A Hong Kong Michelin-Starred Export Arrives in So Cal - Tim Ho Wan (Irvine) Grand Opening [Thoughts + Pics]

#1

One of the more talked-about Dim Sum restaurants from Hong Kong that has earned a Michelin Star, Tim Ho Wan opened in 2009 in Hong Kong and now has over 40+ branches around the world. Today marked the Grand Opening (and arrival) of Tim Ho Wan to Southern California, and the hype was already in overdrive.

There were over 100+ people in line by the opening hour. By 11:00 a.m. the restaurant was fully booked for Lunch (and turned away all subsequent people who tried to walk in)(!). There are no reservations.

They also sold out of Steamed Rice Rolls for the day in 45 minutes(!), saying it was a miscalculation.

And for those that crave Dim Sum for Dinner, which as @J_L has expertly summed - should never be in the same sentence :wink: - Tim Ho Wan only serves Dim Sum (no other menu), so those crazy folks who love Dim Sum for Dinner can enjoy it year round. :open_mouth: :stuck_out_tongue:

The dining room was a madhouse and when they cut off all customers at 11:00 a.m. (they were booked), the last customers had a wait time of 2.5 hours or longer. :expressionless:

Tim Ho Wan offers 5 different Teas (a far cry from Dragon Beaux’s 21 different Premium Teas), along with a “Tim Ho Wan Signature Mango Slushie” and Sangria Slushie(!). We settled on:

Oolong Tea:

This tasted like a very pedestrian Oolong Tea. It lacked any real depth of flavor from a great quality Oolong, but it was fine.

Pan Fried Turnip Cake:

This was very greasy and oily. :frowning: There was a decent crisped edge, and it was a bit thinner / less dense than many L.A. Dim Sum houses, but that greasiness was excessive.

Steamed Shrimp Dumplings (Har Gow):

Medium thick Dumpling skins, fresh-tasting Shrimp. This was very solid, but it tasted no better than most SGV places. On par with Sea Harbour.

Braised Chicken Feet with Abalone Sauce and Peanut:

First, this was very undercooked compared to most Dim Sum Chicken Feet preparations we’ve tried. The Braised Chicken Feet here were very firm, the skin was chewy and the tendon underneath was chewy as well (not soft, not very tender). Also if there was any “Abalone Sauce” it wasn’t found here: It tasted like Soy Sauce. :cry: (Not sure if this is a new trend in Chicken Feet in Hong Kong (@beefnoguy @Google_Gourmet @moonboy403), but it wasn’t very pleasant.

Congee with Pork and Preserved Egg:

This was well-made. Not overly thick, on the thinner side (but not watery), if you like your Congee not overly thickened, then this version is for you. The Pork also tasted fresh (unlike some versions locally that clearly taste like they threw in yesterday’s leftovers).

Steamed Rice with Minced Beef and Pan Fried Egg:

When I saw the words “Minced Beef” and “Rice” I knew I had to order this for @JeetKuneBao to see how it might turn out. :slight_smile: This isn’t like the versions of Minced Beef and Rice that our HK friends have taken us to around the SGV. It’s more like a Steamed Beef Patty (but tender), with a Fried Egg on top. No real gravy either. But eaten together, it was very light, not salty, and a tasty Rice dish to accompany Dim Sum if you felt like it. Not bad.

Deep Fried Shrimp Toast:

A newer creation that isn’t very common on Dim Sum menus locally, this was tasty, but super oily (it’s Deep Fried Bread, with Shrimp on it, how could it not be?). :sweat: 1 small piece felt like it overwhelmed the palate and I had to drink lots of tea afterwards. As a half bite, or if you love Deep Fried Bread type of foods, this is worth ordering.

Steamed Pork Dumplings with Shrimp (Siu Mai):

Presentation-wise, the Dim Sum has been pretty standard. The haphazard look of the Siu Mai (above) didn’t help any impression of “Michelin Star Quality” (whatever that means). Taste-wise?

It’s a much smaller, lighter Siu Mai (Steamed Pork Dumpling) than many places around town. Less Ground Pork, more Shrimp. Not very salty. The Goji Berry on top gave it a slight taste variance. But the Siu Mai at Elite and Sea Harbour are better, and the Scallop Siu Mai from Dragon Beaux blow this away.

