Best of Toronto: A quick and easy guide to the city’s best dim sum

In the time that the trend-empires ruled by sushi, cupcakes, and charcuterie have come and gone in Toronto, one style of restaurant has remained: dim sum. It leads many “Must Do While in Toronto” lists for visitors, and the best draw inspiration from diverse sources, and run their shops all over the city (and neighbouring suburbs). 

Appropriately, Suresh Doss and Frank Kocis—two of Toronto’s top organizers of foodster events—have put together a dim sum festival for this Sunday and called it Yum Cha Fest. This weekend's session has sold out, but tickets for an encore performance on May 4 have quietly gone on sale here.  

Historically, dim sum was a light snack that became part of China’s afternoon tea-drinking habit, known as yum cha. Dim sum is usually served on small dishes or in steamer baskets (sometimes from a steamer cart that is wheeled around the restaurant) and the flavours tend to be subtle and restrained. The original dim sum tradition comes from Hong Kong and the surrounding Guangdong province, but as long as we’re somewhat loose with the definition, Toronto has become home to a wide array of different dim sum styles from various Chinese provinces.

Here are the top five spots for appreciating the diversity of dim sum in Toronto. 

Yang’s Fine Chinese
Yang’s is known for dependably solid service, higher-end dim sum and slightly higher prices. Compared to many of the other options north of Steeles, the decor is subtle, modern, and restrained at Yang’s. Adventurous dim-summers will be able to sample beef tripe and steamed noodle dishes, alongside classics like top-notch har gow and curry squid. 
9665 Bayview Ave., 416-756-2788

Rol San
There are places for dim sum with the family on Sunday afternoon and then there is Rol San. After a night of drinking in Kensington Market, corral a large enough group to snag one of their huge, lazy-Susan-equipped tables for the true Rol San experience. Add some adventure to the har gow and shu mai mainstays with deep-fried taro stuffed with pork and crab. Cheap and cheerful, but double-check the addition on your bill.
323 Spadina Ave., 416-977-1128

369 Shanghai Dim Sum
If there is one crown jewel of the Shanghai style of dim sum it is Xiaolongboa, a soup-filled dumpling. This Markham restaurant is the go-to spot for those who appreciate the culinary magic of wrapping a wheat-flour wrapper around a hearty broth. 
8380 Kennedy Rd., 905-305-7713

Premiere Ballroom
As other styles of restaurant have become smaller, more casual, and less theatrical, there is a subset of dim sum palaces (no exaggeration) that have moved stridently in the opposite direction. Premiere is the most representative of this giant and gaudy type (see giant paintings and servers in French maid costumes). The menu runs the gamut from dumplings, to chicken feet, to desserts. 
9019 Leslie St., 905-709-1759

Casa Imperial
Another 905-spot that combines the theatrical package of faux-formal decor, anachronistic uniforms for the wait-staff, and dim sum. BBQ Pork Puff Crispy Bean Curd with Meat and Seafood Roe are standout favourites.
4125 Steeles Ave. E., 416-756-2788

Luckee (honorable mention)
Susur Lee’s newest restaurant in the Soho Metropolitan Hotel has two menus: a dinner menu of full-size entrees (drawn mainly from Cantonese, Szechuan, and Shanghai culinary traditions) and one for dim sum. Both split equally between straight-ahead classics and Lee’s contemporary interpretations. Chicken cheung fun ($8) and braised black pepper beef bao ($6) are new takes, while the har gow and crispy taro and turnip cake are recognizable parts of the traditional canon.
328 Wellington St. W., 416-935-0400

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