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Aug 4, 2013 06:54 PM

ISO Downtown's best dim sum

I know that Markham, and elsewhere outside of downtown are the places to go for dim sum, but, for this week, I need good dim sum in the downtown core. Suggestions?

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  1. Crown Princess, hands down!
    Lai Wah Heen and Dynasty a distant second.
    If you are used to up-town products' quality, the rest, you can forget about them

    36 Replies
    1. re: Charles Yu

      Thanks for the tip, haven't been, but am looking forward to trying it out.

      1. re: Charles Yu

        Which Dynasty are you referring to?

        I'd also recommend Rol San if in Chinatown.

          1. re: petek

            Rol San for old school Dim Sum.

            Crown Princess for more Creative/Fusion Dim Sum and Decor.

            1. re: smfan

              1. Please define, "old school". My vision is not appetizing so I'd like to know. While I think I'm the minority on this one, I'm a big fan of Asian Legend - dim sum is hand made on site. I've been wanting to try Rol San (last time I was in there was over ten years ago for dinner), but Asian Legend's dim sum is so fresh. I could never go back to the old cart dim sum on the third floor of some dumpy joint on Dundas. 2. Please tell me what makes Rol San so good?

              1. re: Moimoi

                Old school = the cheap and cheerful, crowded, noisy, bang for your buck, plastic tablecloth type of dim sum.

                If you could never go back to the old cart dim sum on the 3rd floor of dumpy joint on Dundas, old school dim sum probably isn't to your taste.

                That being said, Rol San is on the nicer, brighter end of the spectrum of Chinatown resto ambiance, but it's not as modern/stylish-for-Chinatown as the Dundas St Asian Legend.

                Rol San cooks to order based on what you've ordered off the menu, so the dim sum tends to be hotter/fresher than some of the dim sum at some of the cart places.

                1. re: prima

                  It's funny, I went to Rol San for the first time in a while and found it pretty mediocre for the price. We typically go the cheap-and-cheerful route at Noble, and spendy at Crown Princess, if we're staying downtown. I found Rol San definitely more expensive than Noble, and the quality not as good. For the price, I would have rather spent a few bucks more at Crown Princess. Doubt I'll be back to Rol San any time soon.

                  1. re: childofthestorm

                    I agree about Rol San. Overpriced and doesn't taste good. I think the whole "Dim sum" available anytime is the big draw for people (I personally think Non asians) to eat it late into the night. Maybe it's just me but I don't see any of asians eating say, Ha Gow at 11pm. Maybe that's just me. I don't mean that as an insult. Just that we're accustomed to eating it in the day, at least we are and the people that I know.

                    1. re: flonie

                      When did Rol San start serving dim sum at night?

                      1. re: MissBingBing

                        rol san always has. i've had a new years day tradition of dim sum as soon as all my friends recover enough from their hangovers which is usually around like 8-10 pm

                      2. re: flonie

                        I think Rol San used to be pretty decent, but has gone way downhill in the last few years.

                        Re: Asians don't eat it at night. Yes it's true but moreso for older folks. I was born in Hong Kong and have been living here for 30+ years. One time I was going away and I wanted to have some dim sum during the dinner before I went, my mom was like "Nobody eats har gow at night!"

                        1. re: Teep

                          I guess it's an older folks things, I must be one of them. Oh no! I think another reason why we don't eat dim sum at night is because we know it isn't made fresh.

                          Case in point. When you go to Rol San (or bright pearl when it was around) they advertised dim sum all day but you know if your ordering it at eight or ten o'clock it's not going to be fresh. It's going to be reheated.

                          Speaking of which, you know what I find very interesting. I don't see alot of older asians at Mother's dumplings. I mean ones that aren't with their families. I see alot of "hipster" if you please, there. Most of them are non-asian and the asians that are there are young, not more mature ppl.

                          Why is it? is it because of the price, portion of taste? I find you get alot of asian families at Dumpling house but not there.

