New Canton is jammed at lunch time, so get there early. If you work in the downtown grid, leave your office by 11:30 a.m. The parking lot in front of New Canton usually is full, so try a side street off Broadway. In fact, park on a side street, anyway – it’ll save you time and stress when you leave. During the lunch hour, getting to and out of New Canton is half of the battle. So start early and give yourself plenty of time. The stories of people trying to get a table at New Canton have become part of Sacramento’s urban legend.
The first rule about New Canton is to come hungry. The style is dim sum, which is kind of like a buffet, except that the food comes to your table instead of you going to a serve-yourself line. The servers roam through the restaurant offering an array of goodies – cocoanut shrimp, pot stickers, veggie balls, noodle dishes, meats, sweets, steamed fish, chow fun, you name it – and you take your pick, dish by dish. Each time you make a selection, the tally is updated, and unless you read Chinese, forget trying to keep a running tally. Each time I’ve gone, two people with ravenous appetites filled themselves for under $30 and a threesome did the same for $35. Foodies may quibble with the selection, but what do they know?
If you’ve done dim sum, then you know that the joy of the lunch is in the selection. And the selection is enticing, so no matter how disciplined you are – or think you are – you’ll eat more than you expected. So leave the diet at home, and enjoy the guilt. It makes the meal tastier. It also makes you want to take a deep nap about 3 p.m., which forces me to head to the nearest coffee shop for a caffeine fix. Maybe Starbucks and New Canton are working in tandem.
The atmosphere in New Canton is bustling and noisy and aromatic, with lots of large groups and families at big round tables adding to the din. It’s about the closest thing you’ll find to Hong Kong or Canton in Sacramento. Intimate conversation between two people at a small table is largely impossible because of the noise level, so if you have sensitive ears this may not be the place for you. But if you like sounds and action and exotic dishes, New Canton will become a favorite.
Another oddity: The eating and serving area is on the second floor, so diners take the stairs or elevator up to the large dining room or, really, a banquet hall. The first floor is notable for its tank of fresh fish – this is no aquarium, this is the display of the catch of the day – and if there’s a long line heading upstairs, you can linger at the tank and gaze at the crab and lobsters.
The busiest time is between noon and 1:30 p.m., especially toward the end of the week, and having to wait to get seated is not uncommon. The longest I’ve waited is 15 minutes, although I’ve heard horror stories about people waiting an hour in a line that stretched from the main entrance to the second floor. We’ve never seen that, but like many Sacramento lunch spots, the tables fill quickly. At 11:45, the dining room may be a third full. Fifteen minutes later, its full.
New Canton Restaurant
11 a.m.-10 p.m., Monday-Thursday, Sunday
11:30 a.m. – 10 p.m., Friday-Saturday