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Dim Sum or not to Dim Sum - that is the question?

Dim sum is a mystery to me. I understand the concept. I have just never experienced it. I have read about many places in the city to have this experience i.e. Jing Fung, Ming Dynasty, etc. but my real question is, is it an experience worth having? And were you to opt for this adventure, where would you recommend going?

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  1. I'm not able to recommend any spots in Manhattan for dim sum, but I can tell you it's an experience worth having. I love dim sum. If you like dumplings, rice noodles, shrimp, pork, etc. it's worth it. Go hungry and leave stuffed, that's usually the rule!

    1. Start off at Chinatown Brasserie, then get more authentic from there if you do decide you like dim sum. Baby steps.

      7 Replies
      1. re: LFeinberg

        Do you happen to know anything about Ming Dynasty. It sounds to be in a "mall" in Chinatown. I thought perhaps going there would round out getting the whole Chinatown experience

        1. re: LFeinberg

          There was nothing particularly inauthentic about the dim sum at CB when I ate there last. What did you find inauthentic about your experience?

          1. re: KTinNYC

            Well - ok KT - you are apparently - the "go to" person for experiencing NY as a native. Any recommendations on "adventures" that should not be missed in teh city that only you natives know about?

            1. re: texann

              There are certainly more knowledgeable posters than me but having read your other post I would suggest you get dim sum in Chinatown as opposed to Chinatown Brasserie (which, funny enough, is not located in Chinatown). You mentioned being on a budget and CB is at least 2 to 3 times more expensive than the dim dim sum houses in Chinatown proper. There is no consensus on the best but here are a few threads to get you started.

              http://www.chowhound.com/topics/383433
              http://www.chowhound.com/topics/367233

              The most important thing to keep in mind is that NYC is a big city made up of a lot of small neighborhoods and with this prospective NYC is very manageable. I see that you are staying in the Village. If you are in the West Village you will be staying in one of the most charming neighborhoods in all of Manhattan. Make sure you have a map. This neighborhood is not on the grid pattern and even natives get turned around on the streets.

              For a nice low cost lunch head over to Tea and Sympathy. This is an English restaurant that you probably won't find back home. It's tiny and the ventilation is poor (you will come out smelling like food) but it is charming and will bring out your inner anglophile,

              I also see you asked about hand pulled noodles. Of the 3 on Eldridge street I've only been to Super Taste. It was very good but keep in mind this is a bare-bones operation and everyone is Chinese. Not much English is spoken but I think there is an English menu.

              As you are from Texas I guess you won't want BBQ, Southwestern or Mexican? How about Vietnamese? Any other cuisine you want to try?

              1. re: KTinNYC

                Good call. We have been to Blue Smoke for BBQ and the others, well, as you can imagine, we eat regularly. We will try Italian for sure. There are so many unique places in the Village that we hope to just sample various places. And yes, we will be in West Village this trip. I have read so much about Babbo and other upscale restaurants but I guess I just do not possess a sophisticated pallat, as "tongue" and "bone marrow" just don't interest me! My daughter would love to be in a local restaurant and see a celebrity or two casually dining but you certainly can't plan that one. So, we are just going to hit the streets, with some good advice from you nice people and see what happens.

                1. re: texann

                  You can just order the pasta at Babbo but if you are looking for celebs and Italian food you could try Da Silvano on 6th ave.

          2. re: LFeinberg

            i couldn't disagree more...even the dimsum at CB is getting mixed (at best) reviews here these days...personally, when i went during their opening week, it was the worst dimsum i've ever eaten -- it might have improved but reviews here are not encouraging...in any case, the prices are comically high, and the fact that it's not in Chinatown only makes the whole joke more painful...it's like going to Epcot Center or a P.F.Chang's but with a dose of attitude thrown in for good measure...

            i'd recommend going to one of the big Chinatown places...i like 88 Palace, but somewhere like Jing Fong is more central, less grungy and might be a good first try...

          3. While we're on this topic (again), are there any places in the city that are as good as some of San Francisco's best dim sum? I haven't found them yet, and would love to as I get pretty regular cravings for the stuff.

            4 Replies
            1. re: jsgjewels

              Nothing in New York compares to the top dim sum places in the suburbs of Los Angeles or San Francisco. If you're comparing what you can get in the respective Chinatowns, New York is as good or better than Los Angeles and San Francisco.

              1. re: Chandavkl

                As I've mentioned in another thread, outside of Chinatown Brasserie, I would strongly disagree that there's anything in Manhattan (that I've ever tried, anyway) that compares to my meal at CBS Seafood in LA's Chinatown at all. There may be something in Flushing that does, but if so, I haven't had it yet. (Yeah, I know, I've got some homework to do. :-P)

              2. re: jsgjewels

                I know, I love East Ocean Restaurant in Emeryville--the dim sum here is exquisite, and a lot more delicate than the regular old greasy stuff you get in Manhattan Chinatown. I heard that Golden Unicorn (or Qilin Jinge) is good, although I've only been there for banquets so I can't vouch.

                1. re: sianwu

                  I first visited Golden Unicorn for a wedding banquet (very nicely done), and later tried dim sum there. Quality wise, I think it better than Jing Fong (and less greasy), but lacked the selection that that behemoth has. In general, I would say NYC Chinatown dim sum I've found not as good as what I've seen in Vancouver, BC or Seattle. Never tried any in Flushing, LA or SF areas.

              3. Well, there's really nothing as good here as dim sum in some San Francisco places, but I'll bet it's better than what one can get in most of Texas. The best places in Flushing do come close.

                For the original poster, I would recommend going to Chinatown and doing it right. It isn't all that difficult, all of the places there see plenty of non-Chinese, but it is more authentic and more of an "experience" than the uptown places, and most defintely less expensive than the grossly overpriced (in my view) Chinatown Brasserie. It also isn't really inaccessable to all but the most picky visitors. I mean you just point at what you want, what could be easier?

                Go to a place that does the cart service (i.e. you don't order off of a menu). It sounds like you've done your research, so you know where some of those places are. Dim sum is brunch/lunch food and the dim sum service is not done for dinner. If you go on a weekend, especially on Sunday, be prepared to put your name on a list and wait a little. If there are less than 6 of you be prepared to be seated at a large table with other customers. It is OK to pretty much just ignore them (as you would do in Hong Kong or NYC, but probably not in Texas). They are not there to chat with you either.

                You will be served tea first. If you have a special tea request go ahead and make it. Then the carts will begin to come by. Don't be afraid to ask the servers to show you what's in the steamers (they'll mostly be covered). In most places here the cart pushers have very little English, but perhaps thay can give you some general idea of what's in stuff -- although most of my attempts pretty much elicit "shrimp dumpling" or something similar. There are of course a number of standard dim sum items, but I would guess that you've probably looked those up. You will be given a piece of paper when you sit down that will be stamped with each order, with differing price gradations for the different classes of items. This is your bill.

                Don't be afraid to refuse food, or let whole carts pass by, and eat slowly. It may seem like they're trying to rush you, but you can always say "no," in fact it's expected. And resisit the temptation to pile up a lot of dishes in front of you getting cold. If you don't do these things you could very well find yourself done and out on the street half an hour after sitting down. Don't worry, stuff will come around again, and even if it doesn't there will be something else interesting. Try to pick off the freshest and hottest items if you can.

                But the main thing is to relax -- finish your pot and get some more tea. You'll see "captains" walking around the room, and they are the folks to talk to about getting more tea, getting any special requests or menu orders, and adding up your check when you're ready to leave. Many places also have side service areas serving special dishes. Just grab your bill with the stamps on it and go over and have a look, point if there's anything you want. Don't forget to order some dessert items at the end of your meal, with some more tea, of course.

                NYC may not have the best dim sum, and Chinatown doesn't have the best dim sum in NYC, but there is a lot of pretty good and pretty tasty stuff to be had. And the atmosphere in Chinatown, particularly on a weekend, is tough to beat. Very very New York.

                12 Replies
                1. re: Woodside Al

                  Now THAT is a reply! Such detail! Thank you so much. As you can imagine, Fort Worth doesn't have a "Chinatown" !

                  1. re: Woodside Al

                    Ageed on the ambience factor. Dim sum at places like Maxim or Kirin Court in Richardson is quite decent, but nothing like being at Jing Fong or Golden Bridge in Manhattan.