                          1. re: Teep

                            We've split a digression about dim sum in Hong Kong to our China board, here: .

                      3. re: prima

                        Okay, that's what I thought you meant by "old school", but IF you also consider that to be the gluten-y, seemly previously frozen har gow, siu mai type dumplings (again, not saying that I haven't had my share and that I didn't devour them on many a foggy Sunday morning), then help me also understand why everyone is so nuts about Rol San?? I'm happy to check it out if the quality is there, but if it's like the cart, then I'll keep looking. p.s. As for "modern", etc., frankly, I'd prefer if Asian Legend was not so spiffy; however, I do love that the kitchen has a large glass window and you can see the kitchen and staff working.

                        1. re: prima

                          I just realized that my comment about a category of dim sum that is "gluten-y" would be inaccurate.. well, inaccurate if in fact the wrapper was in fact gluten free, but with the exception to the high-end joints where they are more selective about ingredients, I wouldn't actually be surprised if the wrappers in the less reputable establishments used wheat flour as a filler, thus my gluten-y comment being okay... Not that I'm getting all radical about dim sum specifics... Just sayin'

                          1. re: Moimoi

                            I figured you meant glutiny, as in sticky, like glutinous rice. Didn't think you were talking about gluten.

                        2. re: Moimoi

                          When people say "dim sum" they usually mean the Cantonese style. Asian Legend servers almost exclusively Northern Chinese. Just checked their menu and the only Cantonese item they have is "har gow". Even their spring rolls are the Northern version (larger, sturdier). So you can't really compare that one with the others being discussed.

                    2. re: jennjen18

                      Dynasty Chinese Cuisine in Yorkville.

                      Irrespective of old school vs Contemporary, I always like to use the quality of the traditional timeless ' Har Gow ' as my measuring yardstick to judge the skill of the Dim Sum chefs.
                      How does Rol San's version compare to say one of the Casa's up north? I haven't eaten at RS for a few years. Last time, I found their overall quality only so-so.

                      1. re: Charles Yu

                        I haven't been to Rol San for a while, but it's never been at the Casa level, and isn't trying to compete with the Casas. I divide dim sum in TO into 2 main types: the bang for your buck, plastic tablecloth Rol San type, and the fancy, skillfully wrapped, art on your plate, woven tablecloth Casa type. I realize the Casas serve har gow closer to ideal har gow, but I know quite a few people who prefer going out for a cheap and cheerful Chinatown dim sum experience,rather than refined dim sum at Casa or Yang's. Rol San has been the best and the most consistent of the economical Chinatown $15 dim sums for me,but the skill isn't at the same level as you'd find at a Casa.

                        Cha Lau on Yonge is another downtown option for dim sum. Some dishes are a little better than Rol San,although portions are often smaller. I like the daily set menu, which I've only seen at Cha Lau and Lai Wah Heen, which gives a taste of several dim sum dishes, perfect if you're dining solo and open to letting the restaurant choose your dim sum selection. Not at the upscale level of Dynasty or Crown Princess, but nicer service, atmosphere, ceramic dishes and presentation than Rol San. Not sure whether Cha Lau's har gow is better than Rol San's. Cha Lau also offers a vegetarian combo.

                        1. re: prima

                          Prima - You may have solved my dilemma for Sunday lunch!!

                          I completely forgot about Cha Lau as an option for dimsum downtown. I remember being fairly good when it was at Yonge and Eg. It sounds like it hasn't deteriorated in quality since it moved further south. I hope they take reservations!

                          1. re: Nevy

                            If anything, I find the new Cha Lau to offers better value now. It's busier, and the prices seem more reasonable. The new space is a little less upscale than the old space.

                            1. re: Nevy

                              So after reading this early in the a.m. I convinced a work friend to go here for lunch today. Well to say that it was disappointing was a bit of an understatement. I wanted to like it becaue it is so close to my work but it was really really bad.

