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Aug 19, 2010 02:28 PM

Xino Has The Best Dim Sum In Santa Monica

Of course, as most of you know, saying they have the best dim sum in Santa Monica is meaningless, since the newly opened Xino is also the only source of dim sum in that city. However, that's the only way I could get the words "best" and "Xino" together in the same sentence. I did go to Xino with an open mind, since many of your top authentic Chinese dishes in the San Gabriel Valley and elsewhere these days are nontraditional. Furthermore, as Chinatown Brasserie in New York City has demonstrated, you can have a non-traditional but authentic and outstanding Chinese restaurant located outside of Chinatown and serving a largely non-Chinese clientele. On the other hand, Xino has a sister restaurant in the Bay Area which has not registered a peep on the Hound scale in the years they have been open. It is this latter fact that defines the dim sum at Xino. I had the following four items from Xino:

Baked bbq pork bun - I was encouraged by the fact that their buns come with pineapple bun tops, which I absolutely love. The top is pretty good, and the filling is not bad either. But the rest of the bun was weird--kind of like eating white bread or a brown and serve roll. Definitely not Chinese in taste.

Steamed chicken bao - Equal in quality to the average version of the same item in Chinatown (not San Gabriel Valley), though a little saltier than I've ever tasted.

Kung pao lollipops - Read some favorable commentary on these, but really this was a big mistake. Think kung pao fried chicken drumettes. For the same price I could have gotten three orders of similar tasting food from any number of steam table Chinese restaurants in the 'hood. Or an order of much more delicious Panda Express' orange chicken, for that matter.

Chicken siu mai - The one thing I like about Chinese restaurants on the Westside and the Valley is that I can get often get chicken siu mai, since they don't make those at authentic Chinese restaurants. However, the chicken siu mai here did not have the expected texture or taste. I've had better chicken siu mai in Encino. One nice touch was a few pieces of dried scallop.

Bottom line is that the dim sum here is more than double the price you pay in Chinatown or the SGV, and if you're lucky it'll approach Chinatown quality. So if you want to spend $20 per person on dim sum (much more if you try the $14 Kobe sliders or the $12 lobster potstickers) for barely average dim sum, this is the place for you.

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  1. Agree that it leaves a lot to be desired. I tried the potstickers, but the dipping sauce was so ridiculously salty and the dumplings just so-so that I left very disappointed. I am by no means a dim sum expert, a novice really, but I did think the dim sum at Tiato was pretty ok. However, I will not be returning due to horrible service issues and other food items that were mediocre at best.

    1. Beg to differ. The dim sum style items just across from Xino at Zengo [Sino-Latin fusion] are better!

      1. I haven't heard good things about Xino (both their food and service). This will not be one of my tries!

        1. For those interested, Xino is on the 3rd Street Promenade, which can help explain the prices. Chandavki, how would you compare it to VIP Seafood (N/W corner of Wilshire and Barrington) which is the only other place on the westside that I know serves dim sum?

          3 Replies
          1. re: nosh

            Well if you factor in value there's no doubt that The Palace, f.k.a. VIP Harbor Seafood would be a better destination. I feel even more strongly about the ridiculousness of getting dim sum at Xino after finding better dim sum the next day in Rosemead at a third of the cost. Price aside, I'd put The Palace ahead of Xino on an absolute scale, too, even though The Palace seems to be a step behind what you used to get at VIP Harbor.

              1. re: kevin

                In Santa Monica Place which reopened a little over 2 weeks ago.

          2. I got to try Xino's 'dim sum' at a little preview party and agree - not impressed. I kindof likened the whole place to a fancier PF Chang's. Good for whatever that means, but if you're looking for authentic, look elsewhere.

            39 Replies
            1. re: vronic

              Yes. It's not that the food is bad, because it isn't. Rather some people were hopeful that this might be a legitimate Chinese food option on the Westside, which it is not. An overpriced P.F. Chang's with dim sum is a very good characterization.

              1. re: Chandavkl

                If it were your money, would you open a legitimate Chinese restaurant (or legitimate restaurant of any kind) in Santa Monica Place?