                    1. re: Woodside Al

                      Awesome post, Al!

                      I would add:

                      If you want ice water with your meal, ask for it as soon as you sit down. Dim sum can get loud and noisy and busy so you need to be assertive if you need more water, tea, soy sauce, napkins, etc. Sometimes you gotta ask multiple times.

                      Definitely research the dishes before you go so you known the standard dishes like har gow, shui mai, etc. That way if you like something, you can ask for more of it by name. And then you won't be alarmed by things like turnip cake and chicken feet. Some restaurants will have pictures with names in a menu on the table, as a quick reference.

                      Items come in waves. Sometimes if you want a certain item, it can take a while for it to come out of the kitchen.

                      Things which are popular tend to go fast. If you're in a large room, the cart may run out of it by the time it gets to you.

                      Oriental Garden is my current favorite Dim Sum place, but you'll find a wide variety of opinion on "the best" in Manhattan on these boards.

                      This discussion may also help:
                      http://www.chowhound.com/topics/353188

                      1. re: kathryn

                        Excellent information Katheryn. It never occurred to me to educate myself on the foods themselves. I guess I thought I would just point and hope fo the best. Chicken Feet! Man, I don't know...I have seen Anthony bordain gnaw on a few but I didn't think people actualy ate them! LOL...how naive am I? The discussion you sent will prove most helpful I am sure. I will research Oriental Garden as well. I am just trying to put together an afternoon in Chinatown; a little eating, a little shopping, so that we all leave having had a new experience, a little wiser about another culture with maybe a bargain or two in hand! Thanks again.

                        1. re: texann

                          Don't be alarmed, I think most of the offerings are very accessible, lots of varieties of dumplings and things like that. You needn't deal with chicken feet if it's not appealing to you. I adore the dimsum experience, it's great fun. Enjoy!

                        2. re: kathryn

                          I also feel that Oriental Garden has the best dim sum I've had in Manhattan's Chinatown, and it was pretty good. I'd be happy to go back (I've been there for dim sum only once so far, on Christmas day, when it was way too busy).

                          1. re: Pan

                            I just had dim sum at Oriental Garden yesterday, and was pretty disappointed. I haven't been to Jing Fong, 88, etc., but Dim Sum Go Go tasted fresher and livelier.

                            1. re: AppleSister

                              Sorry to hear that about OG. I've been there for dim sum only once so far but did like it better than the big eating halls. I haven't been to Dim Sum Go Go, though.

                              1. re: AppleSister

                                i had the same experience, i had 4 or 5 dishes, everything except the pai kuat was very disappointing (either flavorless or too salty). So i ended up getting a cha siu bao at mei lai wah and dumplings at dumpling house, which made up for OG.

                              2. re: Pan

                                After reading all the kudos for Oriental Garden dim sum, I tried it yesterday. I honestly think they get their dim sum frozen from some outside purveyor and heat it up in their kitchen. Everything was standard dim sum fare, nothing interesting or creative, and everything was just so average tasting. The steamed chicken buns had a freezer burn taste.
                                Unfortunately, I don't have another place I'd recommend over it. I haven't had good dim sum in Manhattan Chinatown for years. There used to be a place on Mott near Canal called Tai Hong Lau that had kitchen service, not carts, that was above average. And I used to like Sweet N Tart down at the end of Mott, another kitchen service place.

                                1. re: Peter Cuce

                                  I should have updated my remarks. I ate there again a few weeks ago and was no longer sure they were better than the big eating halls (Jing Fong, Golden Unicorn, Harmony Palace). My impression is that Dim Sum Go Go is in another category altogether, with thinner wrappers, less heavy dishes, and less fat.

                                  1. re: Pan

                                    We think that Dim Sum Go Go is the top in NYC these days. Always fresh and clean - can't say that about any of the cart palaces.

                          2. The "mall" that Ming Dynasty is in is really a small cramped building jammed under a bridge. The places are worth looking into for curiousity's sake, but are really little more than a collection of stalls selling cheap stuff and phone cards for the local population. I would walk over that way though, as that residential area down East Broadway (note: a totally different street from just plain Broadway) is the most interesting part of Chinatown to me, away from the touristy area on Mott St.

