The cool thing about starting a new blog is you can write about anything you want as if you haven’t written about it ever before. Clean slate. Today’s topic is one of the most popular places serving soup dumplings, aka xlb, aka, xiao long bao. This of course is Din Tai Fung. If you’ve never heard of it perhaps you should take a peek out of your hobbit hole and enter the world of soup dumplings. They have been around since the 70’s and have branches all over the world. The closest one to us in the bay area is Santa Clara, but for this visit we went to the original one in California located in Arcadia.
People wait over an hour for this restaurant on weekends and whenever a new branch opens, you are sure to be met with much longer wait times. Luckily on this day we went for lunch on a weekday and there wasn’t any line.
They give you a colorful menu with lots of fun pictures so you know what you are getting. It definitely helps if you’ve never gotten certain things before. You then fill out your selection and hand it off to someone.
During prime time hours the kitchen viewing area is all hustle bustle and they pump out xlb like nobody’s business. Since we were coming at a downtime and I snapped this picture at the end of our meal they were concluding lunch service and it wasn’t very impressive.
The original restaurant is pretty small, but the other locations I have visited are much more spacious.
Who doesn’t like cute dumpling characters?
Shortly after you sit they bring out a small sauce dish with ginger. You can make your own dipping sauce with this, typically adding soy sauce, black vinegar, and chili oil.
My mom is always in the mood for smoothies so since she got one I got one too! I opted for the green tea smoothie. It wasn’t too bitter or too sweet. I actually liked it quite a bit and it helped cut through the salt to come.
Mom always gets mango smoothies and hers was nice and tart.
We ordered the regular pork xlb and the snow crab and pork xlb.
Too bad I did not get a picture of the soup inside these guys. They soup here is done very well and it seems to be some of the most consistently done aspect of their xlb that I appreciate. Other places are either too dry, or the soup is just too sweet. Here they achieve a delicate balance of being salty, having enough soup, and coming out piping hot. The regular pork always wins against any other combination for me, but I know plenty others that like the combinations.
We wanted to get one other dumpling so we got the shrimp and pork shao mai. I have to say these were not bad. I probably don’t need to order them every time, but it was nice to get a little bit of shrimp flavor in there to mix things up.
With all this meat we needed to invite Mr. Vegetable to the party. This bowl of vegetable soup also had noodles at the bottom. We welcomed a little crunch in our lives. Surprisingly, I found this bowl of soup to be just as satisfying as a beef noodle soup.
Last we also got some string beans with garlic. This veggie dish they execute very well here. They were super crispy, and almost juicy when you bit into them.
That’s it! I’ve been on a mission to find the best xlb in the states. We’ve found some pretty nice places up here in the bay area that I don’t think are too far off from Din Tai Fung. There were also a few in New York that my cousin Michael and I checked out before that I still dream about. For me the soup is key. If they can get that down and the filling is average or better, I’m in for a happy meal. I recently watched an episode of a new David Chang show on Netflix called Ugly Delicious. That episode focused on Asian dumplings vs. Itlalian dumplings. At times I found myself almost falling off my couch laughing while other parts really appreciating the work that goes into making a dumpling. So do yourself a favor and watch it. It will taste better after.
Since I’m new here, do you have any recommendations for some good soup dumplings?
Din Tai Fung
1108 S. Baldwin Avenue
Arcadia, CA 91007