Yum Cha Café - Westminster
Readers from the San Gabriel Valley should already be familiar with Yum Cha Cafe. There are three there already (not counting the one in L.A.), all taking residence inside the armpits of large Chinese supermarkets.
They open early and get insanely busy fast. You know it's morning in the SGV when you see a jumble of bodies crowding the hot display cases like magnets. It is not uncommon to see little old ladies overtaking other little old ladies, elbowing themselves to the front of the line and jockeying for their turn at what is possibly the cheapest dim sum stash in existence.
Take a lesson from those women: You need to assert yourself. Forget shyness and decency. And also, forget about coming in the afternoon or in the evening, when all of the dim sum supplies are depleted and it turns into a standard, but equally cheap noodle soup shop.
This is dim sum at bargain prices, all freshly made and warming under heatlamps and in shiny aluminum baskets stacked tall behind a chin-high glass perennially fogged up with steam.
You order yours by screaming (it's the only way to get yourself heard above the din) and then pointing at stuff when you have to. You pay in cash and they package-up what you choose into Styrofoam containers with disposable chopsticks and hot sauce in little tear-away packets.
Orange County has two of its own, also following the same pattern as its SGV sisters. Both hide inside supermarkets and attract the same type of bargain hunters who salivate at the thought of getting the most out of their money. Read: quantity and prices before all else.
But if a Cantonese San Gabriel Valley resident should happen to come across our two Yum Chas, including this one inside the My Thuan market in Westminster, they'll find themselves more or less as a foreigner. Ours are decidedly Vietnamese, with Vietnamese translations for everything and Vietnamese speakers behind the counter.
Tip: take a number and watch the LED sign like a hawk. Chances are good that even though they'll yell the numbers in English and then Vietnamese, you won't hear it.
The prices are the same. Over 25 items are at 99-cents, usually with three pieces to an order. The rest top out $1.39. It is conceivable to spend more on the tea, tax, and tip at a proper dim sum house than an entire meal here. The spread I have pictured set me back exactly $11.22, and it fed the two of us until we were comatose.
Yes, you do sacrifice some of the refinement. The cheong fun can be thick where it should be delicate; the har gow is often pasty when it should be translucent; and the chao tom--deep fried balls of shrimp paste speared on sugarcane--are usually cold and dense by the time you get it home. But any complaints will be silenced when you again realize how little you paid.
Besides that, there are some really well-made items here. The taro croquettes crisps as it should, shedding its shredded-wheat-like fur in crumbles when you bite into it. Experience the same thrill of gnawing and nibbling the meat off of the braised pork ribs, just like usual. For dessert, enjoy the perfectly baked mini-custard pies called dan tats, as good here as it was at your last dim sum outing.
All you need now is to brew yourself a scalding hot pot of tea.
Yum Cha Café
8900 Westminster Blvd
Westminster, CA 92683
THIS WEEK ON OC WEEKLY:
Aji Limon - Buena Park*
*Special Thanks to Monster Munching location scout Cecile for the tip on Aji Limon.