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NoVa Dimsum?

I'm taking some friends to dimsum. Most have never had it before and I don't think they'd appreciate the hole in the wall quality of Mark's Duck House which is where we usually go. Plus, it's pretty noisy and hard to talk. I've heard China Garden in Rosslyn is good, tried it once and was really unimpressed but we had gone later in the day and it wasn't crowded. I think my friends would prefer a restaurant more like that decor, though. Is it worth taking them if we go earlier? Any other suggestions in NoVa? Thanks!

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  1. China Garden has the best decor in this area, and very similiar in style to top NYC and LA high end dim sum restaurants. Their dim sum is good, but pricier vs. portion compared to other places in this area. Another place equal in decor is Jesse Wong's Hong Kong in Columbia, MD.

    For a step down in decor, but well above Mark's, try Lucky 3 off Leesburg Pike near Bailey's Crossroad. They have great dim sum, and they are large enough where the wait isn't as bad as Mark's or China Garden. In addition, you can get top quality buffet dim sum on weekdays. I was just there on Monday and had a great meal for $9.95/person.

    2 Replies
    1. re: Chownut

      Chownut, are there certain hours when the weekday (or weekend) dim sum is served at Lucky 3??

      1. re: MsDiPesto

        Weekday dim sum is from 11 - 3, but I would get there way before 3 since everything is coming out hot and fresh around 12pm. Weekend dim sum is about the same time.

        The only real difference is weekday is buffet style (dim sum plus many dishes such as eggplant with brown sauce, fried tofu with brown sauce, pan fried noodles, beef chow foon, stir fried crabs, congee, steamed fish filet, stir fry veggies, assorted pastries and desserts, etc.). Weekend time, everything is from the cart and it can add up quickly.

    2. Lucky 3 in Bailey's is currently the Chowpup's favorite. We have not had to wait for a table yet. My one complaint is that they seem to have fewer carts than most other places and it can be a while between carts.

      6 Replies
      1. re: PollyG

        You're right. During the weekends, there are few carts going around and the servers are pretty slow. Based on my experience, there is a heavy set chinese woman on weekends who is extra extra slow, but there's a middle aged man who is pretty quick, responsive, and has good interpersonal skills. Of course none of this matters if you're chowing during the weekday dim sum buffet.

        1. re: PollyG

          Is Lucky 3 where Fortunes used to be, near the old Theismans? Fewer carts would be fine since we'll be chatting mostly anyway. That would be closer for me than China Garden. I always get lost in Rosslyn.

          1. re: chowser

            Lucky 3 is where Maxim used to be. I think Fortune used to be there before they moved and it became Maxim. It's across the street from Dungrats/Rabieng on the same side of Leesburg Pike which is a short distance from Bailey's Crossroads.

          2. re: PollyG

            I haven't been to Lucky 3 in a while, but I've popped in there a couple of times, looked over the buffet, and didn't stay. I'm allergic to shrimp (sometimes, some kinds, kind of odd, so I avoid it in restarurants) and it seemed that about 3/4 of what was on the buffet had shrimp in it.

            Are the buffet dishes pretty much the same all the time? I might have just been in on a couple of odd days. I'd like to give it a try but only if I can find enough to eat all I can eat. ;)

            I was there for a weekend lunch once and we ate from the carts. It was pretty good, but there sure was a lot of shrimp that I had to pass up.

            1. re: MikeR

              Shrimp is an ingredient in a majority of the dishes, but they do have the following now that don't contain shrimp:

              sparerib pieces with black bean sauce, marinated chicken feet, tripe, beef chow foon, pan fried noodles, congee, stir fried crab, eggplant with brown sauce, beef crepes, beef meatballs, steamed fish, roast pork, roast duck, roast pork bun, hot and sour soup, sticky rice, mussles in curry sauce, clams in black bean sauce (extra $1), etc....therefore, you will miss a lot of great dishes that have shrimp, but there are certainly those that don't contain shrimp...

              1. re: Chownut

                Thanks for the rundown. I could probably find a lunch there. I'll have to give it another shot one day when I'm hungry enough to eat all I can eat. ;)

                Yup, the original tenant (and the one for which the building was constructed) was a Seattle chain, Sea Galley. They were OK when they first opened (or maybe I didn't know what fish really tasted like back then) but it did seem to get less interesting and more fishy as time went on. Good riddance.