                There is no good Chinese food outside the SGV. The SGV is not that far. It's easier to get there from Santa Monica than it is to get to Hollywood.

                1. re: aventinus

                  From time to time there has been good authentic Chinese food on the Westside. The original VIP Harbor Seafood, Royal Star Seafood, and J. R. Seafood provided a trio of good authentic choices starting in the mid-1990s. Heck, even Venice and Marina Del Rey had a couple of good places in Unicorn Inn and Oriental Seafood Inn. And J. R. Seafood once had a branch in the old Santa Monica Place, at the very western end of the mall. So while not a reality, it certainly was in the realm of possibility.

                  1. re: Chandavkl

                    Of course it's "possible" but just not practical to open up a legitimate Chinese restaurant on the westside.

                    Previous threads have hashed and re-hashed the reasons, but the crux of it is (1) lack of consistent demand (key being "consistent"); (2) lack of back of the house talent (most chinese chefs live in SGV and do not want to commute to the westside); and (3) rents.

                    1. re: ipsedixit

                      Really?? I obviously haven't read the previous threads on it. But I get the feeling if a really good authentic place opened up, say, just east of the 405, it would get plenty of consistent demand. They just need to find a decent location by taking over an existing lease, which there are plenty of on this side of town.

                      Also, what up with all the Vietnamese & other Asians who have no qualms vanpooling up to the westside from the OC to do nails & massages? And the Chinese won't drive west on the 10 for like, 20 minutes? Lame.

                        1. re: Phurstluv

                          Well, Royal Star (sister restaurant to Monterey Park's Ocean Star) couldn't make it on Wilshire Blvd. in Santa Monica. They seemed to draw decent crowds, but they apparently didn't make any money.

                          1. re: Phurstluv


                            This has been discussed before, but aside from clientele, there's the issue that the workers and employees don't want to live and/or commute to the Westside, as well as higher rents.

                            Also, while you as a Chowhound may enjoy dining at a Chinese restaurant, how many other non-Chowhounds would do so? And if they did, it would be a once in a while thing (e.g. once a week, or maybe 2-3 a month), nothing on a regular basis. In other words, when Westsiders decide to eat out, there first choice isn't always going to be Chinese -- maybe at most it would be 1 out of every 3 times they decide to eat out will they choose Chinese.

                            The Chinese restaurants in SGV and environs, meanwhile, draw from a much larger and concentrated number of people whose first choice when eating out will be Chinese, Cantonese, etc.

                            Also, I think just the higher rent alone makes the overhead prohibitively inefficient for a large banquet style Cantonese restaurant to open up in West LA. While people generally have no qualms paying anywhere from $35 to $50 per person (before tax, tip and drinks) on American or European food, I think there would be resistance to doing so at a Chinese restaurant. The whole stereotypical "Chinese fast food" image is too well ingrained in most people's minds. You would need higher menu prices to cover the higher overhead, but the resistance to paying those type of prices for Chinese food makes a restaurant hard to start up, much less sustain.

                            Trust me, if the demand was there, it would be filled. Chinese people may not be the brightest folks around, but they do know to follow the money. Just look at Rowland Heights, Hacienda Heights, Diamond Bar, City of Industry, etc ... basically all colonized by Chinese folks and their various eateries and markets.

                            And, yes, I've personally looked into this ... not worthwhile.

                            1. re: ipsedixit

                              I understand, and your points are well made, as usual, since you seem to be the type to only make good points when you have personally looked into things, so I appreciate your insight, as always.

                              However, how do you explain, name aside, the fact that a place like Chinois on Main, has existed, quite well, for 20+ years? Although Puck's name is on it, I believe people on the westside go there to get their Chinese fix, since the food "tastes" Chinese, and everyone knows Puck is hardly there, and hasn't run that restaurant or kitchen in years?
                              And the other Sino-French places like Chaya Brasserie? Both of these places have Asian head chefs, and again, I believe, they have outlasted many trendier places in WeHo and other places, b/c they are serving a need that is not being met otherwise, save for a trip to Panda Express once in a while. Okay, maybe Chaya is more Franco-Japanese than Sino, but nonetheless, one can only do sushi so many times a week. And how many Japanese sushi & itzakaya places do we have on the westside, that seem to have no problem existing and thriving on the westside? Too many to count.