Baked BBQ Pork Buns:

Perhaps Tim Ho Wan’s most famous and popular dish is their Baked BBQ Pork Buns. Unlike most places’ version, Tim Ho Wan (Hong Kong) created a version that was crispy on the outside and with a lighter balanced filling on the inside. Hearing @chandavkl wax poetic about it, searching for a facsimile locally made us want to try this dish for a while now. :slight_smile:

Taking a bite…

It is indeed crispy, with a very slight crunch, it arrives piping hot (great), and the Charsiu (BBQ Pork) filling is on the lighter side, finely chopped up, but it’s a bit on the sweeter side. It is pretty tasty, if a touch oily. :slight_smile:

I’ll leave it to our Tim Ho Wan HK experts to chime in and see how it compares to the OG (@beefnoguy @chandavkl @Sgee @J_L @ipsedixit and others), but it was very unique and standout compared to the local Baked BBQ Pork Buns.

Of comparison, while not as completely crisped (around the entire Bun), we found Dragon Beaux’s version of this dish (Baked BBQ Pork Bao) to be superior: It still has a crispy top, but more savory than Tim Ho Wan’s, and less greasy.

Sticky Rice in Lotus Leaf:

It should be noted, Tim Ho Wan’s version of the Dim Sum Sticky Rice in Lotus Leaf arrives as 1 giant serving (as opposed to the smaller 3 or 4 individual piece versions). Portion-wise, it was easily about 3 - 4 of the smaller servings dumped into 1 giant Lotus Leaf package (at $6.80).

No parchment paper wrapping here (joy), but it turned out to be overcooked and dryish. :sob: The Sticky Rice had a good Lotus Leaf infusion and flavor, but was a bit dryer than the other versions of this dish around town.

But the Chicken was totally dry (you can see part of it in the pic above) and overcooked. :frowning: There was a chunk of Chinese Lap Cheong Sausage inside that had a nice zesty-sweet flavor, and they added in Sliced Pork, which feels a bit more unusual, but overall it was a disappointment.

Sweet Taro Cream with Coconut and Sago:

Caveat: I’m a sucker for Taro. This had a good Taro and Coconut flavor in every sip. However, it was strangely very watery (tasting like Taro Water instead of a standout Taro / Coconut Soup Dessert that you might be expecting). Maybe it’s just Tim Ho Wan’s style? It was refreshing (served chilled), but very thin / watery.

Sweet Osmanthus with Goji Berries:

Lightly sweet, refreshing, and nicely jiggling, with little bursts of Goji Berries, this was a very good version of this Dessert (more enjoyable than the fine dining Opal we tried last year).

Steamed Egg Cake:

Looking a bit dark compared to many versions locally, this was the best Dessert we had today: Freshly steamed, piping hot, with a complex, nuanced sweetness (but not overly sweet). It was also light and fluffy and moist. One of the best versions we’ve had in recent memory. :blush:

Service was haphazard and crazy. No one refilled our Tea even once. We had to wave to get any service help. Our plates were never replaced (when it got full or dirty / bones). They also completely forgot about 1 of our dishes and we had to ask multiple times to find out what happened. But we chalk that up to Grand Opening jitters that will hopefully improve. Price-wise, Tim Ho Wan is the most expensive Dim Sum we’ve had in So Cal or San Francisco (it was about ~$38 per person (with leftovers) considering we had no Special Priced dishes (e.g., we ordered no Roast Pork Belly or Roast Duck, Chicken, etc.)).

With the opening of Tim Ho Wan (Irvine), it marks the first So Cal branch of a 1 Michelin Star Dim Sum restaurant from Hong Kong. The overall Dim Sum quality we had ranged from poor to very good. The standouts included the Har Gow, Sweet Osmanthus and Steamed Egg Cake. Their one most unique dish is certainly their famous Baked BBQ Pork Buns. There is nothing like it in So Cal Dim Sum right now.

However, given the overall experience, besides the Baked BBQ Pork Buns (and Steamed Egg Cake), there isn’t anything at Tim Ho Wan that is superior to Sea Harbour or Elite or China Red.

And Dragon Beaux is easily a superior Dim Sum experience above them all for California.

If you’re in Orange County, Tim Ho Wan is probably the best Dim Sum we’ve had in the area (we liked it more than J. Zhou and Capital Seafood (before it closed)), but for L.A. FTC’ers? I don’t think it’s worth the ~2.5 hour drive and current 2 - 3 hour wait times.

