On Tucson's south side, Sushi Lounge has been serving up delicious, made-from-scratch dim sum for years. 

Tucson’s south side is known for having the best of the best when it comes to Mexican food.

Enchiladas from Mi Nidito, birria tacos from Rollies and cheese crisps from El Torero have captured customers’ hearts and taste buds for years, solidifying the fact that the south side is the real deal when it comes to iconic eateries.

Not only can you get grade-A Mexican food on the south side, it’s also where you can get some of the only dim sum in town.

Across from the rodeo grounds is Sushi Lounge, a family-owned restaurant that’s been serving up a fusion of different Asian cuisines for a little over a decade. But don’t let the name fool you, their made-from-scratch dim sum leaves customers coming back for more.

Originally from Hong Kong, Rachel Liu and her family have plenty of experience in the restaurant industry. Her grandfather worked as a chef in China and her mother owned a restaurant in Hong Kong.

The family eventually moved to Tucson to be near the University of Arizona, where Rachel got a part-time job at a Japanese restaurant, learning the ins and outs of making sushi.

The Lius’ passion and love for cooking eventually inspired them to open a sushi restaurant in Tucson. In 2012, Sushi Lounge, located at 4802 S. Sixth Ave., officially opened for business, bringing dishes with different Asian flavors to the south side.

“It's mainly only sushi, but we kind of want to create like a fusion, like an Asian fusion restaurant,” Rachel said. “Especially since the south side of Tucson doesn't have a lot of Asian restaurants.”

About three years after opening Sushi Lounge, the Lius decided it was time to expand the menu. Their love for dim sum along with the lack of it in local Chinese restaurants inspired them to throw their hat in the ring.

For those who may be unfamiliar, dim sim is a variety of small Chinese appetizers that can be shared with the whole table. Baskets with 3-4 pieces of bao buns, dumplings and sesame balls cover the table while you get to chow down on these light bites before getting your entrée.

What makes Sushi Lounge’s dim sum so special is that everything is made from scratch. Rachel is in charge of the dim sum — and she has to make frequent grocery stops to ensure they have enough fresh ingredients each day.

Preparing the pork and making the doughs for bao buns, pineapple buns and egg tarts are just a few of the steps Rachel takes when preparing dim sum. The dim sum is made to order and after about 20 minutes, you’ll get to enjoy your fresh appetizers, transporting you to China with every bite.

A dim sum favorite at Sushi Lounge is their barbecue pork bao buns. 

Before I knew it, bowls of shrimp har gow, pork shui mai, pork soup dumplings and sesame balls were spread out on my table. As I made my way through each dish, every bite exceeded my expectations. The fillings were jam-packed with flavor, the pork was cooked to perfection and the dumpling dough was tender — no sogginess was found here.

What really blew my mind were the barbecue pork bao buns, pineapple pastry buns and the egg custard buns.

The bao buns are my absolute favorite. The soft, bouncy outside paired with the sweet barbecue pork hits the spot every time, and Sushi Lounge’s buns put a smile on my face as soon as I took my first bite. It was like biting into a cloud; their dough is fluffy and subtly sweet. But then you get a taste of the tangy barbecue pork, adding the perfect contrast to the spongy outside.

The egg custard buns are made with a filling that includes egg yolk. They taste slightly sweet.

When I saw the egg custard buns, I was a bit hesitant. I am not a fan of eggs, but I blocked the fears out and took a big bite.

They did the impossible — they made me actually like egg! The filling is made with egg yolk and has a semi-creamy texture. The slightly sweet taste complements the fluffy bun. The egg custard buns were a nice variation from the other savory appetizers.

Lastly, I was a huge fan of the pineapple pastry buns. Rachel and her family make the bread fresh, so the dish is warm and soft, and the pineapple topping adds a fruity taste. They remind me of conchas, which is probably why I love it so much.

The pineapple pastry buns are made fresh and typically filled with a sweet custard. 

The key to Sushi Lounge's tasty dim sum is the heart that the Liu family puts into each dish. If something isn’t going right, they will stop to figure out what went wrong, ensuring that customers only get the best of the best. You can taste their passion for cooking in their food, making you feel like part of the family as soon as you step into the restaurant.

“Once you try it, you’ll love it,” Rachel said.


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Jamie Donnelly is the food writer for #ThisIsTucson. Contact her via e-mail at jdonnelly@tucson.com