NBC has been around for ages and is one of those in the area that still have the pushcart experience. Go before 11 am for the best variety and minimal wait times. Dim sum is average, but the restaurant has remained an SGV staple for years.
Prices: $2.88 to $5.88 per dish
NBC Seafood is located at 404 South Atlantic Boulevard in Monterey Park, (626) 282-2323
Monterey Palace Restaurant
Monterey Palace is the little guy trying to play with the big dogs. A lot of the dim sum quality and selection is quite average, but they have three specialty buns that steal the show and make it worth coming for. The best dish hands down is their salty egg yolk “lava” pineapple bun. The sugary-crusted top gives way to a salty egg yolk that will come flowing out with each bite. Another unique bun is the backed snow cap bun filled with a creamy milk custard inside and is topped with a sugary crumble crust. The coconut bun is a fluffy bun that has a crispy baked outside and a delicious hot custard inside that is then topped with shredded coconut. The best part of Monterey Palace is that they have a good barbeque meat section attached to the restaurant where you can buy roasted pig, pork, duck and other Chinese eats that you can buy to go or order for big groups.They charge $3 for a plate of XO chili sauce.
Price: $2.09 per dish
Tea Charge: $1 per person
Monterey Palace is located at 1001 East Garvey Avenue in Monterey Park, (626) 571-0888
Born and raised in Los Angeles, California, Kristie Hang is an avid world traveler that spends 3 months a year in Asia. She has an affinity for bizarre foods and is also the co-founder of the 626 Foodettes Blog, a hyperlocal food blog highlighting culinary options in the San Gabriel Valley. She kindly suggests you throw out any other dim sum list you've read before if that writer wasn't Cantonese or has never lived in Hong Kong. You can follow her on Twitter, Instagram or Facebook.