          3. Fortune has two locations in NoVa. The one in Falls Church has good food, but you're rushed through--you can find all your favorites and find yourself on the sidewalk 20 min. later, lol. The location in Reston seems a bit darker, but the food was very good.

            4 Replies
            1. re: Chocolatechipkt

              I must say that Fortune in Falls Church, based on my experience, is really bad. The food is cold, and they know this, so they offer to microwave it for you. Also, the decor is tacky and the room is dark.

              1. re: Chownut

                I agree about Fortune in Falls Church. It use to be good, but the last time I went, all of the food was cold. One of my co-workers had a similar complaint as well.

              2. re: Chocolatechipkt

                We usually go to the Reston Fortune, and you can be in and out, having had plenty to eat, in 30 minutes or less at that one too.

                If you go after the morning rush, the food can be less than hot, and the number of carts less than optimal. So, it's not perfect, but the food can be really good, and the variety of items in their repertoire is huge. I have gotten something new on almost everyone of my dozens of visits over the past ten years or so.

                1. re: Chocolatechipkt

                  Fortune's in Falls Church was good about 10-15 years ago...It's gone downhill and I once got chowfun with a cigarette butt in it.

                2. Did I go to China Garden on a bad day? Because my takeaway from the experience was pretty awful. I live within walking distance and I don't even bother. I also went to another place in Silver Spring-ish area and that was pretty poor also.

                  I just hold out and wait till I visit my mom in L.A.

                  3 Replies
                  1. re: tdonline

                    I haven't been back to China Garden in years since my last experience there. They cater (or did) mostly to tour groups and couldn't care less about the regular customers. We had the same 2 carts go round and round for 20 minutes and the dragon lady manager/owner there didn't seem to care about anyone else except her bus loads of people. I used to go there in it's old location and thought it was wonderful and then when it moved to the new building it went downhill. I generally go to Fortune in 7 corners. I know the food can be cold but if you get there between 11:30 and 12, it's not bad. If anyone knows if it's changed, let me know and I'll give it another try. My sister was there a few months ago and wasn't impressed.

                    1. re: mlatt326

                      Dragon lady? C'mon....that's a low blow! :D Her job is only to seat people, but if you ask one of the waiters, I'm sure they will bring over dishes for you.

                      Well, the tour groups at China Garden at least have their own partitioned area, so that makes it not as bad. Also, those people get a pre-set meal, and usually have staff dedicated to them. In general, those dim sum girls take their sweet time to get around. Key again, as someone said, is to sit near the kitchen.

                      I've always found Fortune to be piss poor. Dark interior, cold food, indifferent staff, bad parking (ie. next to home depot, a big bookstore, and many other stores..).

                      1. re: mlatt326

                        Yeah, the word from a friend who frequented CG a lot was that there is one Dragon Lady hostess there, while the other one is pretty nice. My one experience with DL was when I requested the tea while being seated, she wagged her finger and said she didn't take tea orders...with attitude. Maybe not, but you're in the food service industry, maybe you can pass the word onto someone that works with you?

                        I've eaten at many dim sum restaurants in a handful of countries and generally there is an air of informality. When busy, I've seen the managers in suit and tie clear dishes, attend to a request by a customer, or at the very least, direct a busboy or waiter to take care of a customer. I have NEVER had a manager or host say "I don't do XYZ, ask someone else". And I spoke to her in Cantonese.

                        Writing this just reminded me why I won't go near CG.

                    2. You can't expect DC metro area dim sum to compete with LA in either price or food quality.

                      I think China Garden is one of the better places in Virginia. But keep in mind some of the dishes are hit or miss, and you have to make sure you get there when the food is still fresh. Sometimes strategic table placement alone will help noticably.

                      1. Yes, Lucky 3 is in the location where Fortune first opened. Prior to Fortune it was a fairly awful fried seafood place similar to Chesapeake Seafood house but not as good. Fortune was a substantial upgrade in the late 80's. Maxim's took the space after Fortune moved to its current location in 7 Corners. The Fortune personnel told us that they moved to be able to accomodate larger banquets without closing the entire facility to the public.

