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Best of Chicago 2009

Best Dim Sum

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The Reader's Choice: Shui Wah

Let's face it: dim sum in Chicago is nothing to gush over. So searching for the best is less about epiphany than it is a slow process of elimination. Fatal offenses include being detained in a dingy holding pen, wasting your Sunday morning waiting for your number to be called, getting seated on the far side of the dining room so that your dumplings are cold and congealed by the time the cart rolls around, having to eat on top of Hefty bags between pools of chile oil and hoisin sauce, and an indifferent waitstaff that can't be bothered with requests from pesky customers. Which local dim sum purveyor has managed to dodge all of these pitfalls?

The last place standing is Shui Wah. Dim sum is all they do, and they do it daily. There are no extraneous menus, just a paper listing of their small and focused selections, which cover the basic dumplings, buns, rolls, and sweets. The room is small, and it gets crowded on weekends, but service is lighting quick and fairly friendly. They actually ask you what kind of tea you'd like as you sit down, which should be standard practice around town but isn't. And there's no cart service, so everyone to order exactly what he or she wants and get it fried or steamed to order. Spring rolls, chive dumplings, salt-and-pepper squid, shrimp-stuffed eggplant, "baby bones," i.e., beef ribs, in satay sauce, and pan-fried turnip cake are all favorites of mine. No one bite is going to change your life, but everything is consistently above average, and occasionally something is really damn good.  2162 S. Archer, 312-225-8811. —Kristina Meyer

&Our readers' choicePhoenix Restaurant

2131 S. Archer #2, 312-328-0848, chinatownphoenix.com.

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