                            I've never eaten at Ming Dynasty, but I would choose Jin Fong for the full Chinatown dim sum experience. The place is huge, noisy, and full of carts whirling around the tables. And while it may not be the absolute best (although I think it's as good as anyplace in Manhattan) it does have a very wide variety of of pretty good dishes and some interesting seafood stuff at the side stations.

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: Woodside Al

                              Thanks Al. You have amazing insight and I so appreciate you sharing your thoughts. Having been to Chinatown for shopping in the past, I am intrigued about what is behind certain doors I have yet to venture through. It never occurred to me that they may lead to "malls". That was one reason when I read about Ming Dynasty and the mall, etc. I thought perhaps it would be "one of those" places. So, with your and Katheryn's advise, I have about decided on Jing Fong but will still make a point to check out the are around East Broadway. Thank you for pointing out that is different from "Broadway". Each time we visit, we try to broaden our knowledge of the city. I am now eager to do that by trying dim sum! Thanks again.

                            2. Definitely try dim sum for a weekend lunch! Dim sum is meant for sharing, and since the dumplings/items of food come in 3s and 4s per order its best to go with about 2 or 3 other people to maximize on variety. The basic items to get are har gow (steamed shrimp dumplings), siew mai (steamed pork and shrimp dumplings), char siew bao (buns, steamed/fried/baked but always stuffed with red roast pork) and whatever catches your eye.
                              Also, while Jing Fong has a great bustling environment and its an experience chasing after the food carts, it might be a little too big and harrowing for a beginner chasing down what you want to eat. I would suggest Golden Bridge, which has a smaller but similar set up on Bowery, and more consistent food in general than Jing Fong. However, my favorite dim sum spot is Oriental Garden, where things are a lot fresher but alas, no carts.
                              http://orderinny.blogspot.com/2006/05...

                              3 Replies
                              1. re: xigua

                                I actually went last weekend, and saw carts for the first time! They were kind of slow and I found it more efficient to ask for what I wanted.

                                1. re: xigua

                                  There were carts on Christmas day. I suppose they have carts on weekends. But you'll also be provided with a menu with photos and information.

                                  1. re: Pan

                                    Oh yes, now that I think back I remember seeing them once, but not everything on the menu are on the carts. The best thing about Oriental Garden is that if you don't see something you like, order them from the captain and in 5 minutes, you'll get your own dim sum, made to order!

                                2. great posting all!!! =) i'm new to this chowhound thing (started posting a few days ago and i LOVE it), so i had posted this without reading the entire thread... but i'm glad to know that i'm not the only one who has these dim sum habits =)

                                  i absolutely love dim sum... unfortunately i'm not familiar with places in ny... being a west coaster myself.... i'm not chinese either, but i'm the type of diner who likes to go to more authentic places (monterey park in ca for instance) and i find that in some places, i motion for them to open the steamers and point to what i want. i also point and ask one word of whoever is the server. for example: "chicken?" or "shrimp"? of "beef?" i also do a lot of head nodding (either yes or no)... be carefule if u ask somene for water or something that is not on the cart (like a fork-->who is chopstick challenged) then make sure u ask the folks who are walkign around makign sure everything is okay.. usually they are the seaters or are wearing a different colored vest.

                                  knowing some tried and true popular and common dishes are helpful: sticky rice (rice steamed in banana leave and flavored with soy sauce), siu mai (pronounced show-my, made with ground beef/pork and sometimes shrimp and steamed in a wonton-like wrapper), har gow (rice wrapped shrimp, garlic, and sometimes chives steamed then fried), siu pao (pronouced show-pow) aka mauna pua (steamed beef/pork or chicken bun)... you get charged by the size of the dish... so sometimes they will have lunch specials on carts. don't be freaked out if u see plates of jellyfish, chicken feet, sea cucumber, etc.. just shake your head no, and they will walk on by...

                                  don't be afraid to also request a menu from some places, just make sure you order from the right person or else you will never get your order... and it can be pretty heavy, so keep your pointing and ordering under control =) we also like to consolidate plates and baskets that have only one piece left in them so that the folks in the different colored vests will take those plates/baskets away so we have more room on the table to point/order more =)

                                  i hope that if u decide to go, that u will enjoy ur experience =) good luck =)

                                  1. HI texann,

                                    Everyone has already posted some great suggestions, so I will gp straight to the point. I suggest you go to Oriental Garden for your first dim sum visit. While I have complaint about their dinner service in the past, their dim sum are quite good and authentic. Best of all, their menu has both English AND pictures, so it will be easier for you to order. Their clienteles are half Westerners and half Chinese, so most of the waiters can speak English.