                        Cold dishes seem to be an issue at all dim sum places in the area--we've had cold dishes at Lucky 3, at both Fortune locations, and at Mark's Duck house. We have learned to wave a hand over the double-fried shrimp to make sure that they are hot while we ask the server about heat. It's probably the most temperature sensitive dish on the cart.

                        Dim sum is one meal where being seated near the kitchen is a good thing!

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: PollyG

                          Defintely. Where your table in terms of cart route is important. There's nothing worst than being at the end of the route, seeing the food on the cart that you want and having it gone by the time it gets to you.

                          The soap opera version of Fortunes is that one owner started the new Fortunes without telling the other owners. Once it opened, he started directing all customers to the new one. The other owners sold their share of the original. Quality was affected.

                        2. So, between Lucky 3 and China Garden, what do you think? I'm leaning towards Lucky 3 because it's more convenient (like I said Rosslyn is hard to drive in--I get lost easily but now I have a GPS so it might be better) and I love trying new places. Keep in mind most of my friends have never been to dimsum so we'll stick to the basics shu mai, har gow, char su bao, etc. Thanks everyone--this has been a really helpful thread.

                          3 Replies
                          1. re: chowser

                            Lucky 3 is owned by the same people who run New Fortune in Gaithersburg. I think they do an excellent job with the dim sum standards.

                            My one experience with China Garden wasn't great, so I would choose Lucky 3.

                            1. re: chowser

                              I'd recommend you check out Lucky 3 if you're doing the buffet, that way, your friends will get what they want from the buffet table. If you're trying to impress friends though, and are eating during the weekend, there's more of a wow factor with China Garden.

                              If you choose China Garden on a weekend though, get there early (ie. 11am) and then take your time. When you're done eating, you and your friends will fight the crowds to get out. China Garden is smaller and their staff is a bit more attentive.

                              Getting to China Garden is not hard at all. Coming from the west, take Wilson blvd until you come upon two tall towers. Once you cross North Lynn St., make your first right into the parking garage.

                              Coming from the south, it's a bit trickier though. Take 395 north and after you pass pentagon city on the right, look for the Boundary Channel Drive Exit (before you cross the Memorial Bridge). Exit onto Boundary Channel Drive which becomes Jefferson Davis Highway North. Take this until you see an exit into Rosslyn on the left. This will take you onto Wilson Blvd. where China Garden's parking garage is immediately on the left. Parking is free on the weekends. Make sure you make that left though, or you will connect to I66 West.

                              1. re: chowser

                                The GPS won't help you find a parking space in Rosslyn (and you might need it to get from the garage you had to park in to the restaurant). Lucky 3 is in a strip with a good sized parking lot. And you can get some good baklava for dessert at Mirage a few stores down.

                              2. I surprised you had such a bad experience at China Garden. I don't think I've ever had a bad experience there. But, I always get there early - really early. There is usually a crowd waiting for them to open. I believe they officially open at 11:30, but we are always sure to be there by 11 and they frequently open the doors early and start letting people it. It fills up FAST.

                                If I had to choose between Lucky 3 and China Garden, CG would win. Overall better atmosphere and more variety than Lucky 3. Just get there early. It can be overwhelming with the onslaught of carts for dim sum newbies, but if you explain what the deal is and prepare them they should be fine.

                                2 Replies
                                1. re: TerriS

                                  Three things I didn't like about China Garden:
                                  1. Parking sucks.
                                  2. Waiting on line for 30 minutes for a table. Too many other good options in the area.
                                  3. Food was meh. Too many other good options in the area.

                                  I live in MoCo, so New Fortune and Hollywood East are my two standbys. But having been to most of the dim sum places in NoVa, Lucky 3 is one of the few I'd return to.

                                  I should point out that I'm referring specifically to weekend dim sum, not weekday or buffet.

                                  1. re: DanielK

                                    CG parking on the weekends are FREE in the underground garage of the building. I agree you have to get there early to get the freshest dishes. After 1 pm it's hit or miss. But it's still my favorite of the DC area dim sum places.

                                2. Re Lucky 3:

                                  The weekday buffet ... first I cheered the great hours (11am-3pm) then, after a few "shoulda gone to lunch a long time ago gosh dimsum would be nice" visits, learned that the buffet is severely depleted after, say, 1 or 1:30.

