Lam Kwong Deli and Market
I recently took a somewhat lengthy sabbatical to New York City. About once a week during my time there, I would hop on the J train from Brooklyn and make my way to Chinatown, where I would partake in my favorite ritual: getting my dim sum on.
In a place that can easily become overwhelming with options, I found my favorite dim sum houses among the hole-in-the-wall, grab-and-go type places. Something about getting a six-pack of amazing pork buns for only four bucks makes the feast that much sweeter. Adding to that was the joy of having a large variety of super satisfying Chinese and Mandarin snacks all available for under a buck in NYC, a city that has no mercy when it comes to money. I would often spend $10 and in return, come home with a bag full of goodies from Chinatown that were almost too much for me and my roomie to finish.
When I made my way back home to Sacramento, I totally began to miss my convenient Chinatown food excursions. We have plenty of amazing dim sum places here and even a few really good ones in the general vicinity of the grid. Most, however, are in the dining tradition of having to sit down and take your time. Most, except the beloved Lam Kwong Deli and Market in the Southside Park neighborhood.
Lam Kwong is modestly located on the corner of 12th and U streets, just bordering the outer edges of the grid. The burnt orange building looks like a super immaculate liquor store that doubles as a duplex for residences. If it weren’t for the barely visible neon beer signs in the windows, you would barely even know it was a store open to the public. On weekdays between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m., people quickly pull up to the store and leave just as fast as they came, hauling white bags and styrofoam boxes. Lam Kwong offers much more than the chips and candy and tall cans of cheap beer. They happen to sell some of the best and most convenient dim sum in our area by far.
Owners Yao Li and Mu Li purchased Lam Kwong about four years ago, utilizing the tiny market space to sell their freshly made Chinese delicacies. They have about 10 different ready-to-go dim sum options in store that are made completely in-house daily, all of which cost no more than $1.15 per item.
They tend to alter the dim sum menu varieties depending on the days of the week. Aside from dim sum, they also have rice plates and lunch combo meals that are equally as good and cheap. The food is laid out behind a glass window cafeteria-style, so you can point at what you want, and they bag it up before your eyes. Dining in is barely an option; there is an awkwardly placed plastic table and chair set in the center of the market that almost says, “Well, if you realllllly have to sit here and have no other option …”
The most popular item here is definitely the baked chau siu bao, also known as baked pork buns. The Li family estimates that they sell and distribute somewhere upward of 500 chau siu baos a day. The buns are baked to perfection, with a glistening brown crust. Within the crust, warm and soft dough encases chunks of barbecued pork in a thick glaze that is both sweet and savory.
Almost daily, it is a sure thing that the buns are the first thing to sell out before Lam Kwong closes; they often find themselves packing them by the dozen. At only $1.15 apiece, buying in bulk is always a feasible and tempting option. The buns also come steamed if you prefer that kind of thing. Instead of the golden crust, the exterior is made of soft white dough that peaks at an opening at the top. I have noticed kids from the elementary school right across the street wandering over with their parents to gather pork buns and soft drinks for an after-school snack.
Siu mai, or pork and shrimp dumplings, are also incredibly popular at the market. A translucent, steamed wrapper holds minced meat and various sauces and seasonings. While the pork and seafood dumplings are amazing, my personal favorite are the chive and shrimp dumplings. Ground shrimp and plenty of vibrant green chives burst from its sticky casing, toting an earthy and succulent flavor. Each dumpling will set you back a mere 75 cents apiece.
Plates of chow mein and various proteins are served as lunch combos and bounteously stuffed into styrofoam to-go trays for well under $10. Classic sides such as egg rolls and thick-skinned wontons are also being served up. Despite the full menu, Lam Kwong somehow keeps a low profile with its clean and minimal serving area.
As if this place couldn’t get any better, I must also discuss with you their beer selection. There is nothing like washing down some dim sum with cheap, cold beer. Lam Kwong sells packs of beer starting at $4 and none more expensive than $10. A four-pack of Olympia tall cans will set you back no more than five bucks. Those staple pork buns, coupled with a cold can of Olympia is one of the finest dining combinations in town. Beer varieties include Sierra Nevada, Hamm’s and even a few malt liquors if you’re really trying to get crazy.
Artisanal, gourmet or specialty food is really nice, but I have found that there is nothing quite as satisfying and comforting as something that is 100 percent authentic and modestly presented. Lam Kwong Deli and Market is a family-run business that simply strives to do what they do best: make and sell authentic dim sum in a no-frills atmosphere. The product always sells itself. The food is made on the backbone of generations of tradition, with recipes that have been masterfully honed in order to make great, genuine dim sum. It’s a priceless dining experience.
Lam Kwong Deli and Market is located at 2031 12th Street in Sacramento. Hours are 8 a.m–4 p.m. on weekdays, 8 a.m–2 p.m. on Saturdays and closed on Sundays.