A&L Chinese: Dim Sum in Inver Grove Heights (Minnesota)

Sticky Rice
We’re not very enamoured of the dim sum choices in the Twin Cities metro area. Yangtze is the best, in our opinion, and it’s no great shakes in the abstract, and certainly not worth the long round-trip or the long waits on the weekends. Mandarin Kitchen is the other popular choice and our last meal there was downright depressing, bordering on disgusting. As a result we tend to save dim sum eating for when we’re in Los Angeles and only make the trek out to St. Louis park to Yangtze if guests or friends really want to go. (I wrote about all this last year in a post that I gather made some people a little unhappy with me.)

Anyway, despite our general lack of enthusiasm about the prevailing options my ears perked up when there was a mention recently on the Twin Cities Chowhound board about a place in Inver Grove Heights that apparently had pretty good dim sum. This seemed unlikely on the face of it: I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone mention Inver Grove Heights in the context of food before. But then if a north-eastern suburb of Minneapolis can have a decent dim sum place there’s no reason per se that a south-eastern suburb of St. Paul can’t have one either. And as a plus, Inver Grove Heights is much closer to us (35 minutes away) than St. Louis Park (55 minutes) and so I reasoned that if it were decent (i.e better than Mandarin Kitchen, which is not saying much in and of itself) we could make it an occasional thing.

And I’m happy to report that it was indeed quite decent, and indeed much better than Mandarin Kitchen. And I would say it even has the potential to be as good/better than Yangtze, if not for some problems.

We ate there on Saturday morning, arriving at 11.30. There were 5 of us. It’s a large space in a particularly charmless part of Inver Grove Heights, which as a whole would not place in a contest for “Most Charming Suburbs of Midwestern Cities” and was almost entirely empty when we arrived. There was another couple already eating and not very many more people came in while we were there. By the time we left at 1 they’d achieved a peak of five tables simultaneously occupied. This situation leads to the primary problem with the food: it’s not always as freshly made as it should be. On weekends they do cart service (from a grand total of two carts) and the carts were already loaded up and waiting when we got there. As a result a lot of the steamed dumpling skins in our initial order had dried out. However, fresher replenishments later in the meal were uniformly of a higher quality. The fillings were generally good throughout.

I suggested to the personable young man who was running things that day that given the slow turnover they might consider a la carte service which would result in fresher food for diners and less potential wastage for them. He noted that that is what they offer on weekdays (Tuesdays to Thursdays from 11-3; they’re open on Mondays too but don’t offer dim sum); he also said that they open for dim sum at 10 am on weekends and that 10.30 is the best time to arrive as that’s typically when the first lot of steamed dishes hits the carts (he said that they don’t start cooking till the first customers arrive). As everything that was fresh at our meal was indeed quite good, weekdays (if you can swing it) or earlier in the morning on the weekends is probably the way to go. Everything available on the weekend is available on weekdays, he said, with the exception of the baked stuff.

The other issue is that there isn’t the largest variety of items on offer (not surprising given the low turnover) and nothing remotely out of the ordinary. As a result we ordered some dishes that aren’t particular favourites. Still, chicken feet and tripe are available along with all the mainstays (har gow, shiu mai, pork buns etc.). We didn’t care for everything we got but some things were quite good (see the captions in the slideshow below for details on everything we ate).

All of this came to $78 with tax and tip (they include a 15% service charge in the bill). All their dim sum is $3.25 per plate, regardless of what it is. I didn’t get the sense from the young man that their dim sum traffic is ever much higher than it was while we were there. Which makes one wonder how they can survive (they’ve been open almost three years, he said). Well, I suppose they must do a brisk dinner/takeout and weekday lunch special business. He also said that there’s a reasonably large Chinese population close by in Woodbury that normally drives to Mandarin Kitchen and Yangtze for dim sum and that some of them have begun to drop in here instead as word has begun to get out.

Well, we’ll be back too. I don’t want to make overly-broad claims for them. It’s a limited selection but the execution is good and if everything were available right or just a little after it had been made they would be above average in my book (which is more than I can say about Mandarin Kitchen which has people waiting six deep to get in).

4 thoughts on “A&L Chinese: Dim Sum in Inver Grove Heights (Minnesota)

  1. Thanks for this Annoying Sir. The quest for good dim sum has confounded us as well for some time. For so many years living on the SF Bay it was pretty easy to get decent dim sum, but here, as you say, the possibilities don’t oblige enthusiasm. Last try was Tea House near Stadium Village, but that was really a buffet, and not so appealing

    Nonetheless, with your report, we will attempt to make the trek from the north side of town down to A and L. Although it looks like a Tsingtao will be hard to come by.

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  2. This isn’t the best Dim Sum I’ve ever had but then it isn’t bad either. Limited choices yes, but there just aren’t that many places to get Dim Sum in the Twin Cities (or Minnesota for that matter).
    One of my favorite Dim Sum places was Peking Garden when it was near the U. They have moved to St. Paul and unfortunately no longer offer Dim Sum.
    The Tea House serves Northern Chinese cuisine. The Dim Sum we are most familiar with is Southern Chinese.

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