                                  I still go, sometimes even late, but with the understanding that it won't all be available.

                                  1 Reply
                                  1. re: wayne keyser

                                    Know what? I think if you come after the peak hours, and ask for certain things, they will bring it out to you. Of course, it's always better to come early, but not too early, to avoid the stuff being recycled from the previous day.

                                  2. I would recommend A&Js in Annandale (or Rockville). It is a bit hole-in-the-wall-ish, but the dining rooms are bright, the staff is friendly, and I find it charming. Get there early to avoid waiting in line for too long, and bring cash (they don't accept cards). The home-made wide noodles (available in a variety of dishes/soups/sauces) are great (you have to specify you want the wide noodles when you order), as are many of the cold dishes.

                                    14 Replies
                                    1. re: julialimei

                                      Asterisk to this input is that AJ offers northern style dim sum, so don't expect the good ole standbys.

                                      1. re: Chownut

                                        I'm ignorant here--what are northern style dim sum dishes?

                                        1. re: chowser

                                          What you're probably used to and what everyone knows simply as
                                          "dim sum" is the cantonese version. We're talking about shrimp and porking dumplings, crepes, fried taro, chicken feet, spare rib pieces, etc. Northern style "dim sum" though is very different, and spice is emphasized. Offerings include beef dumplings in a peppery broth. I've eaten at A&J a few times and came away dissatisfied.


                                          1. re: Chownut

                                            Thanks for the link. I'd be interested in trying out the food but at a place where the food is good. It sounds a little like Taiwanese food, like the foot long fried breadsticks.

                                            1. re: chowser

                                              I don't think there's going to be any place that does northern Chinese dim sum better than A&J - and my family is northern Chinese. I personally love it, and would hate to see you deterred from it! Definitely go and try it. Weekends they do offer the fried breadsticks and soymilk, along with some other "traditional" Chinese breakfast items.

                                              1. re: FoodieGrrl

                                                That sounds like Taiwanese food. I'll give it a try and hope for the best. Thanks!

                                                1. re: chowser

                                                  It's very much like Taiwanese food, but they also offer those shanghainese buns with the meat inside. If you're going to the one in Alexandria, be prepared to look for a parking spot because they share the building with a chinese market (Kam San), a video store, and a chinese bakery.

                                                  Also, I found the food to be not so filling. For example, if you're ordering the beef dumplings in the soup, it's almost like an appetizer in size, but these dishes are ordered like they are entrees from the kitchen rather dim sum from carts. Therefore, once you eat up what you've ordered and need to order more, hopefully there's not a long line of people giving you evil stares for sitting around while you're actually waiting for your food.

                                                  1. re: Chownut

                                                    Ugh, ugh, ugh! I hate that parking lot! I don't know if there's ever a good time to find a spot there.

                                                    1. re: chowser

                                                      Don't worry, if you're familiar with Taiwanese food and/or Northern Chinese food, you'll wind up ordering way more than enough because you'll look at the menu and go, "Wow! I haven't had *that* in a while!" Plus, it's dirt cheap. The most expensive things are the larger bowls of noodle soup at about $5-6. The smaller dishes run $2-3. Bring cash, because that's all they take. And, fwiw, if you go before 10AM on the weekend or after 7PM on the weeknights, the parking's not all that bad. Just stay away during the Lunar New Year time frame. Very bad all the time at that point.

                                                      1. re: FoodieGrrl

                                                        Good to know--I'll get there early on a weekend. Thanks!

                                                        1. re: Chownut

                                                          A&J's doesn't serve Cantonese (southern) style dim sum. There are no carts that are wheeled around to order off. Food is cooked to order instead. It's dim sum in the sense that you order little dishes.

                                                          1. re: mattm

                                                            I went to A&J's in Rockville last night. I hadn't been there for a while (at least a year), and was pleasantly surprised to see that they'd updated the dining room some; it used to be very basic. The food was delicious. Two of us shared the spicy beef noodle soup (thick noodles, w/o tendon--so good), a spicy cold noodle dish, the smoked chicken, a scallion pancake, and steamed beef dumplings. Yeah, we had a ton left over, but it was great for a cold night, and not expensive at all.

