YIU WAH (421 Dundas West, third floor, at Huron, 416-979-8833). Complete dim sum meals for $10 per person, including all taxes, tip and a pot of green tea. Average dim sum $2. Open daily for dim sum 9 am to 3 pm, and for à la carte dinner till 10 pm. Licensed. Access: four steps at door to elevator, washrooms on same floor. Rating: NNN Rating: NNNNN
Even Chinatown is primed for gentrification now that Starbucks has moved in. The Seattle caffeine corp favoured by the upwardly mobile recently opened a franchise in an anonymous 70s building that once housed an off-track betting parlour, downstairs from the two dim sum restaurants whose names no one can remember.
For the record, the Golden Mile was the Chinese chow house on the top, third floor, and it has now closed. Yiu Wah, the other dim sum eatery, on the second floor - "the one with the carts," as the sinophiles say - has recently moved into that vacated space. It looks exactly the same: a cavernous room for 200 or so with unadorned walls, a few red banners and communal tables topped with disposable layers of shiny white plastic. Think Bright Pearl, only grungier.
Monday noon, the joint's jammed to the rafters, not with the gweilo who pack the place out on weekends, but with a feisty posse of budget-conscious Asian seniors. Don't even think of taking the elevator unless you're prepared to be trampled underfoot. And while the grub doesn't deserve mentioning in the same sentence as Lai Wah Heen, some of it is damned tasty.
Priced between $1.60 and $2.20 per dish, depending on the day and time, Yiu Wah's dim sum lineup gets dished out by a half-dozen red-vested servers pushing those famous carts stacked with steamers. When they lift the lid, don't bother asking what the items on display are, since few of the staff speak English. They're a friendly bunch, though, and chicken feet are easily identified.
The house's steamed shrimp dumplings are hard to miss. They're pink, shaped like fish and stuffed with toothsome chunks of seafood. But other items on the card may be unfamiliar to first-timers.
What Yiu Wah's takeout menu describes as Viscera of Ox appears to be spongy slices of tripe (that's right, stomach lining) paired with mushy deep-fried cubes of daikon. Somewhat less alarming, Sticky Rice In Leaves is revealed to be lotus-leaf-wrapped bundles of steamed gelatinous short-grain rice strewn with smoky chicken bits, while Spare Ribs get translated as deliciously fatty braised nuggets of pork riblets coated with slippery cornstarch and black bean sauce.
Spring rolls stuffed with overly tenderized minced pork in an inoffensive cornstarch-thickened gravy are crisp, grease-free perfection one day, the next an oily quagmire. Nothing to do with a can of Campbell's soup, Chicken Rice Noodle Rolls turn out to be a terrific trio of rice noodle cylinders plumply stuffed with minced chicken, raw carrot threads, chopped rice vermicelli and Chinese chives.
Strict vegetarians are out of luck. Except for starchy pan-fried taro and turnip cakes (and we have our doubts about even them), little can be considered herbivorous. The Vegetable Roll comes laced with shrimp. But those with wider appetites and tighter wallets will find much to love at old-school Yiu Wah.