Golden Delights on the Gold Line

Women circulate through the dining room with carts filled with delightful delicacies.

We regret that Empress Pavilion has closed. We will keep you posted and let you know if it re-opens at a new location.

Discover LA by Metro:

Flavorful Adventure Off the Gold Line Metro Rail

Dim sum is a culinary kaleidoscope of flavors – a tasty array of Chinese dumplings, filled buns, spring rolls, steamed, baked or fried morsels, and won-ton-esque wrapped treats.

Dim sum, which translates into “touching your heart” (hopefully not referring to the cholesterol factor), has been part of my culinary experience for as long as I can remember. My mother fondly recalls being taken by her uncle and his cronies to a tea parlor on Doyers Street in New York’s Chinatown. Although women weren’t allowed in the Nom Wah Tea Parlor back in the ’20s, they made an exception for this small girl who later took her own small girl there in the ’50s.

I’ve since eaten dim sum in cities across the country and around the globe – from Kansas City to Hong Kong – and LA’s Empress Pavilion dishes out dumplings that pass mustard, er, muster with any competitors.

Since discovering this dim sum parlor shortly after moving to Pasadena in 2000, I admit I haven’t felt the need to look for other sources, so I can’t swear it’s the best in LA. But, the variety is excellent, fresh, and flavorful, and includes classic as well as more unusual item.

plate of baked buns filled with barbque pork

Baked buns filled with barbecued pork.

The Gold Line’s opening in 2003 made going to Chinatown for dim sum an easy, favorite event, especially with out-of-town guests — they can never believe that LA has a Metro system! This past week, we shared this LA Metro experience with my cousin from Detroit and her daughter from Phoenix. They were wowed by both the Metro and the food experiences.

Eating in this dim sum parlor is a festive adventure. The food is brought to you for your selection – no language or menu skills needed, just point and enjoy.

selections of fried dumplings

Fried selections include vegetables, shrimp, and taro dumplings.

Women wheeling stainless steel carts circulate continually through the vast dining room, skillfully maneuvering around the obstacle course of crowded tables and patrons. Going on a weekday is advisable — we were seated immediately, in contrast to the minimum 30 minutes or more wait for a table on the weekend.

server cuts food with scissors

Scissors are used to cut dim sum so everyone can have a taste.

The treats are served in bamboo or metal steamer trays or on small plates. A portion usually consists of three or four pieces, which the attendant will cut in half with scissors for more sharing variety. Going with a group of four or more allows for a broad variety of  tidbits to tastes.

The type of plate/container determines the price of the serving. These choice morsels range from $2.30 for selections such as pork dumpling/shiu mai, spring rolls, spare ribs, and steamed or baked barbecued pork buns to $3.10 for items such as shrimp har gow, pan fried shrimp, pork pot stickers, and fried bean curd rolls. The prices range up to $5.75 per serving.

symbols stamped on the bill

Symbols stamped on the bill indicate the dishes ordered.

The cart attendant stamps your table card with a symbol for each dish, and at the end of your meal, the stamps are tallied. Our group of four took home left-overs in the ubiquitous Chinese food take-out containers. Our tally for ten items was $36 with tax, not including tip.

Accounts of the history of dim sum cite the sampling of tea as the origin of these treats, although the places I’ve eaten concentrate on food varieties rather than an assortment of brews. Centuries ago, travelers on the ancient Silk Road and rural farmers taking an afternoon tea break from the fields partook of traditional yum cha (tea tasting) in teahouses established along this trade route. Because a prominent third century Imperial Chinese physician declared that combining eating with tea tasting would lead to excessive weight gain (you betcha!),  food was not initially served in these tea houses.

barbque pork spare ribs and smoked duck

Savory barbecued pork spare ribs and smoked duck tempt diners.

It’s not clear when enterprising Cantonese proprietors began serving the pastry-like snacks, but now, long after traders have disappeared from the Silk Road, dim sum is a staple in China and Chinatowns across the world.

While the exotic character of the Gold Line certainly differs greatly from the ancient Silk Road, the same traditional culinary treats are enjoyed by travelers as well as local workers.

Dim sum served daily from 10 am – 2:30 pm

General Hours:
Monday – Thursday: 10 am – 9 pm
Friday: 10 am – 9:30 pm
Saturday: 9 am – 10 pm
Sunday: 8:30 am – 10 pm

The Empress Pavilion, 988 N. Hill Street, in the Chinatown Bamboo Plaza (213-617-9898), is a short uphill walk from the Gold Line’s Chinatown station. When exiting the Chinatown station, go uphill on College Street. You can turn right on either Broadway or Hill to get to either the back or front entrance of the Bamboo Plaza. If this is your first visit, take Hill Street since this entrance to the plaza is clearly marked. The Empress Pavilion is on the second floor, accessible by escalator, elevator, or stairway.

walking map to Empress Pavilion

Walk uphill on College Street, then turn right on Hill Street. Click on map to enlarge.

All photography, graphic images, and text copyright © and may not be downloaded or used without written permission.
Please contact us to license usage of images or text.

About Metro Duo

Helping Los Angeles visitors and residents find events and activities accessible by Metro Rail — see our blog:
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5 Responses to Golden Delights on the Gold Line

  1. metroduo says:

    We received a strong dissent from one of our correspondents. Because we’re not shilling for the Empress Pavilion, we’re posting it here with his permission:

    Excellent dim-sum or decent Chinese food unfortunately is not found in Chinatown or the San Fernando Valley; pretty much all in Alhambra, Monterey Park corridor. Try Lunasia in Alhambra, Mission 261 Restaurant in San Gabriel, Hop Li Seafood on Baldwin in Arcadia (we went there for lunch today) At the end of operas or concerts we may go to Sam Woo on Broadway in Chinatown (corner of Alpine) but it is OK only, but still decent Chinese food. Avoid Empress Pavilion at all cost, and also Hop Li Seafood in Los Angeles on Alpine Street – awful place too even though the name is the same (and may well be the same chain) as the Arcadia one. Ocean Star in Monterey Park had good standard dim-sum but it has finally closed after maybe 20 years, a shame. Arguably the best juicy bun in the World (no kidding) is on Baldwin in Arcadia – Ding Tai Fung. It has branches all over the world, including Shanghai and Singapore. It started in Taiwan. Be prepared to wait but worth the trip.

  2. llip says:

    This is a very good idea. We enjoy photographing the LA Metro subway stations and will be glad to use this site as a reference for things above ground to enjoy during our ventures.

  3. Pat Dengler says:

    Kudos! Excellent article!

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