                                                            1. re: Chocolatechipkt

                                                              I went to A&Js in Annandale Sunday night, and as always, had a fabulous meal. I prefer going in the evenings b/c I don't like to wait in line. We were seated immediately, and as usual, all food was cooked to order yet very prompt. I went with three friends, and we ordered a ton of food--spicy wide (homemade) noodles (my favorite), tofu skin/mustard green salad (my favorite cold dish), steamed veggie dumplings, scallion pancake, steamed spareribs, spicy wontons, bean noodles with peanut sauce & chicken, and a handfull of other dishes. Everything was delicious, although I didn't taste the steamed spareribs, which looked a little too fatty for my taste. We paid about $10 a person and ate like kings. Another great trip to A&Js.

                                                  2. re: FoodieGrrl

                                                    There is no better northern style dimsum around. The food is very similar to what I used to eat in northern China. I've never felt that it was not filling enough, but then again, I order a lot of noodles and dumplings, along with the small salad-like dishes. I don't think you will be disappointed.

                                        2. The problem I had with China Garden might have come from the time I went--I got lost on the way and ended up there after the lunch crowd. We were seated immediately (first bad sign) and there were few carts. What there was was lukewarm and leftover. I'll bet it would make a world of difference eating during the crowds. My biggest problem is I hate dealing with crowds and having to wait. But, at least China Garden is an easier place to wait, than at a place like Mark's Duck House, especially if the weater isn't nice. Thanks everyone for all the info. Whether I go w/ my friends there or not, it's given me a lot of different places to try or try again!

                                          1 Reply
                                          1. re: chowser

                                            I think you're probably better off hitting up Lucky 3 on a weekday where it's less crowded and you can pick through what you can and cannot eat.

                                          2. Well, after contemplating a trip to some of the other places mentioned in this thread, and then settling on our old standby, Fortune in Bailey's Crossroads, this morning, I have to report that the place, despite all that's been said, was packed at 11:30. And many tables were occupied with asian faces, so I have to assume it isn't as completely awful as you are all making it out to be.

                                            Sure, you need to get there as close to opening as you can in order to get a table and a parking spot, but the same is true for the others listed.

                                            I found all the dimsum we ordered to be fine. Lots of variety, too. The hundreds of people who were there this morning can't be all wrong.

                                            2 Replies
                                            1. re: Chownut

                                              $20/person, or $20 for four people?!? I'm immensely skeptical. I was in LA in August and went to a couple of different places that the locals favor for dim sum. While what I had was excellent, it was comparably priced to what we spend in DC - in the ballpark of $15/person after tax and tip.

                                              If you're talking $5/person, that's two small orders of siu mei or something similar. That doesn't even stuff my 6-year-old daughter.

                                              1. re: DanielK

                                                $20 for four people. When I visited a few years back, I saw dishes like shrimp crepes as cheap as $1.25/order. It really depends on where you go...an upscale dim sum restaurant, or a smaller scale mom and pop dim sum joint.

                                            2. I was in LA two weekends ago and hit a new spot. Usually in LA, the dim sum places list prices by alphabets, A=1.80, B=2.80, etc. For my mom and I, we paid $31, many of our dishes were A/B but we ordered two dishes in the E range, which I think was around $6. This place was the standard dim sum style place, big, busy and carts.

                                              My favorite place is New Concept which I had gone to during my 3 visits this year. A little bit pricier, fancier dim sum dishes and no carts, hot straight from the kitchen. So very worth it.

                                              1. I didn't mention A&J in my earlier posts because the original poster was looking for a place with carts and A&J isn't what most people think of as dim sum. That being said, the Annandale location is our favorite place for small plates of Chinese food. The Chowpup (almost 7) loves the fried bread, the smoked chicken, the pan-fried pork dumplings, the scallion pancake, and the passionfruit bubble tea. We typically also order the delicious ground beef and pickled long bean, the unctuous spicy tendon, the szechuan wontons, the spicy cucumber, and the wheat gluten salad.

                                                We typically park on the street--the houses look like decrepit group homes, but the car has always been fine. This Sunday, we had no problems with the lot and ended up sharing one of the big tables with two other small families.