Excellent Cuisine’s Dim Sum Is, Well, Excellent

I will not hear any complaints that “Portland doesn’t have any good Chinese food” until you’ve tried this spot.

By Katherine Chew Hamilton September 19, 2022

Coconut pudding ducks, sesame balls, barbecue pork bao, ham sui gok, oatmeal buns, and salted egg yolk buns from Excellent Cuisine

Growing up, going out for dim sum was the closest thing I knew to a sporting event—requiring waking up early on weekend mornings with stretchy pants on, brain constantly in fight-or-flight mode as we arrived to the restaurant before opening to snag one of the few remaining parking spots, then strategically placed ourselves near the kitchen to get the freshest dishes straight off the carts. Why wait in line for eggs benedict breakfasts when you could eat dozens of dumplings instead?

So imagine my surprise when I rolled up to Excellent Cuisine for the first time—housed in the space formerly belonging to the widely beloved dim sum spot Wong’s King, which closed during the pandemic—and found rows upon rows of empty parking spaces at opening time, 9:30 a.m., on a Saturday, a peak dim sum day. My dim sum dining companion, Nori De Vega of food Instagram page @nomnom_nori, and I walked into the restaurant to find only one other party seated, and one dim sum cart that emerged after about fifteen minutes, slowly making the rounds. 

Excellent Cuisine's ha gow

The first cart, luckily, was loaded with the staples we couldn’t wait to eat. The ha gow was exemplary—a chewy, not-too-thick rice wrapper that cradled a generous amount of bouncy shrimp filling. The siu mai filling was succulent and bursting with umami that leaned more pork-heavy than shrimp, while the wrappers remained al dente. Pair it with the housemade chili paste, a version that’s a cut above most dim sum spots thanks to crisp chile flakes and a hint of Sichuan peppercorn. These two are my litmus test for any dim sum spot—I liked the ha gow more than nearby HK Cafe, though the siu mai is comparable—and truthfully, you could eat a meal of just these dumplings and be happy.

Soon, the tables began filling up with eager dim sum eaters, young and old, and more and more carts began to circle. One of the tables grabbed a dish I’d never seen before—glistening red tubes stuffed with a pink filling—and I immediately flagged down a server to order one, too. Turns out, they were red shrimp rice rolls, and they’re an absolute must-order. The red color doesn’t seem to add anything to the typical silky rice noodle wrapper, but beneath the noodle is a thin, crisp, lacy layer of eggy batter, not unlike the Chinese sticks of fried dough you’d dip in rice porridge. The inside was chock-full of minced shrimp, like an ultra-condensed ha gow. Each layer yielded a different texture and flavor, and two dipping sauces, hoisin and dark soy sauce, provided a choose-your-own adventure of tastes.

The ham sui gok, translated on the menu as deep-fried dumplings with minced pork, was stuffed with green onions rather than the usual mushroom filling, but they’re a solid take on a dim sum classic. The slightly sweet, chewy rice flour exterior developed micro-bubbles of crunch, while the pork inside was saucy and plentiful. But another dim sum classic, the cheung fun (rice noodle rolls) stuffed with shrimp, disappointed. While the rice noodles were delicate and smooth, the whole thing was doused in a soy sauce that leaned too sweet, overpowering the delicate flavor of the shrimp.

The dessert cart rolled by with jiggling ducks made of creamy coconut pudding, which we immediately ordered and devoured after decapitating them first. Aside from the usual suspects like sesame balls and egg tarts, we also found oatmeal-stuffed buns—maybe a little too healthy-tasting for us—and pineapple buns filled with molten liquid salty egg yolk that squirted all over our plates, napkins, and clothes. 

Excellent Cuisine might not be a perfect dim sum spot, but it’s serving solid versions of classics and pushing the envelope with more modern dishes. And how can you say that dim sum culture in Portland is nonexistent, when Excellent Cuisine was packed by 11 a.m.? It just operates on its own laid-back schedule, like the rest of town.