1 LAI WAH HEEN 108 Chestnut, at Dundas, 416-977-9899.
No less an authority than the New York Times has hailed this lavish hotel dining room's deluxe dim sum as 'maybe the best in North America." Gourmet heralds chef Terrence Chan's pricey Hong Kong card for its 'sense of Hong Kong's new culinary design." Service is as formal as the room - a modern take on art deco oppulence - and the daily dim sum extravaganza unparallelled. Bonus: $35 seven-course lunchtime regional tasting menus. Best: artistically styled dumplings like steamed devil rays stuffed with shrimp, asparagus and sun-dried seafood; pink penguins loaded with peppery shemeji mushroom, shrimp and clear water clam; minced beef ball with watercress; seafood and shark's fin dumpling in concentrated chicken broth; pan-seared turnip cake topped with gooey grated mozzarella; Peking Duck for two or more, crisply fried duckling with slivered green onion and cucumber on thin rice crepes, followed by wok-fried minced bird, Chinese greens and fried noodle wrapped in lettuce leaf. Complete dim sum meals for $50 per person, including all taxes, tip and a pot of green tea. Average dim sum $7. Open for dim sum Monday to Friday 11:30 am to 3 pm, Saturday and Sunday 11 am to 3 pm, á la carte dinner Sunday to Thursday 5:30 to 10:30 pm, Friday and Saturday 5:30 to 11 pm. Licensed. Access: barrier-free. Rating: NNNNN
2 AMBASSADOR CHINESE CUISINE 280 West Beaver Creek, at Hwy 7, 905-731-5570.
Considered one of the GTA's most luxe Sino eateries, this posh suburban outpost may be twice as expensive as similar dim sum spots, but the superior quality is worth the price. No frozen factory-made dumplings these! First-timers will be glad to know that the extensive card is handily illustrated. Bonus: a panoramic view of traffic-clogged Highway 7. Best: pork and mushroom wonton in sharks' fin soup with lotus root; ethereal shrimp har gow in fluted rice paper; minced shrimp and pork siu mai topped with multicoloured fish roe; chopped pink lobster tail in lobster sauce thick with scallion, garlic and black beans; diced Chinese greens and mushroom in steamed bean-curd sheet rolls; grease-free fried turnip cake; delicate steamed barbecue pork bao; seasonal specials like mixed seafood, lychee and scrambled egg white 'martinis"; to finish, steamed coconut layer cake tiered with sweet yellow bean paste. Complete dim sum meals for $25 per person, including all taxes, tip and a pot of estate green tea. Average dim sum $4. Open for dim sum Monday to Friday 11 am to 4 pm, Saturday and Sunday 10 am to 4 pm, á la carte dinner nightly to 11 pm. Licensed. Access: barrier-free. Rating: NNNN
3 PEARL HARBOURFRONT 207 Queens Quay West, at York, 416-203-1233.
See review, right. Rating: NNNN
4 DRAGON DYNASTY 2301 Brimley, at Huntingwood, 416-321-9000.
Located in Agincourt's Chartwell Shopping Centre, this popular suburban wedding venue serves an upwardly mobile clientele - just check out all the late-model Mercedes, Lexii and Range Rovers in the packed parking lot. Midday dim sum gives way to a far pricier seafood-heavy Cantonese menu by night. Warning: the large room becomes almost as crowded as the nearby Metro Zoo by noon, especially on weekends, so come early or fashionably late. Best: lotus leaf stuffed with sticky rice and tender chunks of chicken and pork; translucent made-to-order har gow shrimp and pea-stalk dumplings; fried rice noodle with kale and preserved olive leaf; steamed pork and beef ribs in garlicky black bean sauce; deep-fried crab claw with minced seafood stuffing; to finish, golden tapioca with bean paste and black sesame seed; stewed Snow Frog Cream in fresh coconut milk. Complete dim sum meals for $25 per person, including all taxes, tip and a pot of green tea. Average dim sum $4. Open for daily dim sum 9 am to 4 pm. Reservations not accepted. Licensed. Access: barrier-free. Rating: NNNN
5 RUBY 1571 Sandhurst Circle, at Finch, 416-298-1638.
This 600-seat Cantonese banquet hall in Woodside Square Mall has been serving Agincourt's Asian community since the 80s. As trolleys trawl the aisles stacked with steamers laden with the familiar and the unknown but almost always delicious, captains control the crowds with walkie-talkies. Friendly, helpful servers assist the uninitiated: what may appear to be mandarin oranges with cashews is actually pig's intestines! Bonus: as if the room weren't chaotic enough, karaoke! Best: explosive potstickers overstuffed with pork and Chinese greens, dipped in hot mustard; tempura-battered eggplant wrapped around ground fish, coupled with a tartaresque mayo studded with white grapes and fresh pineapple chunks; oversized wontons in chicken stock swimming with pork, shrimp and black mushrooms; deep-fried tofu stuffed with whole shrimp and splashed with black bean sauce; perfunctory pork shiu mei and shrimp har gow dumplings; to quell the fire, finish with warmingly neutral hot tapioca pudding. Complete dim sum meals for $25 per person, including all taxes, tip and a pot of green tea. Average dim sum $4. Open for dim sum daily 9 am 5 pm, á la carte dinner nightly to midnight. Licensed. Access: barrier-free. Rating: NNN
