Until now, finding dim sum in Tacoma was about as easy as finding a creperie or Ethiopian restaurant.
Yeah. Good luck with that.
Then a few weeks ago, along came a small sidewalk board in the Lincoln District advertising this: “Lobster House Chinese Restaurant Dim Sum.”
A Chinese dim sum restaurant is ideal in the Lincoln District, a neighborhood crammed with inexpensive ethnic restaurants that fall into the darn-good-hole-in-the-wall category. Lincoln is swarming with Vietnamese restaurants, including my new favorite, Bamboo Grill, and the city’s best pho restaurant, Vien Dong. Lincoln also is home to La Fondita, a taco truck serving about as perfect carnitas as one can find in Tacoma; El Zocalo, a Mexican bakery and torta shop; and Gari of Sushi, serving Osaka-style sushi from chef Kazuya “Kazu” Kamada.
Enter the small, understated dining room of Lobster House Chinese Restaurant at 711 S. 38th St. and you won’t see a server pushing a cart filled with dumplings and steamed pork buns. Nope. This is made-to-order dim sum from a menu. There’s no cart service.
Why no cart? Owner Michael Mac, who also owns the New Hong Kong Dim Sum Restaurant in Seattle’s International District, told me by phone that the health department requires a heated cart to keep the temperature constant, which I confirmed with the Tacoma Pierce County Health Department. A staffer at Lobster House told me the heated cart was too cost-prohibitive for now.
I can hear the cries of blasphemy from dim sum purists who want to eat with their eyes – the typical dim sum protocol of pointing and plucking off a roving cart that offers what’s fresh and hot from the kitchen. Ordering from the menu might steal the fun of a typical point-and-chow dim sum experience, but Lobster House at least covers the dim sum basics with a dozen items that include steamed pork dumplings, steamed pork-filled buns, steamed chicken feet in black bean sauce and beef tripe. Or, for dim sum aficionados, that would be shu mai, cha siu bao, foong jow and ngo ba yip.
Dim sum at Lobster House was inexpensive at $2.75-$3.50 per plate, with three to four pieces per plate or steam basket. Diners can leave full and happy for less than $7-$10.
We ate our way through half the menu on our visit. The wispy, soft wonton wrapper of a shu mai dumpling gave way to a meaty, salty pork ball threaded with scallions and ginger. Soft paper-white bao buns cracked to sweet, pork centers colored brown, the filling more savory than that too-sweet, day-glo orange stuffed bao you might hate as much as I do. Steamed chicken feet aren’t my favorite for texture (too much bone, not enough meat), but the sauce thumped with a garlicky beat. Slippery beef tripe came in a briny, nearly clear broth flecked with thinly sliced sweet carrots. Radish cakes were sticky good – the texture starchy and clingy, the flavor pungent and fishy.
Lobster House lacked the variety of restaurants such as Imperial Garden in Kent (which I believe is our closest South Sound dim sum restaurant) or the regionally known dim sum restaurants in Seattle’s International District or Bellevue. But the weekend dim sum menu is fortified with off-menu specials. During my anonymous visit, a staffer carrying a tray straight from the kitchen offered my party a plate of three rolls. They were football-shaped, lightly fried, sweet rice rolls with a crackly exterior and a divine melt-away center of slow-cooked cubed pork. If you visit on a weekend, just ask for the “football rolls.”
Weekend mornings are prime time for dim sum. It’s served until around lunch at Lobster House, which also offers a Chinese menu with Hong Kong specialties, as well as something challenging to find in Tacoma: hot pot.
I didn’t sample to see whether Lobster House hot pots would rival the hot pots at Tacoma Szechuan – one of the South Sound’s best Chinese restaurants – but I’ll be back to Lobster House to create my own taste-off with Tacoma Szechuan (which actually is not in Tacoma, it’s in Lakewood: 9601 South Tacoma Way, 253-581-0102).
Your turn: I’ve searched the city high and low for dim sum and haven’t found it. Do you know of a hidden treasure off my radar? Comment below, please.
Lobster House Chinese Restaurant
Where: 711 S. 38th St., Tacoma
Hours: Serving lunch and dinner daily. Dim sum is offered from opening until lunchtime, and weekend mornings.
Our pledge to readers: Sue Kidd dines anonymously and all meals are paid for by The News Tribune.
Here are a few menu pictures for reader ha_tamale: