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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

    35 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: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/9133... .

                      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 http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/7333... . 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.

                                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.

                                    5 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.

                                        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 http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/854544 (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. http://www.thegridto.com/city/places/...

                                            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.

                                              1. I enjoyed dim sum at Sen Ming Garden (473 Dundas, upstairs) last year. I hear nothing online about the place though, and it may well be terrible now. Perhaps I'll try again in a few weeks when my parents visit.

                                                Is there anywhere half decent in the Gerrard Chinatown now?

                                                1. Does Crown Princess have any happy hour deals?

                                                  1 Reply
                                                  1. If anyone here says Rol San, I disagree. IMO chinatown doesn't have alot of good dim sum places. I don't think Sky Dragon is that great either.

                                                    I think Dim sum is an acquired taste, by that I mean once you find a chef style you like, you will only like that place and not others.

                                                    We go to a place in Scarborough "I Cook Buffet" but they don't serve dim sum anymore. Anyways, we really liked it and other places didn't taste as good.

                                                    We went to Rol San and I was "Are you kidding me? You think this place is good?" The spare rib rice was mushy and the meat was all the fat parts.

                                                    Went to Crowne Prince (Ok not downtown) and same thing, it was expensive, wasn't great (spare ribs was all fat no meat). And people like coming here?

                                                    2 Replies
                                                    1. re: flonie

                                                      Surprised to hear that I Cook Buffet in Markham (assume that's the one you mean) doesn't serve dim sum anymore...they still had a dim sum sign up a week ago. When did that change happen? Agree that dim sum is an acquired taste...we thought I Cook's dim sum was pretty pedestrian when we went a couple of years ago....it was pretty cheap($) though as I recall.

                                                      1. re: flonie

                                                        When the scope is limited to Chinatown (i.e. Dundas/Spadina), then I would say Rol San is one of the better ones.. because as @fionie says - there's just not a lot of good choices in Chinatown.

                                                      2. 3 words for Noble dim sum today. mushy, greasy, chewy.

                                                        1 Reply
                                                        1. re: justsayn

                                                          I wouldnt do dim sum at Noble -- I think their dishes are better than their dim sum. Har gow came out once with a hard shell. :-/

                                                        2. There is a divey, super cheap Dim Sum joint on Dundas in the basement I've been to a few times - I think it's called New Treasure? I actually liked it and it's bustling at lunch. Fun, downscale vibe.

                                                          I love Dynasty. Crown Princess is nice but I feel it is a little too precious. Rol San is definitely on the cheap and cheerful side but usually their food is at least tasty.

                                                          7 Replies
                                                          1. re: MeMeMe

                                                            Yes, it's New Treasure...Dundas @ Elizabeth.

                                                            1. re: MeMeMe

                                                              "cheerful side"? I'll agree with you about least tasty ;)

                                                              1. re: flonie

                                                                I walked by recently and it appears to have closed and not a moment too soon.

                                                                1. re: sumdumgoy

                                                                  Which restaurant? Rol San is definitely still open; New Treasure closes every Monday.

                                                                  1. re: T Long

                                                                    Sorry T Long I meant New Treasure and perhaps it was a Monday I saw it was closed.
                                                                    I have not been a fan for many years.

                                                                    1. re: sumdumgoy

                                                                      I'm indifferent to New Treasure. I don't think I've set foot into their premises this century. It's just that I knew they've been closing Mondays....

                                                                      1. re: sumdumgoy

                                                                        I went there a few times while on jury duty. For the price...and the location...it's a great downtown dim sum option. Not the best or with finesse, but tasty and fresh-ish!

                                                              2. Went to Pearl Court in the Gerrard Chinatown a few weeks ago. It was bad. It used to OK but the last 2 times were bad, bad.

                                                                1. Had really great dim sum last Saturday at Dynasty in Yorkville. We tried 21 different dishes. Most were above average in taste, texture and quality. Would definitely return. But I do want to try Crown Princess next.

                                                                  7 Replies
                                                                  1. re: Food Tourist

                                                                    Add Crown Princess and Lai Wah Heen and you can forget about the rest!
                                                                    However, IMO, CP and LWH are both overpriced due to their downtown location.

                                                                    1. re: Charles Yu

                                                                      I haven't eaten at LWH since the changeover so it would be good to go again. But CP is my next stop (or Markham, your top 6 list is burned into my memory!)

                                                                      1. re: Food Tourist

                                                                        Yes! If you can, do give the new 'Yang;s Seafood, Markham' a try!! Let me know what you think! May be you can try Skyview as well!

                                                                        1. re: Charles Yu

                                                                          I'm not going to deviate from your top 6 tried-and-true high quality recs. It's too long a drive to be disappointed at a new place.

                                                                          1. re: Food Tourist

                                                                            " your top 6 tried-and-true high quality recs." - You lost me there?!!!
                                                                            'Disappointed' is when the Leaf missed the play-off after a great start to the season! Chances of you getting disappointed eating at Yang's Seafood Markham, IMHO is extremely slim!

                                                                      2. re: Charles Yu

                                                                        We finally tried Casa Imperial in Markham and it wasn't as good as Dynasty in Yorkville, believe it or not!

                                                                        1. re: Food Tourist

                                                                          Not surprising at all. Everything hinges on what dishes one orders. Most establishments have their own house specialty and fortes as well as their weak side!.
                                                                          Furthermore, so many things can happen inside a busy kitchen. Most common being the Dim Sum chef get distracted resulting in time sensitive dishes inside of the steamer being over-cooked!...etc

                                                                    2. This may have been mentioned, but has anyone been to Chalau for dim sum? I'm supposed to go there in a couple of weeks, and would love to hear from anyone who's been.

                                                                      2 Replies
                                                                      1. re: kwass

                                                                        Searching "Cha Lau" as well as Chalau should get some feedback.

                                                                        1. re: T Long

                                                                          I thought it was Cha Lau, but online it's listed as one word.

                                                                      2. Any thoughts on Rosewood downtown? (I have a newly potty trained toddler so we tend to sacrifice taste for cleanliness but we still have basic dim sum standards. )

                                                                        PS. We prefer CP over Dynasty for downtown. A little cheaper and some dishes are just insultingly bad for its price point at Dynasty (eg. 炸兩 comes to mind)

                                                                        1. No one mention Susur's new joint -'Luckee'?!

                                                                          1. We had impressive dim sum on Sunday at Lai Wah Heen. Really pleased that the changes have still resulted in a great destination for quality dim sum. Amazing fried turnip cubes and much more. Approachable atmosphere and friendly service.

                                                                            2 Replies
                                                                            1. re: Food Tourist

                                                                              Good to know! How does it compare (quality and price) to Dynasty downtown or Crown Princess.

                                                                              1. re: T Long

                                                                                Well… We loved both downtown Dynasty and Lai Wah Heen. (See above for my take on Dynasty). Only tried 6 dishes at LWH. Most were hits. I think Dynasty was slightly more affordable but I didn't pay as it was my birthday. LWH was about $60 for 2 all in.