                                    I would not recommend places like Chinatown Brasserie as I think you do not need to pay such high price to introduce yourself to dim sum. Once you get more familiar with the dim sum dining, then you can venture to the CB (if you really want to) and pick your favorites to compare with other Chinatown dim sum restaurants. I personally do not think CB dim sum is another that special, and I think you can get a more "realistic" Chinatown experience in the real chinatown.

                                    1 Reply
                                    1. re: kobetobiko

                                      I've posted raves about my one time at Chinatown Brasserie, but I think Oriental Garden is better for a first experience. Part of the experience of dim sum to me is cultural - to be in a bustling room full of Chinese people enjoying their meals. Chinatown Brasserie is something else, as well as much more expensive.

                                      One thing I'd really like to emphasize is, especially on weekends, get there no later than 11 A.M. or so if you can. It's much better if you don't have to wait in line for a half hour before being seated.

                                    2. Having been there many times, I will vouch for Golden Unicorn in Chinatown, on E Broadway (I think it crosses Catherine St, I'm too lazy to google it and look it up). What I like about it, besides being inexpensive and tasty, is that the carts have pictures on them, so even if you're an inexperienced newbie, you can see what you're getting.

                                      I hope I don't get any flack for being negative, but I had a really bad experience at Ping's on Mott St. I was there for Chinese new year, seated downstairs, and felt like I was being ignored. I know they were busy, but carts just rolled by my table and I had to beg and scream for attention.

                                      I hear Dim Sum GoGo on Bowery (or is it E Broadway? They run together) is pretty good. I wish I could tell you, but on Chinese New Year 2007, the line was so bad that I couldn't even get into the restaurant, and I'm a 200+ lb powerlifter. :-)

                                      7 Replies
                                      1. re: trueqwest

                                        I saw Dim Sum GoGo on the food channel, and it looked really good. But then I got scared off after reading several mediocre reviews on the place. Has anyone ever tried it, and if so, what'd you think?

                                        1. re: domestic diva

                                          Dim Sum Go Go IMO serves much better and more authentic Hong kong styled dim sum in Chinatown than most others. Their dim sum are much closer to the version served in Hong Kong nowadays, which are lighter, smaller in size, and the dumpling skins are much thiner. If you go to Toronto and Vancouver where there are a lot of Hong Kong immigrants, the dim sum you see there are very similar to those in Dim Sum Go Go (only taste better...). Also, most restaurants in these places no longer use carts with dim sim in them and instead use a order paper for "made-to-order". It actually made sense because the dim sum are steamed right after you order them and therefore are fresh and plump when you are served at the table. The dim sum in cart may have sat there for a long time and therefore freshness is not guaranteed.

                                          Jing Fong and similar are still serving up dim sums that are common in Hong Kong in the 80's. Their styles are much more old-fashioned, with heavier and a lot of fillings in the dumplings, and the skins are usually thicker. Sauces tend to be stronger and more oily. This type of dim sum is still often seen in Canton in Mainland China, but very rare in Hong Kong nowadays.

                                          I would say many people who have been to Manhattan Chinatown for many years still like the Jing Fong or Golden Unicorn style dim sum. I personally think that Dim Sum Go Go is superior, but that is probably because I am used to that style more and is a personal perference.

                                          1. re: kobetobiko

                                            Hmmm, thanx for your input. If you're saying Dimsumgogo is similar to Vancouver's dim sum style (which has been my best experience so far) b/c of the Hong Kong influence, then I think it's worth checking out.......Good to know.

                                            1. re: kobetobiko

                                              That's an interesting post, and may explain some of the feelings I have. I lived in Hong Kong in the late '80s and travelled a bit in China in the early '90s. Despite the praise that's given to Dim Sum Go Go, the couple of times I've been there I've found it a bit lacking, a bit underflavored and a bit skimpy. But perhaps, in the light of your post, that's because I was looking for something different.