                              It just seems like those of us on the westside would frequent an authentic Chinese place, be it a large banquet style Cantonese or not. We have such a dearth of mediocre places that serve the same pizza, pasta, salad places or mediocre "Mexican" that a Chinese place with decent food, even a "take out only" place, to accommodate a smaller sized establishment, would at least get some decent business from the schools and businesses lined all up and down Wilshire & Westwood Blvds. But alas, we are stuck with what we have there, and I have no qualms driving as far as E. LA for my Antojitos or El Tepeyac cravings, and SGV, for authentic Chinese. (But that's just me). At least, what I think is authentic, I certainly have not traveled to Beijing or Shanghai or Hong Kong to verify that.

                              I guess that is part of what makes LA and our neighborhoods unique!

                              1. re: Phurstluv

                                But looking at the history of authentic Chinese food on the Westside the picture is discouraging. There was zilch until J R Seafood opened up on Santa Monica Blvd. in 1994. This was followed fairly quickly by VIP Harbor Seafood and Jin Jiang in 1995 and Royal Star in 1997. Hop Li also opened up in 1997 at the old Lotus West location on Pico, H. K. Golden Harbor opened on Santa Monica Blvd. and J R opened up a second location in Santa Monica Place. These were the halcyon days, particularly with Royal Star, the largest of the restaurants, serving the best dim sum the Westside ever saw. But then things fell apart. JR II closed down fairly quickly, as did H. K. Golden Harbor. VIP Harbor sold, apparently to a non-Chinese purchaser. Royal Star stopped their dim sum service, despite the large daily crowds. (Chowhound gossip indicated that even at its zenith, Royal Star's dim sum trade was never profitable.) In turn, Royal Star's lunch and dinner trade spiraled downward and eventually closed. The original JR sold to Hop Li. Jin Jiang turned gringo. While there are decent authentic Chinese food options on the Westside today such as Mandarin Kitchen, Hop Woo and the Hop Li's they're all limited capacity affairs bearing no resemblance to the large operations in the SGV and Chinatown. So it seems clear that the authentic Westside Chinese experiment has already run its course and proved largely to be a failure.

                                Hop Woo Restaurant
                                1 W Main St, Alhambra, CA 91801

                                J R Cafe
                                512 W Valley Blvd, San Gabriel, CA 91776

                                Mandarin Kitchen
                                1822 Westwood Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90025

                                J R Seafood Restaurant
                                11901 Santa Monica Blvd Ste 102, Los Angeles, CA 90025

                                Jin Jiang Restaurant
                                301 W Valley Blvd Ste 109, San Gabriel, CA 91776

                                1. re: Chandavkl

                                  Darnit, very bad news for us Chinese food hounds.

                                  1. re: Chandavkl

                                    Well, you've obviously lived here far longer than I have and have lived through all the changes.

                                    Yes, that's a bummer for those of us who would love to see an authentic place pop up. Oh well. One can dream, I suppose. Then, I'll just go visit friends in the SGV to get my fix when I need it.

                                    Thanks for the history, nonetheless.

                                    1. re: Phurstluv

                                      If it was doable, someplace like Yang Chow (not saying it's "authentic" or SGV-worthy necessarily) or Din Tai Fung would've tried to stake their territory out there.

                                      Both places have very deep pockets and each could easily stomach (no pun intended) a couple of years or more of losses to establish their brand. And yet for some reason neither have even explored the possibility. You would think DTF would be a natural for that new Santa Monica Place Mall.

                                      1. re: ipsedixit

                                        wow, if dtf were there, i'd visit the mall at least one a week minimum. but i'm presuming if it opened at the santa monica place it would increase the prices by at least 1.5 times what do you think ??? so say for instance the fish dumplings at 8 bucks will become 12 bucks???

