China Red is a relatively recent addition to the top-end of the dim sum scene in the San Gabriel Valley—which is, of course, the best, from top to bottom, in the United States. It opened less than two years ago and gained a strong reputation very strongly. And, unlike another recent opening, Shi Hai, it has managed to hold on to that reputation. We didn’t eat there on our last few trips because a) I am always a little leery about new, hyped places; b) it’s in Arcadia, which is on the far end of the San Gabriel Valley from our home base in Koreatown; and c) relatedly, it’s hard to justify driving out that far when Sea Harbour, Elite, Lunasia and King Hua are all so much closer. It’s for this reason that we didn’t end up eating dim sum on this trip with Sku and his family as originally planned (we ended up at a different place with them, on which more later)—he was loth to drive the extra 10-15 minutes to Arcadia. We, however, were already going to be in the SGV in the middle of the week, last week, and so decided to cut across to Arcadia and finally check China Red out.
And I am glad to say that it did not disappoint.
Like the other top places, China Red does not have carts. You mark a menu (with many of the dishes pictured) and everything is brought fresh from the kitchen as it is made. And there was no question of any corners being cut for weekday lunch dim sum service as the goddamned place was almost full at 12.30 on a Wednesday! We had to be seated in one of the auxiliary rooms, and even that had filled up by the time we got done. The selection here is not quite as broad as at Sea Harbour, for example, and there’s less esoteric stuff on the menu (also less nouveau stuff), though more may be available if you are able to communicate your desires to the waitstaff. We were not successful in getting the one thing we hoped they might have off the menu: those tiny fish with roe, deep-fried whole; but there were compensations.
To see what we ate along with some descriptions click on an image below to launch a slideshow. And scroll down below for a little bit more detail and the answer to the question of whether we would drive there again.
All of this came to just about $75 with tax and tip. There were three adults and two small children eating but we had enough food for five adults. So, about $15/head. Which makes me very upset as in the Twin Cities we’d have to pay almost $10/head more for dim sum of questionable quality.
Some of the highlights included, as indicated in the captions above, the shumai, the leek dumplings, the squid and the sticky rice. I want to single out the Macau style egg tarts for praise, however. I really liked the ones we ate at Lunasia in December but there it was the flaky pastry that was the star; at China Red it’s the egg custard that is the star—just the perfect consistency and balance of sweetness and egginess. I would almost drive there again just to eat an entire order of these.
Which brings me to the question of whether we would do the longer trek to Arcadia to eat at China Red again. The answer, on reflection, and we discussed this at length on our way home, is no. Not because it isn’t excellent dim sum, because it is. It’s just that it’s not in the same tier as Sea Harbour or Elite and with some plus/minus for specific dishes I think I’d place this meal no higher than our meal at Lunasia. And all those places are much closer to us. However, I would wholeheartedly recommend it to anyone for whom it is a closer or equidistant proposition—if you live in Pasadena or Eagle Rock, for example, and haven’t been, you totally should go this weekend.