Underneath a tunnel which acts as a homeless shelter, and next to a Chinatown bus station sits a the neon-fringed, sparsely decorated Dim Sum Garden. This Shanghainese eatery, which is not really a traditional dim sum house, has gotten praise for their hand drawn noodles and the (apparently in Philly) elusive Shanghai soup bun (Xiao Long Bao). Unfortunately, Shanghai soup buns — a sort of steamed dumpling filled with pork and hot soup — are not vegetarian. Carry on.
What I love about the grungy-looking (although, it was clean) Chinese eatery is the smiling service. What I love even more is the decisiveness and confidence our smiling server had in recommending the better of two dishes — even if she might have been lying just to get on with her job. Thank you for having conviction.
The vegetable steamed buns are not the steamed soup buns most people come looking for, but are the thicker bread-like buns, and are filled with a mixture of chopped Shanghai cabbage, black mushrooms, and tofu. Mildly flavored, be sure to douse the vegetable bun with one of the few condiments on the table, like vinegar, soy sauce, or chili sauce.
The vegetable steamed dumplings (again not the one's filled with soup) are filled with the same mixture as the steamed vegetable buns, so it may be best to pick one over the other so as not to grow tired of the filling.
Having just eaten a really bad dumpling that surely came from a freezer bag at another restaurant, rest assured that Dim Sum Garden's dumplings and buns are housemade. You can watch the employees make the doughy pockets behind the counter.The handdrawn dry noodles with tofu come slathered with a strongly anise-scented brown sauce studded with bits of craggy, chewy tofu and peanuts. I love the chewy noodles, but the extremely salty, though tasty sauce was borderline inedible. I managed to down most of the noodles by convincing myself that enjoying salty food is an indulgence, but an hour later found myself successively downing six glasses of water to quench my thirst.Feeling that the salty noodles with tofu were an aberration, I checked back in with Dim Sum Garden. This time I ordered the tomatoes and eggs over rice, simply because I've never seen a dish of that description on any Chinese menu.
What came out was breakfast on top of rice — a large plate of rice topped with scrambled eggs and ever-so-slightly-sweet cooked tomatoes with side garnish of cooked bok choy. This dish is the absolute opposite end of the salt and seasoning spectrum; there is almost none. Yet, it still tastes good. Condiments from the table livened things up a bit, though. An odd sounding dish, but trust me when I say it is the perfect meal for any time of the day.
If you eat meat, I'd say drop by Dim Sum Garden for the handmade steamed soup buns (every table orders them, so they must be good), but if you're veg, there are plenty of dishes to choose from on the menu.
Dim Sum Garden
59 N. 11th St., Philadelphia, PA 19176