A busy room, solid dumplings, bad service. That's what I was looking for. Over several weeks, I embarked on a Las Vegas dim sum odyssey, trying as many different little bites from as many different rolling carts at as many Chinese joints as I could find. In the end, things were not different at all. Things were very much the same, especially when we're talking about fried shrimp balls. I wanted a classic dim sum experience, and I found it. Repeatedly.
At Orchids Garden (5485 W. Sahara Ave.), the carts come fast and hard. I had char siu bau (steamed barbecue pork buns), shrimp dumplings, Chinese sausage, pork buns in flaky pastry (char siu sou), shrimp puffs and, of course, fried shrimp balls. The puffs were the best, crispy golden purses with sweet, salty insides. The pork in pastry was devastatingly sweet and buttery. I've heard people swear by Orchids Garden. It was okay.
Ping Pang Pong (in the Gold Coast) was packed. No one seemed to care that I was there. I devoured crispy, juicy chicken wings, then moved on to sesame balls, more fried shrimp balls, shrimp dumplings and pork potstickers. Here, the shrimp balls have a crab claw stuck in them. For fun. Shrimp cakes sat on slabs of green bell pepper in a garlicky, almost gelatinous sauce. Pretty good stuff.
It was time to head to Chinatown. Cathay House (5300 Spring Mountain Road) was not so busy because, traditionally, dim sum closes out around 3 p.m., and we just made it. Here, the dining room is strange, the service is bad and the food is really good, so mission accomplished. I had vegetable and shrimp potstickers, Chinese broccoli, spring rolls and cheong fun—beef-filled rice noodles in a wonderful savory sauce. Whole, head-still-on shrimp, fried crispy with sliced chili and bits of fried garlic, were the best. Couldn't stop eating them, shell and all.
In Chinatown Plaza, at Harbor Palace Seafood (4275 Spring Mountain Road), it was less busy but the people were nice, the service more attentive. I had steamed chicken buns (really great bread), seafood dumplings, more tasty cheong fun and pork shu mai. There were two kinds of fried shrimp balls here, and the ones I tried were coated in crunchy fried wonton strips, offering a nice new texture but little additional flavor.
Finally, I went to Chang's Hong Kong Cuisine (4670 S. Decatur Blvd.) early. It was hard to find the place because its sign changed recently. I sat next to a tank of live lobsters and it was a bit disturbing. I had (sigh) more shrimp balls, shrimp shu mai, fried wontons, lo mai gai (steamed lotus leaf packages filled with sweet rice, pork and chicken) and something I cannot begin to identify but decided to name The Haystacks of High Hell. But Chang's served the best sesame balls yet, hot and crispy and filled with red bean paste.