When a new spot opens in town, we can't wait to check it out — and let you know our initial impressions, share a few photos, and dish about some menu items. First Taste, as the name implies, is not a full-blown review, but instead a peek inside restaurants that have just opened, sampling a few items, and satisfying curiosities (yours and ours).
Restaurant: Dim Sum Cafe
Location: 2711 South Alma School Road, #2, Mesa
Open: About two months
Eats: All-day dim sum, plus a full menu featuring Shanghainese and Sichuan dishes
Dim sum is most closely identified with weekend mornings, when families and friends traditionally gather to indulge in the glorious tradition of “Chinese brunch."
But what if you're craving dim sum on, say, a Tuesday night? Weekday and all-day dim sum options remain scarce around metro Phoenix, which is why the arrival of Dim Sum Cafe in Mesa is cause for celebration.
The small restaurant opened about two months ago near Alma School and Guadalupe roads, in the space that most recently housed Dinghao Shanghai Bistro. The space looks brighter than it did during its Dinghao days, with a remodeled interior boasting glittering light fixtures and modern wood accents.
There's also the friendly presence of owner Sheila Wang, who runs Dim Sum Cafe with her family. Not sure what to order? Wang is more than happy to walk you through the menu.
And, boy, there's plenty to love about the menu. The dim sum selection is not nearly as extensive as what you'll find at more conventional dim sum spots. But the upside is that Dim Sum Cafe makes its dim sum dishes to-order, which means your dumplings haven't been riding around in a cart all morning.
You'll want to try the freshly made xiao long bao, the famous Shanghainese soup dumplings that remain something of a prized delicacy around the Valley.
XLB connoisseurs may find these a little too doughy in places, but they are nicely wobbly when you pick them up, and they're brimming with ginger-and-pork perfumed broth on the inside. A dipping sauce of black vinegar with ginger slices, provided on the side, really helps the pork filling sing.
Another highlight are the shumai, extra-juicy pork and shrimp dumplings wrapped tightly in crimped wonton wrappers and topped with a little grated carrot.
It wouldn't feel like dim sum without some braised chicken feet, of course, and the ones here are pleasantly gelatinous and packed with a lightly gingery, chile pepper-laced flavor.
My server recommended I try a piece of the house yChinese fried bread, during my recent visit. No arguments here. The long, cruller-like bread was freshly fried, with a nice airy crispiness and the universally pleasing flavors of fried dough.
Dim Sum Cafe also offers a wide-ranging menu of traditional Chinese dishes, with an emphasis on Shanghainese and Sichuan specialties. You'll spot familiar Cantonese-style classics like beef chow fun, as well. The menu aspires to remain accessible to all kinds of diners.
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From the non-dim sum side of the menu, my server recommended the stir-fried pork intestines, listed as "stir-fried chitterlings" on the menu. The intestines are sliced cross-wise and stir-fried with a big handful of Sichuan peppercorns, sliced jalapeños, and lots of peppery oil. The rich, fatty organ rounds bear only a pleasantly light funk, making this a dish that might even appeal to those who normally turn away offal.
Dim Sum Cafe may not replace your favorite dim sum service, but it's a welcome find in a city that still feels a little starved for options. Plus, if you want to augment your meal with something more than bite-size dim sum dishes, the restaurant's extensive lunch and dinner menu gives you plenty to explore.