                              We got the lunch special and added another order of shui mai as the lunch special was very small – thank goodness we did because it was only decent thing we had.

                              The chicken and chive was so overwhelming chive flavour neither of us finished out single one. The wrappers on all of the dumping were very thick and overly chewy. The gai lan was over cooked and mushy. The noodles were dry, flavourless and luke warm at best.

                              There was no soy, peppers in oil or sriracha provided on the tables. When we asked for sriracha they provided us with one tiny bowl that had two teaspoons at best for us to share. We had to ask for more twice. It was like they were worried we might use too much.

                              The whole thing was painful. We won't be back. Rol San kicks this place's a$$ and they are nowhere near the same league as Crown Princess.

                              1. re: JennaBean

                                Thank you JennaBean for the report back. It's too bad that you had a bad experience. I liked this place when it was at Yonge and Eg. I can't believe they overcooked the gai lan to a mush. That's kinda hard to do!

                                1. re: Nevy

                                  I think it had been cooked, held and then recooked/heated for service. It was really really overcooked.

                                  1. re: JennaBean

                                    Sorry to hear you such an awful meal.

                                    Sounds nothing like my experience in the spring, and it sounds like the food and service have slipped. Everything tasted fresh last time I was there.

                                    1. re: prima

                                      Crown Princess isn't really that expensive, on avg $25 per person, vs $15 at a place like Rol San. Don't be cheap, spend that extra $10.

                                      I still like lai wah heen better for certain items. Their rice rolls are a disappointment though.

                                      Rol San serves the same factory made frozen dim sum that most of the joints in Chinatown serve. Nothing to write home about.

                                      I really like good tea, and Crown Princess is like any uptown joint, they'll serve you a pretty damn good Tieguanyin.

                                      The chrysanthemum jelly like dessert at Crown Princess is great, but it's an acquired taste for the white folk.

                                      My fav dim sum dish in Toronto are the scallop xo sauce rice rolls at Yang's.

                                      1. re: aser

                                        I agree Crown Princess isn't that expensive. I'm planning to revisit this week.

                                        Since I've only been doing dim sum a few times a year lately, I usually spend the $25 at Dynasty, Grand or Yang's (have only been to Crown Princess once, and that was 3 years ago . I'll reorder some of the same dishes this week, to see how they compare), but I completely understand the economical $10-$15 dim sum being good enough for people going for dim sum more than twice a month, especially if it's as much about meeting up with friends as the dim sum itself and/or if Chinatown is more convenient location.

                                        1. re: aser

                                          We ate those scallop xo rolls today. Meh. Lukewarm and not very tasty.

                                  2. re: prima

                                    We passed up our usual choices in the area today (Dynasty Yorkville or Crown Princess) to try Cha Lau. Less selection and the dishes did seem smaller and the setting is quite different from the other places, but overall a very enjoyable dim sum lunch. I did not notice any set menu....probably not offered on weekends. They have the same dim sum menu all day long until closing so definitely an option if in the mood for dim sum later in the day when their competition stop serving. This was our first visit to Cha Lau since their move...I think this current version is better than when they were located near Eglinton. Like before, the clientele is heavily non-Asian.

                              2. re: Charles Yu

                                Re:Crown Princess
                                Which dishes do you guys recommend beyond Har Gow, Siu Mai and Char Siu Bao at Crown Princess? I've only been once, when it opened. I'd love to hear recs for specific dishes.

                                1. re: prima

                                  If done well, my favs are very texture driven.

                                  spare rib in black bean sauce - very boney, which is off putting for the non-asians in general.

                                  five spice fried octopus tentacles

                                  tripe in ginger scallion

                                  shrimp rice roll

                                  pan fried turnip cake

                                  lotus leaf wrapped rice

                                  I recall Crown Princess' scallop dumpling is decent.

