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Here’s a first look at cult favorite Hong Kong dim sum house Tim Ho Wan in Irvine

The internationally renowned dim sum restaurant started in 2009 in Hong Kong and within a year had earned one Michelin star and the reputation as being the cheapest such restaurant on the planet at that time. This is Tim Ho Wan's first restaurant in California.

by Anne Valdespino May 17, 2019, at 3:06 pm | UPDATED: May 17, 2019 at 9:48 pm

Photo courtesy of The Orange County Register

The arrival of cult favorite dim sum house Tim Ho Wan’s first California restaurant started a foodie frenzy during its soft opening then a media stampede when it was announced that founding chefs Mak Kwai Pui and Leung Fai Keung were flying in from Hong Kong to cook at a preview dinner two nights before its grand opening. It was a great start to what should be a hot spot for dim sum: There are no reservations, except for large parties, so you’ll just have to stand in line, or use the Yelp app to get on the wait list and receive a text when your table is ready. Here’s a peek inside the restaurant at Diamond Jamboree in Irvine.

Background: The internationally renowned dim sum restaurant started in 2009 in Hong Kong and within a year had earned one Michelin star and the reputation as being the cheapest such restaurant on the planet at that time. Of course it garnered a cult following and spread throughout Asia and expanded to New York City, Waikiki and Las Vegas.

The look: The 6,006-square-foot space, designed by Hajime Nakajima of South-Bay-based HW Group Inc., is predominately white, light and bright with pops of the signature green Tim Ho Wan hue and red and gold accents. There are 128 seats in all, three private dining rooms and an L-shaped counter in front of the beer taps that seats 12. “Hong Kong was under British rule so it’s a crossroads of East meets West,” said Jeremy Lieberman, Director of Operations for Tim Ho Wan. He pointed out a commissioned painting by a Japanese artist with a Hong Kong skyline and a sampan sailing through the harbor. Look for the restaurant’s name on the ship and its logo elsewhere. Tim Ho Wan means “Add Good Luck” and its logo is a plate with chopsticks and two dragons. A large relief of a bauhinia, Hong Kong’s official flower, dominates the dining room and there’s a shelf filled with tea canisters, hearkening back to the days when tea was sold by the ounce.  The overall look is practical and clean with light wooden chairs, ceramic tile textured floors and open views of the kitchen and service areas.

The menu: This restaurant’s signature dish is baked, not steamed, BBQ Pork Bun (3 for $6) with a sweet and slightly crispy topping that adds an extra bit of texture. It offers many dim sum favorites with special touches such as Siu Mai ($5.80) pork and shrimp dumplings garnished with goji berries, Sticky Rice in Lotus Leaf ($6.80) with chicken and beef and liver sausage and Deep Fried Bean Curd ($5.95) with avocado, shrimp and golden chives that’s exclusive to California.

The drinks: Hot tea selections include House Pu-Erh tea ($1.50) and iced or hot Hong Kong Milk Tea ($3.50). Beer, wine and sake are served, a house sake is coming in a couple months. The Sangria Slush ($8.50), served with a slice of lime is a fruity, not-too-sweet and delicious treat that screams: “Brunch!”

The service: No carts?! Unlike other dim sum restaurants dishes are made to order. It’s about freshness. There will also be a limited menu take-out window, the only one in the chain, and all its offerings have been planned to stay fresh and travel well. The signature pork buns will be available there when it opens in about a week.

The last word: The founding chefs don’t speak much English but they did address the media through an interpreter. “We want to bring authentic Hong Kong dim sum to California,” said Mak Kwai Pui.  And now that Michelin has begun rating California restaurants do they think lightning might strike twice? “We hope so and we will try our best!” said Leung Fai Keung with a smile.

Info: 2700 Alton Parkway, Suite 127-131,  262-888-8828,

Open: The grand opening starts at 5 p.m. Saturday, May 18 with lion dancers and ribbon cutting, dinner service starts at 5:30 p.m. Regular hours: 10 a.m.-2:30 p.m. and 5:30 p.m.-10 p.m. Sunday-Thursday; 10 a.m.-2:30 p.m. and 5:30 p.m.-midnight Friday-Saturday.

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