>Dim Sum literally means “heart warmer” but the true translation is small bits of goodness for brunch. In Hong Kong, servers wheel carts around to tables, yelling out what they offer, and you order what looks or sounds good by waving down the cart and pointing to the dishes you want; it’s a bit like hailing a food taxi. The bill at the end of the meal is calculated by the size and number of plates on your table. There are numerous places in Chinatowns across the world which serve Dim Sum, but finding a good Chinese Dim Sum restaurant is like finding good pizza; if you live in a place where people come from the same country as the food, your chances are better.

Los Angeles has a small Chinatown (compared to S.F. and N.Y.C.) and there are some decent Dim Sum places, but the stress of driving downtown, finding parking, and then trying to get decent service if you do not speak Chinese (or look Chinese) is simply not worth the hassle for most people (including me, and I am of Chinese origin). If you are willing to endure the experience, my advice is to push back if you are pushed while waiting in line, and to yell back if someone yells at you, even if it is an old woman who is pushing and yelling at you, otherwise you will never get any food, drinks, or attention from the servers. When you are hungry, having to be aggressive to get food may come naturally, but it’s just too much work for me to endure; I prefer peace and ease with my food.

To find a good place for Dim Sum away from the madness is a treasure, but there is one restaurant in West Los Angeles (near Brentwood), called VIP Harbor Seafood, and they even have validated valet parking if you can’t find street parking. This restaurant serves Dim Sum for $2.50-$4.75 per plate and they serve it Hong Kong Style on wheeled carts that roam around the tables. The added bonus here is that they tend to understand enough English to stop their carts and serve you what you want when you flag them down. All the usual specialties are served including the classic Har Gow (steamed shrimp dumplings), spare ribs with black bean sauce (these are tiny bite sized ribs, not the kind you find in a BBQ joint), rice noodles with beef, Chinese broccoli with oyster sauce, shrimp stuffed bell peppers, baked BBQ pork buns (a good way to initiate a novice to Dim Sum since it is basically a sweet dough wrapped around BBQ pork), and sweets like egg custard tarts in a flaky shell. VIP Harbor Seafood also serves up nice lunches and dinners, but their Dim Sum offerings are a rare find and should be experienced at least once, especially if you have never tried Dim Sum. In this peaceful easy setting, you can see if you like it enough to brave going thorough the hassles of Chinatown for more exotic fare like chicken feet in black bean sauce.

Hop Li Seafood serves up lunch and dinner at four locations in Los Angeles, only one of which is in Chinatown, so you can have the same great food without the hassles closer to your home (if you don’t live in Chinatown). Like VIP Harbor, Hop Li specializes in seafood and there are fish/lobster/crab/shrimp tanks in the restaurant which serve as part of the decor as well as part of the menu. They literally pluck out the lobster, crabs, shrimps or geoduck clams when you place your order. This is seafood as fresh as you can get it, without being on a boat. I love their fresh crab with ginger and scallions, and their spicy salted shrimp; both are served on gigantic platters which invite everyone at the table to dig in and feast. They also offer wonderful fresh vegetable sautes like their Buddha’s Feast assortment, rice noodle dishes like Chow Fun, and the usual Kung Pao and Fried Rice. Having Chinese-American standards on their menu does not stop them from offering the more esoteric dishes like jellyfish and salted fish casseroles, so you can come here and be happy whether you are a timid novice or fearless expert eater. They even make parking easy by offering valet parking in case you need it.

Good Chinese food is hard to find, but good Chinese food in pleasant surroundings, with easy parking and good service, even if you don’t speak or look Chinese, that is priceless.