                                              1. re: Woodside Al

                                                Great comments, everyone. A second/third for DIm Sum Go Go, especially for a first timer -- in particular the duck, pork/veggie, snowpea shoot dumplings are absolutely delicious, as are the mango/shrimp crispy rolls, steamed chicken buns and the more common, baked pork buns. Their spare ribs in black bean sauce is also always great. It's become very popular lately -- for good reason, I think -- so do get their early, although they also serve it later than most places. True, there are no carts, but it is always fresh and hot, a lot less chaotic and pressure-filled than the cart restaurants, and I find the dim sum much less saucy and a bit cleaner than the more traditional places. THat said, the cart scene is also a must at some point, and one of my favorites is Mandarin Court on Mott -- not too big, great selection, can order from any of the waiters something you don't see and very inexpensive (Go Go is a tad more, but still very reasonable).

                                                Yes, CHinatown Brasserie has gotten some good press lately, but I tend to agree it's like a RUby Foos -- expensive, trendy, decent food, but experience-wise, nothing like Chinatown in Manhattan or Queens, which also has great dim sum (apologies, I don't know the names!). Enjoy...

                                                1. re: BeanCurdGirl

                                                  I have looked at teh menu from Mandarin Court. Are there certain dishes that you would recommend?

                                                  1. re: texann

                                                    From the dim sum menu, it's really all good (I tend to minimize the deep fried, though...): spare ribs in black bean, scallop/shrimp dumplings are great, clams in black bean, chicken dumplings, seafood dumplings, pork buns, shrimp/cilantro cigars (sorry, I don't know the real name!), chicken feet (if you like them...), chinese broccoli with oyster sauce, sticky rice, and we often special order a Peking pork chops (sweet gooey goodness). PS. Just went to Jing Fong today -- pretty crowded for a Monday; mostly Chinese crowd which I always think is a good sign -- and it was quite good. They let me sit at my own table, the selection was good for a later arrival (1PM) and they even heated a few items up for me at their suggestion. You do have to call the carts over, but the service was very nice -- particularly good were the shrimp dumplings, scallion/shrimp and pan friend pork dumplings (very gingery). All had subtle good flavors -- I was impressed for such a large place (and it IS large). Enjoy!

                                        2. I don't know what it's like at the dim sum houses in NYC, but in Boston, specifically at China Pearl and Chau Chow City, language is sometimes an issue with the women pushes the carts. If you point to something, they will think you want it and put it on your table.

                                          Don't point to anything on the cart unless you want it. Ask, don't point, what things they have on the cart. Otherwise, enjoy!

                                          1. Ate at dim sum a gogo yesterday and it was delicious! the mango shrimp crispy rolls are something i could eat all day, and the shumai were also tasty. don't remember what else we ordered. wasn't too crazy about the rice noodle wrap things, but the mango pudding is also fresh and so good. for two people (took my parisian friend who had never had it) it was 25, don't know how that compares to other dim sum places. the place was clean, they were really friendly, and we left perfectly full. however, i had the worse msg reaction i've ever had - headache and numbness and spaciness (more than normal). despite that i'd go back. i don't know how to counter that reaction though.

                                            1. Has anyone else tried Nice Restaurant for dim sum (Chinatown)? My wife and I go there all the time. It's always very good with fast service low prices and carts. They also offer a full menu.

                                              3 Replies
                                              1. re: cat5tv

                                                I haven't been to Nice for a long time. When I went for dim sum, I found it on about the same level as the other big eating halls (Jing Fong, Harmony Palace, Golden Unicorn), but with less selection. However, they are also a solid full-service restaurant. But again, it's been quite some time (easily several years), so discount my impressions accordingly.

                                                1. re: cat5tv

                                                  Nice Restaurant closed last Wednesday, I believe. I went on Monday, thinking, how in the world do they stay open when the tables weren't even half occupied? There was my answer, a few days later.

                                                  1. re: silleehillee

                                                    Wow. If they're closed forever, that's really the end of a long-lived institution in Chinatown. They hosted many, many banquets over the years. I remember enjoying their 1st-floor fish tanks when I was a kid, and I'm 42 now.

                                                2. Henry's evergreen on 1st btwn 70th and 71st very very tasty