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ISO downtown dim sum

I'm looking for a good place in the downtown to introduce a friend to dim sum. Carts would be nice but not necessary. Ambience otherwise less important than quality. Reasonably priced woudl be good but does not necessarily need to be bargain basement. Lee Wah Heen is NOT what I would call reasonably priced :)

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  1. I don't think it's cheap, but I do like Pearl. Plus, it's in a nicer environment if you're introducing someone to it. Depends on if they're down with the less-clean aspect (bathrooms!) of dim sum in chinatown.

    1. Agree with jlunar, if you want a good place to introduce someone to dim sum and want a nicer atmosphere, and don't mind the price point, Pearl would be a good option.

      If you want to take your friend to dim sum in Chinatown, the only reasonably priced dim sum restaurant to which I continually return is Rol San. I've introduced several friends to dim sum at Rol San.

      Have tried Forestview, Sky Dragon, Yiu Wah, Rainbow (since closed AFAIK) and Bright Pearl, as well as Pearl Court near Broadview & Gerrard, but I like Rol San's food better than its competition.

      That being said, I'd much rather drive up north and splurge at Casa Victoria, Empire Court or Yang's.

      1 Reply
      1. re: phoenikia

        rainbow has closed but has turned into noble seafood, not sure if the management is the same.

      2. Agree with the above, but another place to consider is Dynasty. It's a nice environment for a first timer.

        Dynasty Chinese Cuisine
        69 Yorkville Avenue, Toronto, ON M5R 1B8, CA

        5 Replies
        1. re: raebmv

          Nice, pricey but no carts. I didn't have such a great experience at Rol San but I would definitely recommend Pearl at Harbourfront.

          1. re: MeMeMe

            Why are you guys recommending Pearl?? The OP specifically stated that it be reasonably priced and ambience was a secondary concern. Now you're all recommending to go to Pearl because of the ambience despite the pricing.

            Stay away from Pearl. It's a tourist trap pure and simple. My first and last time there, we got hosed for $90 for 10 dishes of dimsum. Who the heck charges $10 for sticky rice???

            1. re: sbug206

              Pearl, I feel, is a nice intro to Dim Sum as it isn't intimidating as some of the places on Dundas. I think the food at Pearl is great without being hideously overpriced. Frankly - I enjoy Bright Pearl for the cart experience but it can get busy and sometime you have to wait for the less 'squishy' dishes.

              1. re: sbug206

                I agree, I find pearl somewhat expensive for the quality of dim sum you get... i walked out of there annoyed and it ruined my day.

                1. re: Pigurd

                  Likewise. Pearl had only OK food – not as good as my usual places uptown – and twice to three times the price!

          2. Pearl Court in Chinatown East is pretty decent, and if you go before 10:30 in the morning each dim sum is $2! Mix of carts and table service.

            1 Reply
            1. re: childofthestorm

              I was happy enough with the steamed and made-to-order pan-fried dishes at Pearl Court (I've been maybe half a dozen times over the last 8 years), but the deep-fried items tasted like rancid oil on my last 2 visits. I wouldn't travel out of my way to Pearl Court, but if you really want dim sum, and you happen to be in East York, it's decent for what it is.

              That being said, it's probably been at least 1.5 years since my last visit. Maybe things have improved.

            2. I would second the rec's for either Rol San (credible dim sum, best value, casual Chinatown atmosphere) or either Dynasty or Pearl for a more upscale experience but still not Lai Wah Heen prices. I hadn't been to Pearl in a million years but was coincidentally there over the family day week-end - 4 of us (including 2 little kids who inhale har gow like cheerios) feasted for about $65. I thought the steamed dishes (har gow, cheung fung, pae kwot) were outstanding - also a braised, stuffed bean curd dish. The fried dishes - woo gok and haam soi kwok (excuse my spelling) were meh, much better at Dynasty and Rol San. Pearl and Dynasty have similar prices.

              1 Reply
              1. re: peppermint pate

                Thanks for mentioning the dishes Pearl did well, peppermint pate ;-)

              2. I agree with Bright Pearl as a good place for an introduction. It's spacious, has carts, and has a grandeur/ambiance lacking in the other places. If your friend will be appreciative of a nice restaurant setting, then Bright Pearl and Dynasty are great options. Pearl Harbourfront gives you a great view as a bonus if you're willing to travel down to the lake shore. They're also a bit more expensive (we usually spend 1.5-2x at Dynasty compared to Rol San).

                For a lower price point (but still good food), my favourites are Rol San and Noble Seafood. The food tends to be a bit greasier (especially Rol San), compared to stuff you find in Markham. Noble gives you similar food without the weekend line up. If you're not fixed on southern/cantonese styles and are more interested in the "good food in small portions" part of dim sum, consider taking your friend to the Asian Legends on Dundas for northern dim sum. It's cheap and much more elegant than the neighbouring holes in the wall. I actually prefer this spot to the other Asian Legends locations.

                1 Reply
                1. re: Underdog Rally

                  I like Asian Legend but I want to go to a more traditional Cantonese dim sum place. But I think i wil ldefinitely put them on my list of places to go again soon.