                                        1. re: kevin

                                          Do you think people (non-Chowhounds) would pay $12 (or more) for 8 dumplings? Maybe the Mr. Chow crowd would consider that a Happy Hour menu price, but I think most folks would balk at it.

                                          Mr. Chow
                                          344 N. Camden Dr., Beverly Hills, CA 90210

                                          1. re: ipsedixit

                                            most chinese in the SGV would also balk at it. This was a problem for Quanjude which had to accommodate the local chinese population as well - folks that couldn't see plopping down big bucks (biggish) for a banquet that didn't include shark's fin and sea cucumber. there are limitations everywhere.
                                            20 years ago i could find restaurants run by more recent immigrants from China, Taiwan and Hong kong that woudl do the elaborate appetizer plates in the form of phoenixes, peacocks, dragons, caliigraphic shapes, etc. These days, cna't find them. Have you had better luck?

                                            1. re: Jerome

                                              20 years ago i could find restaurants run by more recent immigrants from China, Taiwan and Hong kong that woudl do the elaborate appetizer plates in the form of phoenixes, peacocks, dragons, caliigraphic shapes, etc. These days, cna't find them. Have you had better luck?

                                              I believe that's considered passé nowadays, unless you are on a cruise or something.

                                              1. re: ipsedixit

                                                in china, one still finds it. it's not hip, it's old fashioned - but it's there.

                                                to be fair, it's also highly labor intensive and involves learning garnishes which aren't home-cooking and sometimes new restaurateurs here aren't trained in east asia but are home cooks. so there you are.
                                                (even carving the wintermelon - i'm talking about a banquet not a walk in ).
                                                passe then.

                                    2. re: Chandavkl

                                      Chandavkl's history lessons reveals two things.

                                      1. The demand for SGV-style Chinese food in the Westside is very very low.

                                      2. That low demand amongst Westsiders has not changed at all over time.

                                      Makes you wonder why, esp. point No. 2.

                                      1. re: ipsedixit

                                        Most people are just not hounds I would guess, and some hounds if there were a joint on the Westside still might not patronize a seemingly authentic Chinese restaurant because they would keep thinking that it could be nowhere near as good as the traditional ones in the SGV.

                                        For the most part, most people like Americanized-chinese food. think: orange peel chicken, wonton soup, lettuce cups, kung pao chicken, pork spareribs, egg flower soup, et al.

                                        1. re: kevin

                                          I think you need to give westsiders more credit than that. If I was going to open a chinese restaurant on the west side of LA I'd use Chego as a model. Be bold, have a culinary and aesthetic point of view. Low Prices. And do not be open for lunch! Kidding on that last part.
                                          Rehashing a east LA restaurant wont work in west LA though.

                                          3300 Overland Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90034

                                          1. re: AAQjr

                                            Rehashing a east LA restaurant wont work in west LA though.


                                            Please explain. Not sure I get where you are coming from.

                                            Re: Chego. It is anything but an SGV-style Chinese (or even a Koreatown style) restaurant. It's fusion to the core, and makes no apologies about it. Roy knows what sells on the Westside, and it ain't basic galbi, it's galbie wrapped in a burrito, etc. He may not be a great chef, but he's a great entrepenuer.

                                            There are plenty of Chego-style restaurants on Westside that do faux-Chinese or fusion Chinese -- e.g., RockSugar, Take a Bao, Feast from the East, etc.

                                        2. re: ipsedixit

                                          As to #2, probably best demonstrated by the fact that my favorite Westside Chinese restaurant is the Cantonese restaurant known as Mandarin Kitchen.

                                          Mandarin Kitchen
                                          1822 Westwood Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90025

                                          1. re: ipsedixit

                                            Chung King and JTYH aren't very romantic.

                                            Chung King Restaurant
                                            1000 S San Gabriel Blvd, San Gabriel, CA 91776

                                            1. re: sushigirlie

                                              Chung King and JYTH aren't very romantic.


                                              Come again? Romantic?

