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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.