Yes, there is good dim sum on the Westside — these shaggy taro puffs are it

The taro dumplings from Lotus Dim Sum Dumpling House in Santa Monica.
The taro dumplings from Lotus Dim Sum Dumpling House in Santa Monica.
(Jenn Harris / Los Angeles Times)

Here’s where to eat — and what to order — right now.

Fried taro dumplings from Lotus Dim Sum Dumpling House

I spent many Sundays growing up eating wu gok at dim sum parlors all over the San Gabriel Valley. The fried taro puffs may be the most distinct of all dim sum dumplings in both appearance and flavor. Wu gok appear otherworldly, the result of the taro and wheat dough creating a cobweb-like structure when it’s fried. The shaggy exterior sticks straight out, with skinny filaments of crunchy dough that protrude at all angles. It’s Cousin It after sticking a wet finger in a socket.

I used to patiently wait as the Lazy Susan made its way around the table, quickly sticking out an arm to stop the turntable when the golden puffs landed in front of my plate.

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There are no Lazy Susans at the new Lotus Dim Sum Dumpling House in Santa Monica, but there are excellent wu gok, and another deep-fried favorite, ham sui gok, or glutinous rice dumplings with pork.


The wu gok have the signature appearance of a sea creature stranded on Mars. Beneath the crisp shell, the pale purple flesh of the taro is starchy and sweet, wrapped around a middle of minced pork and mushrooms.

The ham sui gok, my mother’s favorite, are small football-shaped dumplings made from chewy rice flour that, when fried, taste like a mochi doughnut. It’s almost completely hollow in the middle, except for a tiny spoonful of minced pork.

Deep-fried dumplings for the win.

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Oxtail stew and a build-your-own banh mi situation at Tet a Tet

The oxtail soup from Tet a Tet
The oxtail soup from Tet a Tet.
(Andre Karimloo / Tet-a-Tet)

A few months back, in the middle of a busy dinner service at Here’s Looking at You in Koreatown, chef Jonathan Whitener called his partner Lien Ta with an epiphany. The two run HLAY and All Day Baby, a café in Silver Lake known for its biscuit sandwiches and smoked meats.

“Oxtail stew, but like pho meets pozole,” he said.

“I was like ‘yes, genius, go,’” Ta said.

Earlier this month, when the two launched Tet a Tet, a dinnertime pop-up restaurant at All Day Baby that combines Ta’s Vietnamese background, Whitener’s Mexican heritage and their combined love of Vietnamese food, the oxtail pho meets pozole made it onto the menu.

The base is a beguiling stock made from beef shins, knuckles and neck bones simmered with spices and brûléed onions. Whitener sears and smokes oxtails, then braises them until tender. They sit like giant boulders in the bowl, intact and perfectly caramelized. The bottom of the dish is lined with kernels of hominy. Floating on top are rounds of pickled jalapeño, a tangle of raw Maui onions and blistered scallion oil.


Like any good pho or pozole, the soup is served with a variety of accouterments: raw bean sprouts, fresh herbs and a cup of salsa macha.

It’s excellent pho with the soul of pozole. The flavors appear in fits and starts, with vivid threads of cinnamon, cardamom, white pepper and ginger running through the broth. Spoon up some hominy, break off a bit of oxtail, season with salsa, slurp and repeat.

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And for the banh mi fans, there’s the Jidori chicken liver pâté, a dish meant to inspire the ultimate sandwich, where the sole protein is copious amounts of luxurious pâté. Whitener’s pâté incorporates emulsified butter and maple syrup with the Jidori chicken liver along with whiskey and onion. Served with a soft baguette from Banh Mi Che Cali, you rip open the bread, spread on a thick layer of pâté, then dress your sandwich with the provided pickled onions, mango jam (mangoes and sugar reduced to a sticky jammy condiment) and lemongrass chile crunch (lemongrass fried with Thai chiles, turmeric, black pepper, white pepper and star anise).

“To me, Vietnamese food and a lot of Latin cuisines have the same kinds of ingredients,” Whitener said. “We were colonized by the same people, the French colonized Mexico and the Vietnamese so these dishes just make sense.”

Dirty chicken from Augie’s on Main

Chef Josiah Citrin's dirty chicken.
Chef Josiah Citrin is building upon one of his most popular Citrin items by launching a casual chicken shop for his “dirty” roast chicken, plus sandwiches, salads and sides. The new venture is named for his son.
(Jeff Couch / Augie’s on Main)

There’s no shortage of fast-casual chicken restaurants in Los Angeles. Kismet Rotisserie revolutionized the genre when it opened in Los Feliz in early 2020. As for chains, there are Zankou Chicken, Boston Market and California Chicken Café. Who remembers Kenny Rogers Roasters? And what about Koo Koo Roo, with that winking rooster logo and friendly staff, both as bright and cheery as the sun?


Augie’s on Main, from Michelin-star chef Josiah Citrin, is the next great fast-casual chicken restaurant, built around the roast chicken he’s been serving at his other restaurants Mélisse and Citrin for years.

“When someone mentions the name Augie’s, it brings so many different feelings to me,” Citrin said on a recent phone call. The restaurant gets its name from Citrin’s late son, Augie. “I just felt like giving great food at a more reasonable price to the city where I grew up.”

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I don’t know that I necessarily agree with the moniker “dirty,” but it is an impressive panoply of flavors and techniques. Jidori chickens are injected with a wet brine, then cooked in a low-temperature oven. Citrin raises the temp to roast, then takes them out and brushes them with a mixture of tamarind, miso, mustard and lemon. Then he crusts the chickens with pulverized panko breadcrumbs, preserved Meyer lemon, confit garlic, Sriracha powder, more dry spices and vinegar powder.

It’s juicy, crispy and messy, incorporating all the best parts of both good fried and roast chicken. Things get dirtier with the addition of the dipping sauces. You can ask for straight-up chicken jus, a charred California salsa (molcajete with aji Amarillo), a green salsa with anchovy or a fermented green chile sauce with cilantro and vinegar.

The name is also a precursor to possible future locations.

“It’s Augie’s on dot dot dot, so that we can have names after any location,” Citrin said.

Here’s to hoping Citrin brings his dirty chicken to a neighborhood near you.

Where to eat

Lotus Dim Sum Dumpling House, 326 Wilshire Blvd., Santa Monica, (424) 380-5500,

Tet a Tet, 3200 Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles, (323) 741-0082,

Augie’s on Main, 2428 Main St., Santa Monica,