The Best, Most Surprising Dim Sum

Seattle Mag contributor Lorna Yee searched far and wide to find the best of this favorite Chinese cu
Lorna Yee  |   January 2010   |  FROM THE PRINT EDITION
The dim sum at Zen Garden

Dim sum has always been a contentious and polarizing topic for food-lovin’ Seattleites, many of whom drive up to my hometown of Richmond, B.C., for the legendary dim sum offerings. But for those in need of a quick dim sum fix, I’ve found Zen Garden in Mill Creek (a half-hour drive from downtown Seattle) to have the best selection and the best-tasting dim sum items. The fact that Zen Garden uses a ticket-ordering system instead of hand carts means that everything arrives steaming hot, instead of lukewarm and greasy, a common complaint here in Seattle. The mashed taro cake, that fried oval dumpling with the frizzled golden brown shell and filled with tender nubs of ground pork, is wonderful, with a lighter texture than any I’ve found in Seattle proper. The Special Shrimp Dumplings—little purses filled with shrimp, beribboned with chive sprigs and sprinkled with tobiko, are similarly delicious. The chicken feet, plumper than any I’ve eaten in the ID, are on par with those I grew up enjoying in Richmond, and the steamed fish-paste-stuffed eggplant is perfectly lovely. (One dish to avoid: the soupless soup dumplings.)
I’ve also enjoyed some items at Rainier Valley’s Venus, a relatively new and little-known dim sum restaurant located on the ground floor of a strip mall. The item to order here is the Chinese barbecued pork puff, with pork encased in pastry so tender, it melts in your mouth. The pan-fried daikon cakes are browned with care, and it’s this extra attention that elevates this dim sum. And in the ID, Jade Garden is a perennial: I recommend its overstuffed shui mai, but would steer you away from its (too thick, too gloppy) steamed, rolled Beef Cheung Fun noodles. Visit on a weekday to avoid the two-hour waits on Saturdays and Sundays.