If you’re craving authentic dim sum in Chicago, we’ve compiled some of the best restaurants to meet friends over these legendary Cantonese dishes.
Navigating the Dim Sum Experience
Dim sum is a small bite that can be enjoyed for breakfast, lunch, or brunch. My friends and I meet for dim sum on weekends to catch up on life and have a few laughs.
Chicago has some great spots for experiencing Asian cuisine and trying everything from dumplings to culinary delights.
Many restaurant locations have spread beyond Chicago’s Chinatown and can be found in several neighborhoods. This also works well for us since we all use public transportation to get around in the city.
We’ve created this guide to explain what dim sum is, the importance of tea in Asian culture, the most common types, a cheat sheet, and where to eat the best dim sum in Chicago.
What is Dim Sum
Dim sum is a traditional Cantonese food served in small portions with tea called yum cha, or drink tea.
The tradition began in Guangzhou, the third-largest city in China, circa the 10th century.
The Cantonese and other travelers would visit tea houses and snack on various dishes. Since then, dim sum specialties have grown to include over a thousand different varieties.
Cantonese cooking contains a wide range of textures, flavors, spices, and ingredients.
Dim sum is generally steamed and served from carts rolled from table to table.
Servings are small but the meals are designed to be shared. However, tea is just as important as the meal.
The Importance of Tea in Asian Culture
Tea is normally served with dim sum and originated in southwest China as a medical beverage during the Shang dynasty.
According to legend, an Emperor was sitting beneath a tree while boiling water when leaves dropped and blew into it. He was intrigued by the aroma and drank it.
China has since perfected the art of planting and growing tea leaves. The drink is consumed daily, but not for thirst.
The intent of drinking tea is spiritual and a practice of gratitude. It is a time to be savored and enjoyed.
Every step in the process of creating and consuming tea is important — making it, smelling it, appreciating it, and even the cookware, timing, pots, and cups are part of the experience.
It’s no surprise that China is the largest tea importer worldwide.
The Most Common Dim Sum
A popular and well-loved dim sum is steamed buns, also called a bao. Bao fillings consist of roasted pork seasoned in sweet soy or sesame sauce or barbequed pork mixed in a sweet sauce. The doughy bun has a slight sweetness.
Shumai is a round dumpling in a thinly wrapped dough and served steamed. The center is filled with pork or shrimp that you can see because the top is not covered. The top may be embellished with an orange dot made of roe or carrot or a green dot made with peas. The seasonings are well-pronounced with chopped fillings like chives, garlic, or crab meat.
The potsticker is a crescent-shaped dumpling served either steamed or fried. The center is stuffed with juicy goodness like pork, shrimp, or cabbage. It’s not hard to finish one in just a couple of bites. Dip them in tangy soy or rice vinegar sauce for a full array of Asian flavors.
These three are the most common dim sum in Chicago. Be adventurous and try something new like sticky rice with lotus leaves, sesame balls, and rice noodle rolls.
Above all, share and enjoy the culinary experience of dim sum.
Dim Sum Cheat Sheet
Here’s a helpful dim sum cheat sheet to assist you in navigating the diverse and delicious world of dim sum.
Har Gow: Steamed shrimp dumplings wrapped in a translucent and delicate wrapper.
Shu Mai: Open-faced dumplings filled with a mixture of ground pork, shrimp, and seasonings.
Char Siu Bao: Steamed buns filled with savory BBQ pork, often with a slightly sweet sauce.
Cheung Fun: Steamed rice noodle rolls filled with ingredients such as shrimp, BBQ pork, or vegetables, served with a savory soy-based sauce.
Lo Mai Gai: Sticky rice dumplings wrapped in lotus leaves, filled with ingredients like chicken, Chinese sausage, and mushrooms, then steamed.
Pai Gow: Steamed spare ribs coated in a black bean sauce, known for their tender and flavorful meat.
Fried and Baked
Lo Bak Go: Pan-fried turnip cakes made from shredded daikon radish and rice flour, often seasoned with Chinese sausage and dried shrimp.
Wu Gok: Deep-fried taro dumplings filled with a savory mixture of meat, shrimp, and mushrooms.
