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Why Vancouver Has the World’s Best Dim Sum (and Where To Find It)

Heritage Asian Eatery owner and chef Felix Zhou dishes on Vancouver’s dim sum scene.

Chefs preparing dumplings alongside stacked dim sum steamers
Hi, I'm Naomi!

Seattle-based writer Naomi Tomky explores the world with a hungry eye, digging into the intersection of food, culture, and travel. She is an Association of Food Journalists and Lowell Thomas award-winner, and her cookbook, The Pacific Northwest Seafood Cookbook, was declared one of 2019’s best by the San Francisco Chronicle. Follow her culinary travels and hunger-inducing ramblings on Twitter and Instagram.

You’d be forgiven for not immediately connecting Vancouver with the rice rolls and egg tarts of dim sum. After all, some 6,000 miles (1.5 million hectares) of Pacific Ocean stretch between China—the traditional home of the morning meal—and the Canadian city. But friendly immigration policies, a high quality of life, and the '97 handover of Hong Kong from Britain to China, brought Chinese people to the BC capital in huge waves in the 1990s. Especially those from Hong Kong and the Guangdong province, “where dim sum is almost a religion,” as Felix Zhou, owner and chef of Vancouver’s Heritage Asian Eatery, notes.

What is dim sum?

Sometimes called yum cha—which means “drinking tea” in Cantonese—dim sum consists of several small courses of bite-size dishes (think pork buns and sticky rice) served with tea. People in Vancouver “take the food very seriously and that shows not only in the number of dim sum restaurants in the city, but also by the quality of the food,” Zhou says. That means the barbecue pork and seafood dumplings have gotten so good that many believe it rivals the places serving the same stuff back in China and Hong Kong.

Why is dim sum so good in Vancouver?

That’s in part because almost half a million of the Vancouver area’s 2.5 million people are of Chinese descent, with many of them coming from well-off, dim-sum savvy families who migrated from Hong Kong prior to the handover to China in 1997. Great Chinese chefs found a welcoming audience among not only the immigrants and first-generation folks, but among all Vancouverites, who found the selection of dim sum options in Chinatown to be a point of pride for the city. While much of the best dim sum has migrated to the suburbs, a few restaurants still hold out there.

A historic street art mural in Chinatown, Vancouver
There's still good dim sum to be found in Vancouver's Chinatown, if you know where to go.Foto: Mike Kane / Viator

What makes a great dim sum restaurant?

Whether on Main Street, Broadway, or No. 3 Road in Richmond, Zhou says to remember that the best dim sum isn’t only about delicious food. Presentation is almost as important as the taste, he says. Vancouver dim sum spots have long tracked along many of the same trends happening in China; first getting rid of cart-style serving in favor of cooking to order, and now the use of higher-end ingredients and the creation of extremely Instagrammable dishes.

How to pick where to eat dim sum?

Zhou, whose own menu has crispy beef and celery dumplings, xiao long bao (soup dumplings), and egg custard buns, has high standards for dim sum. But his best metric for how to find a good place to eat the meal in town depends on trusting everyone else’s tastes, too. “Look for a place that's busy—if they have a lineup you know it's a good spot,” he says.

A traditional dim sum cart loaded with bite-size dishes
There's more to Vancouver's dim sum scene than the traditional cart restaurants.Foto: TYangMD / Shutterstock

Vancouver's best dim sum

Zhou's personal picks

The best of the best: With seemingly infinite options for where to find dim sum, these are the places that stand out among the fierce competition for their quality.

  • Chef Tony Seafood Restaurant: An elegant spot in Richmond that takes reservations and offers both the classics and specialties like marinated chicken trimmed with black truffle flakes.
  • Dynasty Seafood Restaurant: From its perch on Broadway, this spot has earned acclaim for its innovative and artful dishes, like peanut pastries decorated to look like actual peanuts.
  • Fisherman’s Terrace: Before he opened Chef Tony, Chef Tony opened Fisherman’s Terrace, where the food is casual and the lines are long but worth it.

The best of carts: Though carts have gone the way of the dodo in most dim sum hubs, a few places still serve their dishes from roaming metal trays. The best of these spots get enough traffic that the dish barely hits the cart before it heads to the table.

  • Golden Ocean Seafood Restaurant: A gem that holds out as the only dim sum in Kerrisdale and one of the few remaining push cart dim sum spots in the city. As you might imagine, it toes the traditional line when it comes to the food.
  • Continental Seafood Restaurant: While the crowds can make it a bit of a zoo, this sprawling spot serves from carts—and has as much of a reputation for its evening live karaoke scene as its food.

The best for vegetarians: Po Kong bucks the typical pork and shrimp in favor of vegetables, tofu, and mushrooms.

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