                                          2. re: Chandavkl

                                            to be fair, first jinjiang turned hong kong. then it turned gringo. the place was never more than half ful an had wonderful huaiyang banquet dishes - beautiful oysters, gingko nut with tofu skin things, etc. got rid of shanghia/huaiyag chefs. brought them in from hong kong. Then "accommodated".
                                            Frankly - the best huaiyang place i've been to in the Bay Area, lilly's, doesn't even bother to show most people the huaiyang menu, just the canto/american beef with broccoli lunch special menu, unless specifically asked. And the chef won awards in Shanghai. Great "Squirrel" fish, stuffed tofu, a version of beggars chicken with flour instead of the earth coating. really fine. But you had to push (and very good xlb as well, NOT EVENTHEY are on the canto/am menu.

                                            1. re: Jerome

                                              there's another great place in SF that i just wish was in LA called Jai Yun, which serves banquet style menus even if you don't have a banquet number of people, although some find it to be extravagantly overpriced because the ingredients are very commonplace, but the dishes are graet and well-modulated, from the beef jerky and lotus root small plates to the orange peel beef (way different than the orange peel style you'll find at panda express and joints of that ilk) and an amazing fried eggplant dish.

                                              i believe it's only prixe-fixe and might range from 45 or 50 to a 100 per.

                                              is there any joint like this anywhere in LA? or rather i mean SGV?

                                              also, i heard a year or so back that there was a restaurant called five something bao that served up some soup that was $500 bucks per bowl, but may have closed with in barely months of opening.

                                              1. re: kevin

                                                Nothing like Jai Yun in the L.A. area. It's a testament to its quirky owner-chef. (And in the old days before he became famous, he waited tables, too.) While L.A. area Chinese food is clearly (though just incrementally) better than the Bay Area, the three things they have that we don't are Jai Yun, Koi Palace and Yank Sing.

                                                Koi Restaurant
                                                730 N La Cienega Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90069

                                                1. re: kevin

                                                  yes and htat's the horrible canto menu with a few shanghai specials. there is another menu that I saw with xiaolong bao and squirrel fish and beggars chicken (VAR) etc.

                                            2. re: Phurstluv

                                              the appeal of chinois on main has mystified me. I remember seeing the menu when it opened and was puzzled as to why people would pay those prices for ordinary dishes available at any decent SGV place, and in those days even in Chinatown at Tai Hong or Empress (and today, still at Full House)?
                                              maybe for the room. But still, 888 has very nice private banquet rooms as do many of the big seafood places. It's lie the discusion that was going on wiht the OC Register fellow and the Rick Bayl. crowd regarding his claims about the Mexican place he opened on Melrose. LA has no authentic non-northern mexican food said chef rick or so it was reported. THe whole gold etc. fracas erupted. The best thing was that now I've heard of La Casita in Bell. So it's fine for me. I have very little interest in Red. Will go if I"m with a bunch of folks who want the experience. On my own - pass.

                                          3. re: Phurstluv

                                            "Also, what up with all the Vietnamese & other Asians who have no qualms vanpooling up to the westside from the OC to do nails & massages"

                                            what? Why would vietnamese people go to the westside to do nails and massages when there's a billion nail and massages places in the OC?

                                            1. re: ns1

                                              Um, they do. In droves. And because this is where the business lives and we pay for it, dearly. We don't need to go down to them, they come up to us.

                                              Obviously you don't live here, but I do and every shop in Santa Monica and the Palisades are employed by Asians who daily make the trek up from various spots in OC, most likely the Westminster & Garden Grove areas. Hey, at least that's what they tell me.

                                              1. re: Phurstluv

                                                If you're willing to spend the same amount of money at Xino, has anyone tried Joss Restaurant in Beverly Hills (Little Santa Monica between Wilshire and Century Park East)? Run by Cantonese cooks and staff, my foodie group went there a few months ago, and we really liked the food. Pretty authentic Chinese fare, just a little pricey...
                                                Here's the link:

                                                1. re: Phurstluv

                                                  oh you mean WORKERS not CUSTOMERS