photo credit: Rachel Lerro
Dim Sum Garden
The ‘95 Oscars were stacked. It was the year of The Lion King, Pulp Fiction, The Shawshank Redemption, and Forrest Gump, and while you could argue that each one deserved to take home the biggest award of the night, it really came down to one differentiating factor: Tom Hanks’ iconic performance as Forrest.
And just like the ’95 Oscar nominees, the dim sum options in Philly are deep. Especially in Chinatown, where there’s a genuinely good dim sum spot on every corner. But Dim Sum Garden rises to the top of this group, because it has a Tom Hanks, in the form of the city’s best soup dumplings.
Dim Sum Garden is a small Chinese place in Chinatown that looks a bit like a really narrow high school cafeteria and, if you couldn’t tell by the name, they specialize in dim sum - most notably the legendary pork soup dumplings. The outside shell of each dumpling is impossibly thin while still holding everything inside together, and when you place one on your spoon and bite the top off, steam drifts up toward you like the smoke from one of those long, fancy cigarettes that actresses held in black-and-white movies. If the salty, delicious pork soup inside didn’t come in dumpling form, we’d order to-go containers of it by the dozen to pull out during our annual winter hibernation.
The rest of the long, picture book-sized menu (there are no traditional push carts here) includes a lot of the same things you’ll see at every other dim sum place, like pork with sauce noodles, spicy beef, and dry-fried string beans. The dumpling sauce is really what takes the food here up a few levels though. Every table has a glass bottle of the mysteriously dark, salty-sweet mixture, and it’s so good that when we’re sitting in bed on a Sunday afternoon craving a scallion pancake, the thought of dipping it into a bowl of this sauce is what usually makes us choose to come here.
In a lot of ways, Dim Sum Garden feels just like any other Chinatown dim sum spot, but if you spend some time here, you’ll notice a few things that are different. It’s open a lot later than most other dim sum places and is BYOB, which makes it just as good for a night out with friends as a casual weekend brunch with your family. And even though they added a $15 corkage fee, you’ll still see a good amount of people carrying in six-packs of Yards and revving up for a night out.
Like watching Forrest Gump, eating at Dim Sum Garden is something you should make a point to do. You might fall in love immediately, or the whole loud, half-drunken scene might not be quite your speed. But weeks later, you’ll still be thinking about how amazing the soup dumplings were, and that, to us, is what makes it the best dim sum spot in the city.
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Pork Soup Dumplings
If we had a Greatest Hits List of Philly dishes, these would be on it. They’re the best soup dumplings in the city, and we could probably eat just these for the rest of our time on this planet.
Chives & Pork Dumplings
Get them pan-fried and pour dumpling sauce all over them.
Crispy on the outside, stretchy and soft on the inside. Exactly the way we like our scallion pancakes.
Shanghai Shao Mai
This is one of the better looking dishes here, but the shao mai aren’t a requirement. They don’t have much flavor and while the dumpling sauce will make them taste just fine, there are better things to be had.
Sliced Beef With Hot Pepper
This is definitely very spicy, so if you’re the type of person who avoids any menu item with a fire symbol next to it, this isn’t for you. However, if you eat hot peppers for breakfast, this is a good choice.
Double Cooked Pork
It’s just fried pork belly, but it’s delicious. Especially with dumpling sauce all over it.
Dry Fried String Beans
If you want to interrupt your parade of dumplings with some vegetables, these are a good choice.
Pork With Sauce Noodle
Even though it’s phrased as if it’s mainly pork, this is about 95% noodles sprinkled with some small pieces of pork on top. And we like it very much, just like pretty much everything on this menu.