6 ROL SAN 323 Spadina, at St. Andrew, 416-977-1128.
Chinatown's most popular dim sum destination, this retro Cantonese cantina can get particularly hectic. No wonder servers are grumpy. And don't let them stick you in the front room with the tourists and first-timers. Past an open kitchen, a second more spacious and atmospheric room - think Hong Kong disco - handles the overflow. Warning: count on a wait at the door, especially Saturdays and Sundays. Best: from the dim sum card, pan-fried turnip or scallion pancakes; deep fried battered shrimp with Miracle Whip; multi-textured soup dumplings stuffed with shrimp and mushroom in briny broth; bean-curd skin wrapped around minced pork in oyster sauce; sticky rice in lotus leaf; respectable shrimp har gow; deep-fried shrimp with chive cake; beef short ribs in black bean sauce; from the á la carte menu, steamed live sea bass in black bean sauce; ground pork with Chinese long beans. Complete dim sum meals for $15 per person, including all taxes, tip and a pot of green tea. Average dim sum $2. Open for dim sum daily 9:30 am to 4 pm, á la carte dinner Sunday to Thursday till 4 am, Friday and Saturday till 5 am. Licensed. Access: barrier-free. Rating: NNN
7 YIU WAH 421 Dundas W, third floor, at Huron, 416-979-8833.
Known as 'the one on the south side of Dundas with the carts," this venerable dim sum palace has recently relocated from its original second-floor digs to an even larger room on the third floor. Warning: be prepared for a mob scene, especially at weekday lunch, when prices are deeply discounted. Best: from the carts, lotus-leaf-wrapped bundles of steamed gelatinous short-grain rice strewn with smoky chicken bits; deliciously fatty braised nuggets of pork spareribs coated with slippery cornstarch and black bean sauce; crisp, grease-free spring rolls stuffed with overly tenderized minced pork in an inoffensive cornstarch-thickened gravy; Chicken Rice Noodle Rolls, a terrific trio of rice noodle cylinders plumply stuffed with minced chicken, raw carrot threads, chopped rice vermicelli and Chinese chives. Complete dim sum meals for $15 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 á la carte dinner nightly till 10 pm. Licensed. Access: four steps at door to elevator, washrooms on same floor. Rating: NNN
8 GRACEFUL VEGETARIAN 7131 Kennedy, unit E8, at Steeles, 905-479-8381.
Situated at the northern end of the Markham plaza that's also home to Pacific Mall, this relaxed and elegantly appointed room -- linen on tables, pin-spots overhead, carpet underfoot -- offers one of the GTA's few all-veggie Buddhist dim sum cards. Friendly and helpful servers guide novices through myriad mock meat dishes. Best: faux har gow dumplings stuffed with 'shrimp' and pea-shoots; siu mai that look exactly like the real thing but taste like mushy potstickers; steamed and glazed purple sticky rice wrapped in bamboo leaf and stuffed with a 'meatloaf' of mushroom and tofu; thick-skinned Chiu Chow-style dumplings thick with mock pork and peanuts; steamed Asian eggplant pulp in light ginger soy; to finish, deep-fried salad rolls (think Pop Tarts) loaded with fruit cocktail and pink mango. Complete dim sum meals for $15 per person, including all taxes, tip and a pot of green tea. Average dim sum $2. Open for dim sum daily 10:30 am to 3 pm, á la carte menu till 10:30 pm. Unlicensed. Access: barrier-free. Rating: NNN
9 FORESTVIEW 466-468 Dundas W, at Spadina, 416-597-0319.
Specializing in all-day dim sum, this proletariat second-storey space is also one of Chinatown's busiest. Servers in starched red aprons push carts piled with steamers past communal tables topped with white polypropelene as Christmas lights twinkle overhead. Loud, bustling, dead cheap and often quite tasty. Bonus: delivery nightly after 4 pm. Best: baby cuttlefish in yellow curry oil; loosely wrapped har gow with diced shrimp and egg; sizable Chiu Chow-style Spicy Dumpling with minced chicken, chives and boiled peanuts; mini-packets of sticky rice in lotus leaf with smoked chicken; steamed five-spiced beef meatballs; deep-fried bean-curd wraps stuffed with shredded mushroom, carrot and egg, with clear, sweet sauce; steamed buns thick with caramelized onion and barbecued pork or chicken; to finish, mango pudding and steamed coconut cake. Complete dim sum meals for $15 per person, including all taxes, tip and a pot of green tea. Average dim sum $2. Open for dim sum daily 9 am to 11 pm. Licensed. Delivery. Access: 22 steps at door, washrooms on same floor. Rating: NNN
10 BRIGHT PEARL 346-348 Spadina, at St Andrew, 416-979-3988.
This cavernous second-storey banquet hall in one of the most garish buildings on the avenue offers old-school dim sum served from carts pushed by staff in green aprons. See something you like? Point and it's yours. Bonus: deep dim sum discounts after 1:30 pm weekdays. Warning: come early or reserve unless you want to stand in what seems like an endless queue most weekends. Best: from the dim sum cart, feather-light steamed shrimp siu mai and wonton-wrapped minced pork topped with fish roe; plump pan-fried pork dumplings with sweet dipping sauce; crisply pan-fried squares of smooth daikon and taro cake; steamed rice-noodle wraps stuffed with shrimp; steamed snow pea shoots; steamed beef short ribs in starchy black bean gravy; bundles of sticky rice wrapped in lotus leaf. Complete dim sum meals for $18 per person, including all taxes, tip and a pot of green tea. Average dim sum $3. Open daily for dim sum 9 am to 4 pm, á la carte dinner nightly till 11 pm. Licensed. Access: barrier-free. Rating: NNN