Sunday, October 24, 2010

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

Aji Limon - Buena Park*

*Special Thanks to Monster Munching location scout Cecile for the tip on Aji Limon.


At 10:41 PM, Blogger STran said...

They have insanely good "soy sauce" here. I have no idea what it actually is, but I stash a few extra whenever I go there. Also, you're right about the egg tarts being as good as actual dim sum places. Not much else is good there though.

At 5:02 AM, Blogger Bill said...

What a bargain...

At 9:36 AM, Blogger digkv said...

You know, I've been going here for a while now but never knew its name or anything about, had no idea it was a pretty big thing. You're right that it's not the best dim sum, and anyone who wants to try dim sum for the first time probably shouldn't be going there. But it's great when you do crave a few dim sum items and don't want to sit down. They have a great banh bo, the sweet rice cake.

At 9:36 AM, Blogger Diamond Dog said...

This stuff is a bit asstastic. Its not like Dim Sum in a regular restaurant is that expensive. Just not worth it to me. Some of that is just due to eating "sticky" things out of stryofoam. I found the soy sauce to be weird. its all thick (?). Also, no hot mustard

Elmo, did you get my recommendation to try that waffle sanwich place across from Chapman college on Glassel?

Counting on you?

Also, is SaFII going to fix the comment problem? You get an error everyt ime you try to leave a comment and lots of them are not showing up

At 11:06 AM, Blogger elmomonster said...


Agreed. That "soy sauce" is quite good. I think it's officially supposed to be cheong fun sauce since it has that requisite sweetness.


It really is!


Yup, it's not great, but it's good enough. It's certainly priced right.


Yeah, I saw that. Thanks for the tip. I don't know what's going on with the SAFII comments, though. Too busy with my own stuff.

At 2:31 PM, Blogger Madison said...

Mmmm..."the armpits of supermarkets"...sure makes me hungry now. LOL

I didn't know there were 2 OC locations. Now, I know.

I think I've just been Chinese for too long but I am comfortable shoving my way to the front of the line and start yelling my orders out. No wonder I gets such weird looks at the Cheesecake Factory. ;)

At 2:41 PM, Blogger PapaKaster said...

Been looking to try dim sum for a while now not sure if this is the place to start but it still looks good to me.

At 9:29 AM, Blogger elmomonster said...


So that was you at the Cheesecake Factory! HEH HEH!


If it's your first time for dim sum, this might be the ticket. It'll do the job, and there's very little commitment involved, and it's not as intimidating (though dim sum at a seafood restaurant isn't that intimidating). After all, it's better learn to drive on a Toyota first before you get spoiled on the Maserati!

At 4:53 PM, Anonymous kelly von hemert said...

Edwin: You're right, for dim sum first timers, Yum Cha= GRAVY TRAIN!

Just be in peak condition with no physical limitations: Edwin's not joking around about the tough customers.

At 10:18 PM, Blogger caninecologne said...

hi there! there's a yum cha here too in san diego (in linda vista next to thuan phat grocery store), but i'm not brave enough to go in there, haha.

you described it to a 't'. a friend of mine literally said old asian women would be viciously elbowing him out of the way to get their dim sum.

At 12:51 AM, Blogger Juliet said...

*sighs* Now why can't we have something like that in my area? I'm sure it would do well in Ann Arbor.

At 8:02 AM, Blogger elmomonster said...

Kelly and caninecologne,

If they made one of those over-the-top commercials for this place, I think it would have Asian Betty Whites in football gear tackling each other a la that Snickers spot.


If it were, the U-M students would be all over this! Cheap, decent food!

At 12:37 PM, Blogger Genna Harris said...

To follow up on this post about this Chinese supermarket, I did want to let you know that Chinese-American chef Ming Tsai will be appearing at Macy's South Coast Plaza on 11/12 for a free cooking demonstration at 6:30PM. If you'd like to catch this Macy's Culinary Council chef in action, please email me at, and I'd be glad to give you more information! It's a great time to catch this Next Iron Chef contestant in person!

Hope to hear from you soon,
Genna Harris
Digital Coordinator - EVERYWHERE

At 4:09 PM, Blogger ChowNoir said...

LOL about the aggressiveness. I always get a kick out of watching my tiny quiet mom in action. It's like she gets a personality Hulk out. From mild mannered soft spoken asian woman Bruce Banner type into this loud, better not try to jump ahead or cut her off or she'll Hulk smash you.

I've found the Monterey Park Yum Cha's a good place for some road trip snack. It's close to the freeway, swing by, grab a few items and they're easy to eat in the car when you're on the way to something else.

At 3:43 PM, Blogger elmomonster said...

Thanks Geena,

I blogged out it on OC Weekly's food blog.


So true! 'Neath those little old ladies are MMA fighters. I would never want to mess with one!


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