It’s almost hard to believe now, but back in February 2020 the restaurant Chef Tony in Old Pasadena was poised to become the most impressive new dim sum spot in all of Los Angeles. Namesake chef Tony He (of Sea Harbour fame) had just finished converting the former 800 Degrees space on Colorado Boulevard less than two months before the COVID-19 pandemic derailed the entire dining industry. The colorful, sunny restaurant had high hopes, even in its truncated opening window, as He had previously earned a glowing reputation from the opening Sea Harbour in Rosemead back in 2003. In the intervening years, Sea Harbour has come to be considered among the top Cantonese restaurants in all of greater Los Angeles.
Now, some 18 months later, Chef Tony is back, just a little further east. He has quietly reopened his eponymous restaurant in Arcadia, inside the former location of the first stateside Din Tai Fung, after that massive group moved to a new flagship location in the nearby Westfield Santa Anita mall.
The new Chef Tony restaurant quietly opened in mid-August, and only just announced its arrival on September 18. Sources at the Arcadia restaurant say the Pasadena space hopes to reopen sometime later this year, though the exact date is uncertain; so for now, Tony He’s dim sum can be found in Arcadia.
The newly-renovated dining room packs in about 70 diners, with sleek new furnishings and royal blue accents throughout. The place feels modern and fresh without being too garish or fussy, themes that are equally reflected on the menu, which comes as a dense leatherbound picture booklet of over 60 dishes.
Chef Tony’s offerings are divided into familiar steamed, baked, or fried dim sum sections, though He takes a chef’s touch at seemingly every opportunity. A poached lobster tail salad comes cold with nicely minced ginger and chives, while a textbook barbecue pork dish sports a gentle, sweet glaze above sliced pork belly. Shumai features black truffle, while an aggressive black squid ink har gow comes topped with a touch of gold leaf. Even the spicy shrimp wontons, pulled out of the Sichuan playbook, hit with just a touch of numbing spice. The servers will likely recommend the dessert black bao filled with salted, sweetened egg yolk.
Chef Tony’s huge menu and more buttoned-down dining room will be sure to draw long lines for its all-day service once word gets out. And sure, the space isn’t as central as Old Pasadena, nor does it have the historic interior, but here in Arcadia, there’s no question as to chef He’s ability to make destination-worthy dim sum. There’s even a bright pink specials menu with braised chicken in casserole, Singapore-style stir-fried rice noodles, or deep-fried pigeon, in case the standard dim sum dishes feel too boring.
Chef Tony has already had success in He’s adopted hometown of Vancouver, standing as the smaller format of places like Sea Harbour and Yi Dong in the British Columbia region. Vancouver was a popular landing spot for top-tier Cantonese chefs relocating to Canada after China took over governance of Hong Kong in 1999, and today still sports some of the West Coast’s best Chinese food. But for local eats from a certified dim sum star, it’s all about sneaking off to Arcadia for a taste of Chef Tony’s creations.
At the moment, Chef Tony operates Wednesday to Monday from 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m., closed Tuesdays. No reservations.