Fried Crab Claws: Crab claws are coated in a seasoned batter and deep-fried until they become crispy on the outside while retaining the succulent crab meat inside.
Fried Wontons: These are bite-sized dumplings filled with a mixture of minced meat, shrimp, or vegetables, and seasonings (for example, Crab Rangoon).
Egg Custard: Individual tarts with a sweet and delicate egg custard filling in a flaky pastry crust
Sesame Ball: Deep-fried pastry made from rice flour and filled with a sweet paste
Pudding: Pureed flavors like coconut, mango, or red bean made with gelatin or agar
Where to Find Authentic Dim Sum in Chicago
📍108 E. Superior St.
Mostly known for their tasty mooncakes, Shanghai Terrance has been giving impeccable service in the upscale Peninsula Hotel.
The outdoor terrace has a refreshing ambiance to enjoy the beautifully presented dim sum. Vegetarian and vegan options are available.
BI Tea & Dim Sum
📍131 N. Clinton St.
Service is quick, and you will find all the classic dim sum dishes like chicken dumplings, beef shumai, and bbq pork buns. Can’t decide? Try the combo.
📍2229 S. Wentworth St.
A waiting line is ordinarily a sign that you are in the right place, and so are the great smells. The food and service at Wentworth are great.
The shumai is outstanding, and customers rave over the chicken feet and bean curd roll. By comparison, this restaurant is competitively priced.
Dolo Restaurant & Bar
📍2222 S. Archer St.
Located in Chinatown, Dolo is another favorite for dim sum. Customers use sheets of paper to mark the items they want to order.
As dishes are prepared and ready, they are delivered to the table (not necessarily at the same time). Try the spareribs and Shanghai soup dumplings. They are tasty.
📍215 E. Grand Ave.
Highly rated and known for their consistently good food, Grandee is reasonably priced and delicious. You’ll love the egg rolls and potstickers, and udon stir fry.
📍2168 S. Archer St. | 215 E. Ohio St.
This restaurant specializes in authentic Cantonese-style cooking and Hong Kong-style dim sum, especially with seafood and BBQ.
Located in Chicago’s Chinatown, Minghin is open until midnight for delightful, mouth-watering dishes.
The egg tarts are a favorite, and you may want to order extra to-go. Try the taro root puff. It’s fried and served piping hot with ground pork.
The serving portions are generous, prices are reasonable, and the food is delicious.
That’s why the restaurant made our list as one of the best spots for dim sum spots in Chicago. There are 5 other locations in the Chicagoland area.
📍2723 N. Clark St.
Dim sum is served all day at D. Love crispy shrimp rolls, shumai, spareribs, pork buns, and saucy noodles? You’ve pulled up to the right place.
The creamy baked egg yolk buns are exceptional. Like brioche, the top is flaky and crunchy, and the inside has a sweet, custard filling. Tea is complimentary, of course.
📍4936 N. Broadway St.
Furama expanded from Chinatown to Uptown and this family-owned restaurant has been serving delicious Cantonese meals for decades with an extensive menu.
The egg roll custards are light as air. You’ll find all the standard dim sum options and more served from the rolling carts. Crowd favorites are the turnip cake, fried taro, and congee.
FAQ about Dim Sum in Chicago
Why is dim sum so expensive?
Quality of ingredients, craftsmanship of food, and business expenses.
What food is served at dim sum?
A range of beef, shrimp, pork, and vegetable dim sum that was steamed or fried.
How many dishes to order at dim sum?
Order 3 to 4 dishes per person for sharing.
Why is dim sum so special?
The dish means “heart’s delight” or “touch the heart” and allows for sharing.
Final Thoughts on the Best Dim Sum in Chicago
What I love most about dim sum in Chicago is that the portions are small, which means you can save room for dessert. When out with friends, it’s the perfect way to steam up a tasty conversation.
Sponge cake is a must-try. These light and sweet cakes are different fillings and are the perfect way to end a meal.
Chicago is a foodie town and boasts a few legendary dishes of its own. When you visit, I hope this post about dim sum leads you to a culinary exploration of the city. Diversifying your itinerary to visit different neighborhoods give more insight to the city’s melting pot of people.
Qǐng màn yòng (enjoy)!