                2. I've never been to Rol San but I know where it is and it would be very convenient (we're likely meeting up with people on U of T campus). I'm not a newcomer to Dim Sum so I'm not worried about being "overwhelmed" and my friend will go with my flow. Can someone who knows the place give me a little better sense of what it is like?

                  Oh and an addition to my original post as a requirement would be "not a tourist trap"

                  8 Replies
                  1. re: shpeizmaven

                    The restaurants suggested in this thread are mostly catering towards the local population. You're more likely to find tourists at Bright Pearl, Dynasty or Pearl Harbourfront because they're more spacious, cleaner and generally more elegant. The noise is also less of a problem in these spaces. None of these restaurants are what I would consider tourist traps though, and the majority of patrons are locals.

                    The other tier of restaurants, including Rol San, have a much busier, noisier feel to them. High turnover, greasier (and cheaper) food, and more closely packed tables are the norm. You have to be a bit more aggressive in getting the staff's attention. At Rol San, you can expect to have to line up on weekends, despite two large rooms of tables (there's a big back room not visible from the front). I've found that service is also quicker at these places.

                    1. re: Underdog Rally

                      What he said. Agree with everything. And you're welcome phoenikia!

                      1. re: Underdog Rally

                        Good analysis! Our new fave is up north - the Ambassador. But for convenience reasons we still go to Bright Pearl, Dynasty and Chic Chinoise. I used to go to somewhere called the Continental on the 3rd floor of a building on Dundas - is that still there? And I'm still lamenting the absence of Pink Pearl and Kings Garden. Frankly - Toronto is full of dim sum lovers, so I don't really see any of these places as tourist traps.

                        1. re: Underdog Rally

                          Rol San has no carts - order from a menu only. I find that there are less choices than most dim sum places, but all the usual suspects are present and generally better than the other places in chinatown (spadina and gerrard).

                          As for busy on weekends, it depends on the time, I think. In my experience, it is usually about 1/2 full before 11:30. Perhaps that picks up a lot more at lunch-time proper. Service wise, it is no different than any other chinatown place. A little bit distracted, but usually swift, once you have their attention.

                          1. re: Underdog Rally

                            During peak lunch hour there are definitely lineups, but I went last Saturday around 2pm and it wasn't too crowded. Do that, or go early (1130ish). I much prefer the no cart option that Rol San offers because as Underdog Rally said, there is high turnover so food usually is not sitting around for a long time. Fried items are usually hot and crispy (albeit somewhat greasy) and other items arrive hot as well. Given that shpeizmaven is no stranger to dim sum, you should be fairly familiar with the items without the visual aids and fine ordering for you and your friend.

                          2. re: shpeizmaven

                            On our last trip to Rol San (last week) we noticed a "shift" in how things are done. the way I'd describe it is changing how they make things to cater more to the "bigger is better" crowd.

                            This was specifically present in the wrapped dumpling type dishes (steamed or fried); looked like steroid versions - huge! They honestly appeared to be twice the old size, and in going to the larger size things like getting thicker, more doughy, less refined wrappers and plainer/simnpler fillings (e.g. less fresh chives, less ginger) were the rule.

                            It's still a good place for pretty inexpensive dim sum, and the more traditional stuff that I like (tripe, chicken's feet) haven't suffered from the gigantism we experienced (on the other hand it's hard to see how giant-sizing tripe and chicken's feet would appeal to anyone).

                            It's an easy-going place. Not pretentious, service is efficient and can be friendly. When I was a regular several years ago they used to even recognize me and give me priority seating. All sorts eat there: families, students, young couples, white people and for a Chinatown joint it is definitely on the clean side.

                            They're a higher volume, cheaper prices sort of place so as far as ordering goes, you're going to get your checklist and pretty much be expected to figure out what you want on your own - but since you're not a stranger to dim sum and everything's on there in English that' shouldn't create any problems.

                            Good luck introducing your friend to dim sum.

                            1. re: herbs go karts

                              You know, I actually dislike the trend of GIANT PIECES of dim sum. It makes for very awkward eating at times and really, less enjoyable.

                              1. re: jlunar

                                I agree, it's supposed to be heart's delight, not belly-buster's delight. I enjoy the bite-size quality of dim sum.

                          3. How can you say Pearl Harbourfront isn't a tourist trap?? When the restaurant by default has plates and forks on the table, they certainly aren't aiming at asians as their main clientele. High prices for average food just so you can enjoy the view? I don't see people cutting 360 at the CN Tower the same slack and this is just as much of a tourist trap.

                            2 Replies
                            1. re: sbug206

                              Hey sbug - not sure if you're criticizing Pearl for aiming at tourists (some of who may also be Asian) or non-Asians (some of who may favour chopsticks in lieu of cutlery) but either way, I don't think the comparison with 360 is fair. In the two times that I've been there in the past few weeks (including Chinese New Year week-end), Pearl's clientele was overwhelmingly Asian (no idea if they were locals, though it doesn't strike me that the waterfront is overrun with tourists mid-February). As for 360, that to me has always been a place that you only ever go to with out of towners or kids for a "cool, I'm spinnig and taking in the views while eating" experience. I've never seen 360 mentioned on this board, ever, while Pearl seems to find favour with a bunch of the local 'hounds, myself included. I'm not saying it's the best or the best value but IMO, it's certainly good and several notches above a "tourist trap".