                                  1. re: aser

                                    Thanks, aser. I look forward to trying that scallop dumpling.

                                    Looks like we've got similar faves when it comes to dim sum, even though I'm a Bohunk! ;-)

                                    1. re: aser

                                      I love crown princess but havent tried a few of your faves. This is going to be addressed tomorrow. Thanks for sharing.

                                      1. re: aser

                                        Any recent recs/changes/reviews for Crown Princess? I'm heading there for one of my last meals in Toronto.

                                  2. Crown Princess
                                    Pearl (Would have recommended Lai Wah Heen but haven't had the dim sum there is a long time)
                                    I would stay away from Rol San as the last few visit it was sub par.

                                    2 Replies
                                    1. re: elvisahmed

                                      Sorry, my last visit at Rol San was more than a year ago.

                                      1. re: smfan

                                        For me,the only problem with Rol San is their unexpected closures(happened twice to me) other than that it's fine.
                                        I can't compare it to the other upscale joints as I haven't been. Not my thing, I like my dim sum like I like my women,cheep and cheerfull... :D

                                    2. Now that we have all the Dim Sum Experts gathered together, could I piggyback on Hungryintdot's post and ask what your favorite DS dishes are ?

                                      Other than Har Gow and Shumai (or Siu Mai), are there any "not to be missed" dishes you prefer ?

                                      Edit : Sorry prima, great minds think alike !! I should have hit refresh before posting.

                                      11 Replies
                                      1. re: PoppiYYZ

                                        I'm not a dim sum expert and I'm eager to see the expert answers. Whenever I go, I find the list below is a good starting point.

                                        Cha siu bao (bbq pork bun). I like the steamed version the best but I also had good versions of the flake pastry or just baked version
                                        Rice Noodle roll either filled with shrimp or beef (if they state sirloin). I've had the cha siu version in Singapore one time and that was so delicious
                                        Curry cuttle fish
                                        Egg Tart (especially at The Grand)

                                        If the place is good and you're a fan of mochi texture, there's a savoury deep fried mochi dish filled with pork that's really good. I even think there's another variation of it with 'thousand layer leaves' pastry.

                                        1. re: PoppiYYZ

                                          :-) no worries! Glad we're on the same wavelength!

                                          I'm not an expert, but dim sum has been a treat for me, and one of my favourite restaurant meals, since I was a kid.

                                          My usual order for a group of 3 or 4 people is usually 8-10 dishes. Beyond the har gow and char siu bao, my order often includes nor mai gain (lotus leaf wrapped sticky rice), ribs in black bean sauce, seafood with chive dumplings, lo bak go (turnip cake), jin deui (fried sesame balls with a sweet paste inside), cheung fun (rice flour rolls w various fillings), fried bean curd roll, pan-fried pork dumplings. Occasional dishes for me include ham su gok (deep fried football shaped pastries filled with pork), shrimp paste stuffed eggplant, curried cuttlefish, beef balls (meatballs, not Prairie Oysters!), anything with XO sauce.A new dish for me last year was stir-fried rice cakes (recommend the version at Grand- haven't tried any downtown!)

                                          1. re: PoppiYYZ

                                            " Not to be missed " Dim Sum dishes will all be scattered around different establishments and not focus in one single place! Here are some examples of my favorites:

                                            Crown Prince ( Markham ) - Crispy mango and prawns roll with mayo dressing.

                                            Yang's - Fried fluffy Taro Croquette ( can be heavenly if done right and filling is juicy )

                                            Shangri-La - Deep fried squid tentacles with spicy peppered salt. Can be very addictive. Product needs to be well seasoned and grease-less

                                            Regal Palace - Freshly baked Pineapple bun with Char Siu bbq pork filling ( did not have a Regal version on file. This is a version taken in Hong Kong )

                                            Any rice roll aka 'Cheung Fun' that is done correctly. That is 'thin' slightly chewy translucent skin with My preferred filling is prawns or Char Siu. The former needs to be fresh, crunchy and sweet. Lastly, the soya sauce has to be delicate and sweet and not overwhelming.

