Regional Cantonese Dim Sum roundup (SF Bay Area)


Dim Sum/Yum Cha

One of the more popularly known versions of Cantonese cuisine is dim sum. Just select a pot of tea, grab a few items, and converse with family and friends over a sumptuous meal. Typically, waiters push trolley carts around filled with stacks of steamer baskets or small plates for customers to choose. Restaurants also serve dim sum by having diners select from pre-printed order forms. However, not all dim sum restaurants are sit-down; there are a few places that do a take-out style dim sum, where a large number of items are displayed on the counter and you simply choose which items you desire. Also note, large dim sum seafood restaurants may have a higher selection of foods or a special menu during the weekends.

I will give a general list of typical items that are commonly found at dim sum restaurants.

  • Shrimp dumpling (ha gow/蝦餃): Steamed translucent dumplings with shrimp filling.

  • Siu Mai (燒賣): Steamed dumpling with yellow wrapper typically filled with minced pork and shitake mushrooms topped with roe, carrot, or shrimp.

  • Steamed rice noodle roll (Cheung Fun/腸粉): Steamed rice noodles wrapped with shrimp, beef, bbq pork, or vegetables with seasoned soy sauce.

  • BBQ pork buns (Cha siu bao/叉燒包): Bun with bbq pork fillings. Traditionally the buns are steamed but there are variants with baked versions (with a brown dinner roll-like exterior or even newer, ones with a crispy top akin to a pineapple bun/Japanese melon pan).

  • Steamed beefballs (牛肉丸): steamed meatballs made of minced beef that may have water chestnuts and coriander mixed. Yuba or some other vegetables may be on the bottom. Served often with Worcheshire sauce.

  • Phoenix claws (Chicken feet/鳳爪): Chicken feet that deep fried, then steamed, and finally braised in a mixture of fermented black beans and bean paste with an occasional jalapeño slice. There is another variation served chilled with a white appearance; typically marinated in rice vinegar.

  • Spareribs (排骨): Steamed pork spareribs with fermented black beans.

  • Lotus leaf rice (Lo mai gai/糯米雞): Glutinous rice wrapped in a lotus leaf (don’t confuse these with zongzi which use bamboo leaves) . Normally contains egg yolk, shiitake mushrooms, Chinese sausage, dried scallops, and meat (usually pork/chicken).

  • Egg tart/custard (Dan tat/蛋撻): Baked pastry crust (either puff pastry or cookie/short crust) filled with egg custard filling.

  • Sesame seed balls (煎堆): Deep fried chewy dough coated in sesame seeds with red bean paste filling.

In addition to the eating experience, tea is an integral part of the drinking experience. Typical offerings at the tea parlor include:Dragon well (green tea), Tieguanyim (oolong tea), Bo lay/Pu-erh (fermented tea), Jasmine (flower scented tea), and Shou Mei (white tea).

Where to eat?

San Francisco:


East Bay:

  • Peony Seafood Restaurant - Second floor in Oakland Chinatown’s Pacific Renaissance Plaza
  • East Ocean Seafood Restaurant in Alameda
  • Hong Kong East Ocean Seafood Restaurant in Emeryville
  • MayFlower in Milpitas and Union City
  • Pacific Lighthouse HO discussion Dim sum in Alameda
  • Saigon Seafood Harbor (Richmond)
  • Ming’s Tasty Restaurant (Oakland)
  • Daimo, Richmond (99Ranch mall)
  • Asian Pearl, Richmond (99Ranch Mall)
  • Oriental Tea House, San Leandro
  • Tins Teapot Bistro, Hayward
  • King Valley Tea House, Pinole
  • Golden Bakery, Pittsburg (take–out)
  • Imperial Seafood, Concord
  • Leisure Dessert, Concord
  • Creek House Dim Sum, Walnut Creek
  • Peony Garden, Walnut Creek
  • 88 Bao Bao, Dublin
  • Golden Sand Harbor, Dublin
  • King Wah, Pleasanton
  • Fusion Delight, San Leandro

South Bay:

Note, it would be great if we got HO (or maybe some people from FTC) to help out and list more and have a greater discussion! If there are any inaccuracies or discussions, feel free to help out as I intend this to be a wiki and keep it updated.

