I grew up in the Bay Area, which has its fair share of some pretty great dim sum places. That being said, I don’t think I really had dim sum until high school. Eager-eyed and a bit overwhelmed at all the food without descriptions, I’m pretty sure I went overboard and grabbed everything the first few times. It took some practice (and patience) to figure out how to properly experience dim sum; believe it or not, it is possible to walk away and not be completely overstuffed.
When I came to Seattle, I was glad to find out there are some great dim sum options in the International District, which is a fairly short walk from where I live in Capitol Hill. There are options for every price point, and while I haven’t gone very often, I’ve had a chance to try a few different places and form an opinion on each.
My favorite dim sum spot is Dim Sum King, hands down. Mainly, I like it because it’s inexpensive and ideal for one or two people. It was originally recommended by a Chinese friend of my grandma’s, who always makes a stop there when she’s in the city. The first time I went, I was a bit disappointed by the first impression. It’s pretty small, and there’s very little seating– instead of people coming around with carts, you order your food at the counter. It’s definitely best for to-go orders, but I’ve eaten there every time I’ve gone. It’s a bit less interesting and to me, it takes away from the whole dim sum experience. You also kind of need a good idea of what you like, so it probably isn’t the best place for first-time dim sum. However, everything I’ve had here was delicious, and the best part is that it is super freaking cheap. Two people can get very full on $5. Most items are only 60 cents each. I like that you can get just one steamed pork bun, instead of three or four like most places. It’s a lot easier to get a wide variety of food without being overly full.
A lot of people I know swear by Jade Garden. While I will agree that their honey walnut shrimp is pretty awesome, I’m not quite sold on the idea that this is the best place for dim sum in the ID. There is almost always a huge wait, and while I might brave a long wait at Glo’s, I’m less keen about waiting 40 minutes for Jade Garden. The inside is always crowded and often noisy, and like most dim sum places, the service isn’t spectacular. All that aside, I will agree that the quality of food here is pretty good, but the prices are a bit higher than some other dim sum places. If you go and there happens to not be a wait, and you don’t mind paying a bit more, then this is a good option. Out of the three spots I’ve been to, this is also probably the best for dim sum first-timers.
If I’m wanting dim sum in a more traditional format than Dim Sum King, I usually will go to Harbor City. There’s usually less of a wait than Jade Garden (and it’s right across the street, so if you don’t want to wait at Jade, it’s easy to walk over here) and although the food quality isn’t always amazing, it’s decent dim sum and moderately priced. I went today for brunch with a friend, and we were seated after about 5 minutes. I will say that the service isn’t great, and if you aren’t familiar with dim sum dishes, it can be hard to know what to get; I did see someone with a menu, however, so I’m assuming if you ask they will give you one. We just ordered things we saw on the cart, and asked for one dish we didn’t see going around. One thing to keep in mind: there’s a $10 minimum on credit cards, apparently (or at least they told us that today).
For those of you that haven’t ever had dim sum, I would definitely suggest you try it. There’s something for everyone (yes, even vegetarians, although it may be a bit tougher for you) and it makes a great brunch or lunch every so often on the weekend!
If you’re going for the first time, here are a few popular things worth trying. It can be kind of overwhelming seeing all the different food on the carts, but just remember to pace yourself (seriously, it can be tricky!) and only get things you actually want. Go with a friend, and that way you can get more dishes and share them! If you’re trying to be healthier, stick with the steamed options or go for one of the veggie sides or soups.
Shu Mai: steamed, contains pork and mushrooms and other vegetables
BBQ Pork Hum Bow: steamed, bbq pork in a fluffy white bun
Ha Gow: steamed shrimp dumplings
Sticky Rice: rice and meat/veggie mix that’s slightly sweet and wrapped in a banana leaf
Lo Baak Gou: usually referred to as turnip cakes, these are a mixture of radish and vegetables or meat (or both) that’s pressed into a fried cake
Hom Sui Gok: a fried sweet-savory combination, typically pork and vegetables inside mochi dough
Egg Custard/Dan Tat: small sweet tarts with a creamy custard filling
Sesame Balls: fried balls typically filled with sweet red bean paste