7 top spots for authentic dim sum in the Bay Area

By Mary Ladd

Bay Area stalwarts like Ton Kiang and East Ocean Seafood have long set the standard for juicy dim sum, where friends leisurely sip tea over plump dumplings of the steamed, baked, or fried variety. But this stellar and storied scene continues to expand, with newly opened restaurants offering tableside theater nearly as compelling as the food itself. Here are seven of our favorite spots for dim sum in San Francisco right now.

Great Eastern
Saturday crowds line up for the 9:30 a.m. opening—a much-appreciated earlier start time. Strolling past the huge seafood tanks guides you through your decision-making process of what to order from the gigantic Hong Kong style menu, although menu pictures help any unsure parties. Shrimp XLBs are appropriately steamy, yet the shrimp rice rolls enable a delectable alternative for one’s crustacean fix—portions are ample for sharing. Bowls of vinegar sauce help cut the richness of the meaty pot stickers. Remember to set your alarm: BBQ pork buns usually sell out by noon.
Neighborhood: Chinatown MAP

Dumpling Time
Chinese-born Do Leung is the expert dumpling chef at the helm of this new hip and non-traditional restaurant. Upon arrival, there’s the pleasant click of wood while staff roll and prep chopsticks. Guests smile and chatter over the music videos playing on the far back wall. At the front, there’s the beautiful tiled and glass enclosed dumpling room, a busy temple to shaped and formed dough. The most popular made here is the giant xiao long bao (XLB), the “King Dum” soup dumpling—a thick, Boba-style straw to pierce and commence the slurping of hot liquid gold is a trusted tool.
Neighborhood: Soma’s design district MAP

East Ocean Seafood
This spacious banquet hall has been welcoming big parties for over 30 years. The routine is to select from roving carts: jellyfish or chicken feet, XLB, and even sweet red bean sesame balls. The step of pointing to pick and order adds anticipation, salivation and even strong desire to the dining process. Shrimp and lobster balls are bountifully full and give a whiff of salinity at the first nibble—freshness is in the air, surely. While rice noodle with XO sauce pleases, the golden shrimp rice noodles deliver quality starch, lovingly prepared. Nab pineapple buns at the first pass to avoid missing out.
Neighborhood: Alameda MAP

China Live
Is the new 30,000-square-foot space on Broadway a teahouse? Market? Bar or restaurant? This all-in-one venture from culinary hot couple George Chen and Cindy Wong-Chen sports sumptuous food visuals that are as strong as the tea-infused drinks. Duck is artfully sauced then tucked into a sesame pocket—a light spin on a treasured dish. Any seat near the dumplings and dim sum station rocks true sizzle, and saving room for creamy yet tangy durian soft-serve is an exciting and adventurous way to end your meal.
Neighborhood: Chinatown MAP

Ton Kiang
Although the standards here are worthy of attention, veggie lovers pine for expertly prepared green things of their own. Spicy green beans, Chinese broccoli, or sautéed pea shoots fulfill that oft-heard request and are the same pleasing vibrant hue as spinach. The white tablecloth atmosphere offers a subdued experience, and the exceedingly polite servers promptly replenish cups of piping hot tea, plates of luo buo gao turnip cake, or pert Shanghai influenced XLB dumplings. Opt for second floor seating when the urge to look out a vast bay window beckons. Parking can be a challenge on Sundays.
Neighborhood: Outer Richmond MAP

Sun Sing Pastry Dim Sum
When the clock strikes seven, morning worker bees head to this petite, no-frills place for a quick fix. Hot, fresh, and cheap versions of ginger-tinged har gow, chive dumplings, hoisin-y chicken bao (steamed or baked), and moist oven-roasted BBQ pork bun reign. Items are displayed in the style of a pastry counter, and service is brisk yet friendly—fellow patrons may complain about the parking, until they take that first bite. One note: Sun Sing is cash only.
Neighborhood: Oakland’s Chinatown MAP

M.Y. China
Globetrotting celebrity chef Martin Yan is the brains behind this chic mall restaurant, adorned with splashes of red, signifying good fortune and joy. Large glass spice jars, orchids, and a stunning five-ton Chinese bell at that bar complete the scene. However, chef Yong Dong “Tony” Wu, a champion noodle puller, steals the show whenever he twists, pulls, smacks and shapes a ball of dough into a beautiful cascade of thin noodle, all to a soundtrack of “Gangnam Style.” Springy and fresh, the resulting scissor cut noodles with wild boar, wood ear mushrooms, and scallions deserve just one more bite. One order of the dim sum collection streamlines things, since it’s essentially filled with the greatest hits: succulent har gow, surprising green farmer’s dumplings (stuffed with purple yam and pumpkin), and a fist-sized BBQ pork bao.
Neighborhood: Downtown MAP

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