Check out all the other topics on the regional Cantonese cuisine

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San Francisco Bay Area Cantonese Primer

I’d add Fusion Delight (San Leandro), which is probably upper middle tier for Bay Area (imho, service can be a mess, so better for chilling than a quick bite).

Might be nice to indicate with an asterisk or a © for places with cart service as it’s less common (or desirable) these days.



I’m always curious about that. Do you consider it cart service in Koi Palace for instance if they bring only a few things on a cart but the majority of the orders still occur due to the check list?

and thanks for providing info on Fusion Delight



I can’t recall what KP puts on the carts!

I think most people intent on cart service lean towards standards, so as long as the carts have a good range of those, I’d consider them cart service. I wouldn’t consider Dragon Beaux cart service— not many dishes seem to go around, certainly not for a whole meal.



I was disappointed to find that during weekday lunches, Saigon Seafood Harbor had very limited selections on the carts.

The best place for cart service that I’ve found is East Ocean in Alameda. A big variety of dumplings with unusual fillings, and they move fast so the food is fresh and hot.


(For the Horde!) #6

I tried the Dim Sum tasting menu from Peony Seafood (8 items). The restaurant has gone upscale compared to a decade ago. I do appreciate that I can use two teapots to brew the tea (ok, technically one teapot to brew and one teapot to dispense).



Interestingly, when I ask every dimsum place I went to around here, almost none of them serve specifically Dragon Well. I am not sure why. But chrysanthemum tea is a pretty common one, and one can always combine chrysanthemum with pu-erh.

Has anyone been to Harborview for its dimsum service?



Oh wow, that does look different! How was it?

Huh, dragonwell’s not my typical choice for tea during dim sum but that is odd. Yeah I’ve been to Harborview and I thought they did a good job, just… expensive. I really should finish writing something on it, but its been a while so I can’t quite do each item justice. But my overall impression was good if you have an expense account haha (not too different from my visit with Crystal Jade)


(For the Horde!) #9

By the way, this was the full list of the tasting menu.

Some of the items like this Ginseng Broth Shrimp Dumpling is most likely the same as its regular shrimp dumpling but with added fish roe and ginseng soup. Nevertheless, I enjoy this tasting menu, as I get to enjoy a wide variety of its dim sum. I suspect the most expensive item on this menu is the sea cucumber. It was well-executed. That being said, I would have loved to trade the sea cucumber for 2-3 more other dim sum


Dragonwell (West Lake Dragonwell) is actually one of my most favorite tea. Unfortunately, I don’t think most restaurants serve decent Dragonwell.


(Jeane) #10

Wow, just curious…We go to East Ocean quite often and always on weekdays since we’re retired. They hardly use carts at all during weekdays - only exception is holidays when they get big tables of Asian families and are slammed. Example: Memorial Day was the first time we’d had to put our name on a waiting list in ages at East Ocean. So your experience has been different?

Koi Palace Dublin prefers using the paper checklist. Stuff occasionally comes around on trays, very few carts, but not often and not much variety - definitely wasn’t the most popular everyday dishes (we came on a Tuesday but it was a holiday week, so they were slammed like a weekend would be.



I’ve only been there on Christmas days, so I don’t have as much experience as you. Do they use carts on weekends?


(Therese) #12

At the places I’ve been to many times in the past couple years (mostly on weekends), Peony and Pacific Lighthouse they use a hybrid approach–there are carts wandering the room–some have specialties not on the menu like pork cheek char siu, but they take orders via checklist and bring items out separately from the kitchen, even though many of those items are also wandering around on carts.
I haven’t been to East Ocean for a few years after experiencing high variability in their quality (though the good days were probably the best Oakland-convenient option), but my memory is that they did the same there.



Last Friday at Koi Palace in Milpitas there weren’t many carts and we ordered mostly off the menu. Might be different on weekends though.

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Koi Palace generally wants you to order from the menu on weekdays, but they run carts with the basic steamed stuff, beef organs and some desserts. We stopped going on weekends due to the wait.