                              1. re: sbug206

                                To me a tourist "trap" is a place that deceives visitors into thinking that they're experiencing something local and authentic, while forcing them to pay a premium for that experience. There are many restaurants around downtown that do this, but I hardly think Pearl's menu qualifies, or even remotely compares to a place like 360. "High prices for average food" would cover most of Toronto's higher end restaurants, so that's a difficult line to draw. Lai Wah Heen and Hemispheres' clientele consist heavily of hotel patrons, and there are many items on their menus that I consider both average and pricey - I still wouldn't qualify them as a tourist traps like 360, the big box places on Front St., or the post-theater venues on King. Perhaps my definition is too rigid.

                                Pearl and Dynasty are certainly more expensive than Rol San (which I visit for weekday lunches), but their higher standards for cleanliness and open space tend to be more attractive to visitors. I'm not a big fan of their food quality or value, but that doesn't mean that they are attempting to deceive tourists. Both are very popular locations for Chinese weddings and special event banquets, and they would have been good options for treating an out of town guest who might be sensitive to the noise and general dining/cleanliness standards of a Chinatown restaurant. The OP has clarified that their guest would be willing to go with the flow, so it's a moot point.

                              2. For Dim Sum, its about the food and the atomsphere to me. Dim Sum is has always been noisy, people reading newspaper leisurely, and lots of patrons pointing at the food from carts, people shaking their heads, and people smiling and accepting forced upon them Dim Sum.

                                A lot of places have been converted/ing to menu driven, which makes me feel like its a take out place but decide to eat in. The non menu places' waiters will accept your orders and bring it to your table.

                                IMHO Forrestview fits my desc. and its cheap to boot.

                                1. If you want a full option dim sum experience and you insist on it being downtown, then I would recommend Rol San. It is good and fairly consistent. You'll have to insist on your service and there will be a line on the weekend (and which might not move as you expect).

                                  Despite being a bit greasy, I find they do fried item better than steamed. The buns and dumplings have thicker than desirable wrappers/dough. No carts – menu.

                                  If you did NOT want many friend items and carts are a positive item for you, then I could recommend Sky Dragon in the multi-story building on the SW corner of Dundas and Spadina. They do steamed items better than Rol San (at least as of my last visit c. 4-5 months ago).

                                  I prefer a menu rather than carts. If I wanted carts, I'd probably end up at Sky Dragon more often.

                                  All of the above said, if you weren't stuck on traditional Cantonese dim sum, I'd recommend the dumplings, buns and noodles at either Chinese Traditional Buns or Mother's Dumplings over any of the downtown dim sum options.

                                  Lastly, if I was introducing someone to dim sum for the first time, I'd want them to have the best possible and I'd rent a car and head north to Richmond Hill. Ambassador, Casa Victoria, Empire Court or Yang's would all be preferable to the downtown dim sum options.

                                  3 Replies
                                  1. re: Atahualpa

                                    I prefer Bright Pearl over Sky Dragon. The former has improved recently, but doesn't have too much variety on the carts. You can probably ask the servers to bring you something you wanted to get. Sky Dragon's quality is not good. One time the cheung-fun rice rolls were so flimsy you could not pick them up with chopsticks without them falling apart and it feels mushy when you eat it. The shrimps tasted funky too.

                                    1. re: Teep

                                      Really? I have had some terrible experiences at Bright Pearl. However, that is why I haven't been in well over a year and that was when I was dragged there as part of a group. My last few experiences at Sky Dragon were comparably acceptable, but, as I noted, I haven't exactly been there often either.

                                      In your opinion is Bright Pearl actually good these days? Should I give them another try? What do you like best? Would you go there over Rol San? Would you go there over going uptown (say to Ambassador).

                                      1. re: Atahualpa

                                        I've had bad expereiences at Bright Pearl as well, but a recent visit (2 months ago?) was much better, that's why I said it improved. I would still rate Rol San above it.

                                        I've not had dim sum up north in recent years so can't compare.

                                  2. I went to Rol San for the first time this week and enjoyed it. The food was fresh, service was reasonably, the restaurant seemed clean and the prices were good. I'm indifferent on the cart vs no cart issue, but enjoyed being able to order from the menu. Rol San doesn't have the most "creative" dim sum options like a Grand Chinese Cuisine (out by the airport) but they do have the standard picks and a few beyond there.

                                    For a cart experience I've always had a good time at Bright Pearl. I've only been for their "Dim Sum Happy Hour" so I can't comment on other times, but I've found the food fresh. I like the atmosphere because it is a big hall.


                                    1. I too went to Roi San for the first time and also quite enjoyed it. Nothing was amazing, but everything was very good for the price point, and service was efficient. Thanks to folks in this thread who recommended it.

                                      The carts are nice and kitschy, but I've had my share of dim sum past its best time that way, too. When the joint is hopping, though, carts are fun to have around.