For students seeking an affordable lunch option that tastes better than the dining hall, Chinatown is just around the corner. Many Chinatown restaurants offer dim sum, a traditional midday meal featuring appetizer-style dishes. Most places serve hot green tea with the meal and place small, blank cards on the table.
Carts roll around the restaurant stacked high with dumplings, fried tofu, spring rolls and desserts, and patrons can pick and choose what dishes they want to try. Each time you pick a dish, the server stamps your card with a symbol, adding $2-4 to your tab.
Most plates come with two to four items of each so dim sum is a great way to try a variety of Chinese food. The best time to head out for dim sum in Chinatown is on the weekends. The restaurants are packed, but the food is much fresher and you'll find more variety than during the week.
Most dim sum restaurants have a larger menu, but if you want a filling meal for under $10, stick to the steaming carts.
Empire Garden and China Pearl are two of Chinatown's most popular dim sum restaurants.
Empire Garden 690 Washington st., Boston
With its enormous red sign, it's a hard place to miss when you're traveling down Washington Street. Empire Garden tells you from the very beginning that you are about to enter into one of Chinatown's biggest restaurants. This all-day dim sum palace was converted from an old theatre. Colorful Chinese artwork lines the walls and the old balcony is suspended above the tables.
The high ceilings make the dining room seem even larger. Empire Garden is the perfect place for big parties, and with dim sum on the menu all day every day, you'll be sharing tons of new flavors with your friends.
To start off the meal, the table is set with small cups, a steaming pot of green tea and glasses of water. Then it's time to choose some dishes from the carts. The best way to judge good dim sum is by the shumai, which are typically pork (or shrimp) steamed dumplings.
Empire's are delicious; in one bite your mouth is watering with perfectly steamed pork. These were definitely worth a second plate.
The shrimp dumplings were a nice treat, but the dough overwhelmed the shrimp flavor. The shrimp noodles, on the other hand, had a wonderful housin sauce poured over them that paired nicely with the shrimp tucked between each noodle. A special treat was pieces of duck sitting on top of a doughy roll of noodles.
With a thick and rich brown sauce covering the dish, it looked like a meaty cinnamon roll. Although some of the duck pieces had bone, the meat fell right off. The sauce also gave the meat a slightly sweet taste. The fried tofu was a change to the variety of steamed dishes and was served in a syrupy sauce.
To finish up, look for the cart with dessert. The Chinese doughnuts were crisp, warm and rolled in sugar and a great way to end the meal.
Since Empire Garden is such a large restaurant, waiting for carts to come around can leave you a little hungry.
But for cheap and tasty food, the wait is worth it.
Empire Garden is located at 690 Washington St. 2nd floor on the Orange Line in Chinatown. Open 8:30 a.m. to 9 p.m., dim sum is offered all day. The average price per dish is a cheap $3. Empire Garden accepts all major credit cards. For more information call 617-482-8898.
china pearl 9 Tyler St., boston
It seems that many dim sum restaurants in Chinatown are built to pack people in. China Pearl is no exception.
The large dining room on the second floor flashes with red and gold decorations. A large phoenix and dragon light up the back wall, and Chinese characters are framed throughout the restaurant. The third floor is typically reserved for big parties or for seating during slower hours.
Saturday and Sunday are the days to head to China Pearl. The wait is usually 10-15 minutes because brunch is the most popular time to eat, but watching generations of families chow down on so many flavorful dishes is worth dealing with the crowd.
Although getting a glass of water is a difficult task, like most dim sum restaurants, the green tea is waiting and steamy. On a cold day, China Pearl's sweet green tea will warm your taste buds.
As the carts come around, look for one with round baskets piled high and steaming. This is where to find the dumplings. The pork shumai at China Pearl is thick and meaty.
But the shrimp dumplings are a true treat here. Large pieces of shrimp fill four doughy balls and this is a great dish to share. The roasted chicken plate was an interesting dish but only half of the chicken was cooked. Another great dish was the beef noodles in housin sauce.
The noodles at China Pearl are stuffed with extra meat and some spicy herbs.
A nice part of China Pearl on the weekend is the buffet. Head up and grab a small plate of mussels, rice or some other saucy dishes. A dessert worth trying are the sesame balls. These sweet round delights are filled with bean paste that have a surprisingly moist flavor. China Pearl is a great place for a cheap weekend brunch.
China Pearl is located at 9 Tyler St. 2nd Floor on the Orange Line: Chinatown. The average price per plate is $2.50-3.50. Open Sun.-Sat. 8:30 a.m.-3 p.m. China Pearl Accepts all major credit cards. For more information call 617-426-4338.