3202 Sheridan Dr., Amherst, NY 14226
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Amherst Chinese Dim Sum
"In a novelty that shouldn't be taken for granted, Bingo's serves dim sum from 11am to 9 or 10pm every day. Most places - even ones in other cities - offer dim sum only during weekend buffet hours. But they're ideal for off-hour cravings."
If you consider yourself a fan of Chinese food, two little words may change your life if they haven't already: "dim sum," a Cantonese term for "small dishes." In other cities, these special appetizer-sized items are popular enough to fill entire banquet hall-sized restaurants every weekend; now Buffalo and its suburbs have their first dedicated dim sum parlor, a small but tastefully decorated place in Amherst called Bingo's Dim Sum House. Forget General Tso's Chicken, Pork Fried Rice, and Crab Rangoons; Bingo's serves fun, tapas-style plates that match the best versions we've had in mainland China, Hong Kong, or wannabe Chinatowns elsewhere. And did we mention the plates cost only $2.50 to $3.50?
Here's how it works: from the current 33-item menu, each person picks three to five small dishes, generally alternating between steamed, pan-fried, and deep-fried snacks, plus desserts. Most dishes have three or four portions that can be shared or hoarded. Hot tea and ice water are free; soft drinks are cheap. And in a novelty that shouldn't be taken for granted, Bingo's serves dim sum from 11am to 9 or 10pm every day. Most places - even ones in other cities - offer dim sum only during weekend buffet hours. But they're ideal for off-hour cravings. Three or four plates per person are typically enough to sate, five or more will stuff.
The most addictive dish at Bingo's even twists the servers' tongues: ask for "Country Dumplings," even though the menu calls them "Hame Sui Gok." Savory pork hides inside three deep-fried sweet rice balls, switching from crispy to soft, then steamy to meaty. They've been delicious on every one of our many visits, and surprisingly light on grease.
Bingo's offers other dishes of this caliber. One is a Vegetarian Spring Roll with the freshest vegetables and most delicately fried rice paper wrappers you've ever tasted - seriously better than pork- or seafood-filled versions elsewhere. They're great.
Shrimp Dumplings, aka "har gow," are outstanding, made with perfectly translucent but resilient white wrappers and fresh, full-sized shrimp as a filling. Deep-fried Shrimp Balls are also delicious, most often served as hot as can be, and surprisingly savory for something so simple. The secret: Bingo's imports the dim sum from chefs in Manhattan, so the quality and variety eclipse store-bought variations. Vegetarians will be similarly thrilled by six different steamed vegetable dumplings, including a noteworthy shittake-filled Mushroom version.
Six dessert choices include deep-fried Sesame Balls filled with sweet, black paste, and Peanut Puffs, rice balls with smooth peanut butter inside. Each is sweet, wonderful, and a jolt to the jaded palate; the Sesame Balls are smaller than some we've seen elsewhere, but served four to a plate instead of three, and therefore easier to share.
Another don't-miss item: Bubble Tea, a Taiwanese mix of tapioca balls, green tea, and flavored syrup or milk. Other nearby places serve the same drink, but Bingo's version is better - the big, chewy tapioca bubbles are made fresh every day, and taste it. We're partial to the "juicy" blueberry or pineapple versions, but friends have loved the "milky" red bean or almond ones. "Slushie" blended variations are also available.
Service is an issue, but not for the usual reasons. The servers are friendly, even sweet, and the ever-present owner is a charming perfectionist. He's the reason almost every item is made to order, ensuring freshness - and a wait. These days, people line up to eat in the small place, sitting on couches until tables are available. It's a good thing that Bingo's serves dim sum all day and all night, because lunch and dinner times have recently tended to be busy. To accommodate the peak hour crowds it deserves, Bingo's needs three times the space, more employees, and a few charms offered by bigger dim sum parlors: soup and entree options, banquet tables, and maybe tableside cart service. Better restrooms, too.
Are there other issues? Huge, fluffy steamed pork or chicken buns are authentic and tasty, but plain. Steamed Beef Tripe has the gingery essence but not the full body of the scallion and pepper-dressed versions found at, say, Uncle John's Number 1; most carnivores will prefer the small peppery Beef Chops or wet steamed Spare Ribs, which would be great if doubled in quantity. The Pork Soup Dumplings are misnamed on the menu; they are actually Juicy Pork Dumplings, a similar but not identical dish. And the Skewered Fish Balls sound more interesting than they are. The owner obviously knows these issues, and plans to fix them. He's also going to add additional items to the menu - we'd vote for Egg Custard Tarts and Curry Squid. But Bingo's is already ahead of the pack in quality; it's like pushing an A- student to get an A+. By local standards, the place does so much so well.
We're not going to claim to be impartial about this restaurant1 - we've been waiting years for real dim sum in Buffalo, and now that it's here, we actively want to see Bingo's succeed. It's not huge, pretentious or expensive. But it's the real deal. If you love Chinese food, and are interested in trying some of the most popular brunch foods in China - and other major cities across the U.S. - you owe it to yourself to check it out. It's different in a good way; the sort of restaurant that Western New York should be thrilled to have, and welcome with open arms.
1 Prior to today, literally every review of a Western New York restaurant written on Buffalo Chow was conducted anonymously and produced without any cooperation or influence from the restaurant. We haven't sought advertising from restaurants, and have no financial ties to any of them. The only thing that's changed is that we're no longer going to be anonymous; we still adhere to the same high ethical standards, pay for our own meals, and did not work with this restaurant in any way on the content of this review.