                                            Giant seafood dumpling in Shan-tong broth. Hard to find a great version nowadays since ingredients used for the filling like fresh crab meat, abalone and sharks fin are getting expensive. This Golden Abalone version is passable by GTA's standard!

                                            Lastly, the Chicken/Abalone pie of the 'Elegance' in Markham is the best rendition I've eaten in the GTA.

                                            PS: @ MoiMoi. I believe the OP refers to 'Cantonese style Dim Sum'. Asian Legend serves mostly, if not all, 'Northern Style Dim Sums' like dumpling steamed or in soup or pan fried pot stickers. IMO, their products when compared to the Northern Dumpling Kitchen, Din Tai Fung or Mother's Dumpling...etc are inferior!

                                            1. re: Charles Yu

                                              Thanks Charles,

                                              Have you ever thought about recording your favorite items at each restaurant you visit. Publish them in a book and you'd sell millions !! ;-)

                                              Thanks again for your reqs.

                                              1. re: Charles Yu

                                                We had dim sum lunch around 2 pm today (Sunday) at Yang's. We won't be back. Very low taste and low quality on 6 items. The chiu chow style pork and peanut dumplings each had half a peanut, barely any pork and full of diced white vegetable! Fried turnip cakes were disappointing, as were the chiu chow style with egg yolk scattered on the outside. So sad we drove all the way up there for nothing!

                                                1. re: Food Tourist

                                                  ??? Most interesting, Food Tourist. I wonder what's wrong?!

                                                  My Dim Sum lunch there ( also at around 1-2 pm on a Sunday ) a few weeks ago was more than acceptable!

                                                  Personally, I also noticed the deterioration in quality of a lot of the 'traditional and nostalgic' dim sums offered by supposedly fine Dim Sum establishments! May be they tend to focus on more exotic modern varietal ( XL or SP... ) where larger profit margins may be had than the S or M priced ones like the Chui Chow dumplings?!

                                                  1. re: Charles Yu

                                                    Maybe... we ordered 2 "L" dishes... I figured your appraisal was due to the abalone or crab dishes, but we wanted to keep our bill under $40 today.

                                                  2. re: Food Tourist

                                                    Just to clarify was it yangs on bayview or the one at highway 7 and Leslie? Thanks.

                                                    1. re: cutehinano

                                                      The regular Yang's on Bayview in the plaza.

                                              2. Thank you to Charles Yu for the photos - all my favourites and now I am hungry.

                                                Believe it or not ( i didn't until I went) but remember the "big yellow dim sum" place on Spadina? They opened up a restaurant upstairs that actually has really good and good priced dim sum. Unfortunately no seafood dumpling in broth which is one of my favourites. - we go back to Mississauga for that one.

                                                5 Replies
                                                1. re: juliewong

                                                  The one that was (purportedly) a funeral parlor?

                                                  1. re: jlunar

                                                    Yep. That would have been Bright Pearl, followed by Golden Diamond (Edit:Apparently, also now closed. Thanks for the update, T Long!)

                                                  2. re: juliewong

                                                    If you are referring to the Gold Diamond which replaced the old Bright Pearl, I believe it also closed this past May. That location is a restaurant graveyard.

                                                    1. re: T Long

                                                      Appropriate since it used to be a funeral home.

                                                      1. re: MissBingBing

                                                        While a body has laid in state there, hardly a funeral home.

                                                  3. My favourite dim sum dishes are Quail Egg Sui Mai, pan fried Lo Bak Go/Taro Go/Water Chestnut Go, Tai Boa, Cotton Chicken, Chicken Wrap, Duck feet Wrap, Sesame paste boa, Ham Su Gok, Taro Gok, and Ma la go. Some dishes are very hard to find due to cost/profit.