I have long been a fan of Y. Ben House in Chinatown for the following reasons:
-it's cheap. Reallly, really cheap. I've never paid more than $8 a head no matter who I eat with.
-it's huge, so the wait for a table usually isn't terrible
-the food's fine. Not great, but you can get all the standard dishes at a reasonable level of quality
I would save my fancy dim sum splurges for the few times a year I can get down to Koi Palace and shell out $25+ for quality cuisine.
Recently, I discovered Louie's California Cuisine. Better food than Y. Ben House at not much higher price, but the menu had definite hits and misses.
Today, I finally went to Lichee Garden. It was crowded, but the size and decor of the restaurant made it feel a lot more like a place in Los Angeles (translation: less hectic), where I've had the bulk of my dim sum experiences. They had a good mix of the usual items and some surprising and delicious new dishes. Highlights:
-steamed daikon cake: very tender with plenty of dried shrimp and sausage flavor infused throughout
-everything with shrimp: they use big chunks of crunchy shrimp in the shrimp crepes (chang fen) and shrimp dumplings (xia jao, har gow). Shrimp balls rolled in glutinous rice were also great. The best thing about Lichee Garden is that everything is piping hot.
-deep fried taro dumplings: I love these but hardly ever get them because they're usually cold and greasy. These weren't as fresh out of the fryer as I like, but the filling was promising. The center was filled with a hot pork mix and a tiny amount of raw green onion pieces. The crunchy green onion was a refreshing contrast to the rest of the dumpling, and I'm really impressed that they were able to keep it almost raw while the rest of the dumpling was hot. I suspect that if we'd sat closer to the kitchen, this dish would have been a real winner.
-Also noteworthy was the custard-filled steamed buns (lien rong bao), which were piping hot and filled with a generous amount of coconut/egg custard. I loved that the bread to filling ratio leaned heavily towards the filling. So good!
The only miss was the stewed tripe/lung/daikon dish (niu jien). The whole dish was undercooked, and the daikon was so raw it was barely edible. Really too bad, considering the quality of the rest of the meal. Some mango pudding with fresh mango chunks floated by as we were paying our bill, as well as pan-fried daikon cakes, cold jelly fish, stir fried clams, and more. The menu also listed dozens of fried rice and fried noodle dishes at about $6 for a large plate, so we have plenty of things to try next time.
At $9 a head, it's barely more expensive than Y. Ben House for a far superior dining experience