The lai wong bao (steamed custard bun, $3.45 for three) passed our taste test, with soft bread and a creamy filling. This was good enough that we'd want to eat two if we weren't full.

Chinee like me: dim sum at Ginger & Garlic

This new-ish dim sum spot is a fave with local Chinese
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The weeks leading up to Chinese New Year seem to be when I spend a lot of time with my fellow Hawaii Chinese Dinner Society members. We go to our favorite Chinese restaurants, and seek out delicious new ones as chefs are often restaurant-hopping.

My downtown Chinese lunch experts, Tracy Chan (left) and Jennifer Lieu.

We'd heard that Won Kee's chef, Mr. Lee, had opened Ginger & Garlic, which is where Mei Sum used to be on the corner of Pauahi and Smith. As it turns out, Lee was not just the chef at Won Kee, he had been at Hong Kong Harbor View in Aloha Tower Marketplace about 10 to 15 years ago ... and that was one of my favorite dim sum spots until they closed. So he's got the cred.

Mr. Lee, the chef at Ginger & Garlic.

It's a good sign when you walk into a Chinese restaurant and most of the clientele ranges from the FOBs to deep-rooted Chinese kamaaina. On this day, we were jostling for dim sum with people like real estate developer Van Ko and the entire Luke family (from Hawaii National Bank). We were definitely in good company with veteran dim sum connoisseurs. I'm just going to show you some of the more photogenic highlights, with the dim sum that most people ask about.

Xiao long bao ($3.45 for three).

At first, we turned our noses up at the xiao long bao ($3.45 for three). Where's the black vinegar and the ginger? As it turns out, the ginger is inside the dumpling, so you get all of the familiar XLB flavors in one bite. The wrapper wasn't too thick or too mushy, which is a problem at other Hawaii restaurants ... if anyone serves this at all. This alone helped to catapult Ginger & Garlic's ranking amongst our favorite dim sum spots. Go early to order this, as they apparently run out. 

Mochi rice packets in lotus leaves ($4.95 for two).

Tracy Chan recommended the mochi rice because Ginger & Garlic is one of the few, if only places that includes a salted duck egg yolk in the middle. I have to admit that I didn't get to eat this but it must be good, because there are only two per order and Tracy and Jennifer each took a whole one and snarfed it up without ever offering me a bite. I see how it is.

Half moon ($3.45 for three).

When I saw the carrots and peas in the half moon, it threw me off, but this little move to add color didn't Westernize flavor or texture. The nice thing about it is the chunkiness of the shrimp in the filling.

Har gau, the shrimp dumplings ($3.45 for three).

The har gau here features large, whole shrimp in the filling with a nice, firm pop when you bite it. 

Chicken feet ($3.45 for three).

  For those of you who eat chicken feet, Ginger & Garlic's are fall-off-the-bone tender with a tasty, savory sauce and a nice, subtle spiciness. There's no fighting with bones or joints as you eat these!

The restaurant is on the corner of Smith and Pauahi.

Ginger & Garlic is a legit dim sum spot with good prices. You won't find many items other than the XLB that are more special than other Hawaii restaurants, but this place does it right. If you're looking for gimmicky, super instagrammable dim sum, you can venture outside of Chinatown; if you're looking for a place to take the whole family after a long day of Ching Ming, this restaurant is for you. Don't get me wrong, Fook Lam is still my favorite right now — but the Hawaii Chinese Dinner Society put its stamp of approval on this one.

Ginger & Garlic
1138 Smith St.