Tim Ho Wan (Irvine)
2700 Alton Pkwy.
Irvine, CA 92606
Tel: (262) 888-8828

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#2

Thanks for the early appraisal, as always. I’m gonna think of THW Irvine as a one-trick pony (baked BBQ bun) for now.

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#3

Sounds exactly like the Central HK location with the hits, misses, and wait time. By my 3rd visit, all I got were the bbq pork buns (multiple orders of it, via takeout).

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#4

The shock of the old! Shrimp toast is one of the gross fried items I always tried to talk white-bread types out of ordering.

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#5

@Chowseeker1999 You are a brave soul for trying this opening day. I was in the neighborhood, but was too terrified of the crowds to even try. Thanks for the great recon.

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#6

Great report! Having been to the Tim Ho Wan branches in Hong Kong Central and Manhattan East Village I think a reasonable presumption is that the Irvine baked bbq pork buns would be on a par with the New York branch. On that scale, Hong Kong would be significantly ahead of Dragon Beaux, which is noticeably ahead of the Hong Kong Lounges and Lai Hong Lounge in SF and Pacific Lighthouse (Alameda) which are slightly ahead of Tim Ho Wan Manhattan, which is way ahead of anything in LA since Xiang Yuan Gourmet closed down and stopped serving their green topped buns (which leaves Lunasia off menu, China Red and a slightly different version at Sea Harbour), which are better than Mr. Jiu’s take in SF Chinatown. Got that?

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#7

I visited the OG THW in HK and believe I waited around 1:45 to eat. Thought it was good but not anything better than we can get in SGV. Then more recently, had the chance to visit THW in Melbourne, Australia and thought it was significantly better. Odd, but that’s how I recall.

I would give THW Irvine some time to get their groove together before making a judgement.

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#8

I’ve only been to the one in Manhattan. The BBQ pork bun was good, rest of it was not memorable. It was a one-and-done visit for me - box checked. Doubt I’ll ever visit the OG branch in HK, just too many other more compelling dining options.

@Chowseeker1999 you’re a brave soul to visit Day 1 !!!

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#9

but it’s RIGHT THERE when you get on/off the train to go to the airport. so hard to resist…

(well not the OG branch but…)

#10

Still NO, limited dining window + digestive real estate, need to judiciously indulge. When traveling I get really pissed off when I waste a meal on crappy food.

Presently on a cauliflower diet due to dining out too often :pensive:

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#11

solution is to eat before you get there, snack on some pork buns while you go to the airport, hit up tasty garden for some chowfun while you’re at the airport, before finally getting 1 last bowl of wonton noodles at the b.class lounge.

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#12

:rofl: that’s actually a great plan. BBQ buns only I can handle. They do offer a fine bowl of wonton noodles at HKG!! Especially now that Noodle boy has shuttered - nothing stateside that’s decent.

#13

hah, I had to dig out my HK photos

“line” @ Central location

overcooked egg

b.class wontons

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#14

I prefer https://www.hongkongairport.com/en/shop-dine/dining/ho-hung-kee at arrival area.

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#15

Thanks for the visit/report!!

I think I’ll wait until they have a to-go window for the pork buns

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#16

Seriously that’s the only good thing there but also the steamed browned sugar cake is one of their signatures in Hong Kong.

Overall I’ve never been terribly impressed with the locations in Hong Kong but the prices are really good. I would never pay inflated prices here unless someone drags me down there. At $38/pp I’d rather skip the drive and go to Lunasia or Sea Harbour.

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#17

Mr. Jiu’s shrimp toast, on the other hand …

#18

@Sgee @Ns1
Can you kindly go to the Asia board and look at the latest post on HK recommendations? I am adding some of these suggestions but would love your opinions.

#19

Thanks @J_L. Yah what you’ve surmised and what @Ns1 said is what my friends from Hong Kong told me as well (they just go to Tim Ho Wan in Hong Kong for the BBQ Pork Buns and after doing it a few times, they just stopped going).

#20

Not to minimize the rest of Tim Ho Wan’s Hong Kong menu, though. While not as transcendental as the higher end dim sum places in Hong Kong, I prefer it to anything in Los Angeles. However, it’s clearly a one trick pony in the US as the rest of its dim sum doesn’t even stand out in New York, where the dim sum bar is very low.

1 Like