Is dim sum better in LA than in New York? I can’t say for sure since I only had dim sum once while in Los Angeles, but I can say dim sum at Empress Harbor in Monterey Park is very good.
One reason is freshness. A long time ago, I was all about carts at dim sum, but now I prefer dim sum you can order because of the freshness factor. Carts are fun, but over-steamed, lukewarm food is far from it. At Empress Harbor, even with carts, everything arrived steaming hot and noticeably fresh. It was quite impressive.
Another thing I liked about Empress Harbour was that there were a few non-pork dishes. Eating with non-pork eaters (ahem, David) can be problematic, but even more so at dim sum restaurants where pork is EVERYWHERE. At Empress Harbour, however, we were able to find something for both of us.
Like this braised beef tripe! Muahahaha! For David, beef tripe versus pork tripe is only marginally better, but I got it anyway, and amazingly, he ate one piece. He didn’t have another, but he did say it wasn’t as funky as he expected and I have to agree, it was very mild on the funk meter. It was braised in a light soy liquid with radish and carrots and the squishy pieces were very tasty, especially slathered with toasted chili oil served on the side. Later, we asked for more chili oil and put it on everything. The only minus? The second to last piece on the bottom of the bowl had two little hairs on it. Why and how did it get there? Who knows, it’s best not to dwell on it.
Next up was another dish for me, steamed ribs with black beans. Again, it arrived piping hot, and I appreciated the fact that it wasn’t too salty or greasy.
While I was enjoying my ribs and tripe, David was munching away on these crunchy cucumber sticks with garlic soy dressing. The fresh cucumbers were good, but at this point I started to worry we would leave with only cucumbers in David’s stomach.
Luckily, right before deep worry started to set in, a cart full of these sticky rice balls filled with shrimp found their way to our table. It wasn’t entirely pork-free, studded in the center of each was a piece of Chinese sausage, but it was easily removed. However, without the sausage, the rice balls were a tad bland.
Bean curd filled with corn and shitake mushrooms was also a bit bland for me, and had me going back to my ribs.
What I did enjoy was the zhaliang, Chinese cruller stuffed steamed rice rolls, served with soy sauce, hoisin, and sesame paste. The cruller could have been crunchier, but I could tell it was freshly fried. A freshly fried cruller is a truly wonderful thing.
It was at this point all the rice roll carts starting coming out of the kitchen, but by then we were both too full to even think about eating anything else. I should mention, the cart ladies were extremely nice, and after word got around there was a non-pork eater at our table, they made a point of trying to bring the non-pork dishes over to us. Either that or they were scared when I insisted a little too emphatically on rolling the zhaliang cart to our table first. What can I say, I’m from New York.
The total for dim sum for two plus a pot a tea was $18.14. It was a great start to our LA trip.
Empress Harbor Seafood Restaurant
111 N Atlantic Blvd, Ste 350 (inside the Atlantic Place Shopping Center, close to W Garvey Ave; map)
Monterey Park, CA 91754