DIN TAI FUNG
LOCATION: 177 Caruso Avenue, Glendale, CA 91210
Xiao long bao, or Shanghai soup dumplings, are probably one of my favorite things to eat in Chinese cuisine. For the uninitiated, these dumplings are made with a relatively thin dough wrapper (probably about 1/8″ thick) and filled with a meat mixture, traditionally pork. These dumplings are then steamed, and a broth is released from the meat mixture and encased within the dumpling itself. Due to the precise nature of needing to make sure all of the components are correct to get consistent soup dumplings in both appearance and taste, there are a handful of places in the U.S. that can do it well.
One such place is Din Tai Fung, which has numerous locations internationally as well as within the U.S., notably on the west coast. Over the weekend of my recent business trip out to southern California, I got the opportunity to stop into the Glendale location with my friends Kevin and Emma.
I’ve been to this particular Din Tai Fung location several times in the past, and general advice for seating at this place (and probably other locations as well) is to expect to wait in line. I’ve seen a wait time of anywhere from 30 minutes to 2 hours long. I’ve recently discovered, however, a feature on Yelp that would allow you to place your name on the waiting list ahead of time, which might cut back on your time spent standing around a little bit.
The three of us got really lucky on the particular day that we stopped by, because we only needed to wait about 10 minutes before we got seated. Not sure if it was because we stopped in first thing when they opened, but that definitely took the record for quickest time to get a table. The ordering process itself is pretty straightforward — in addition to your menus, you’re also given a paper listing to mark down the items you’d like before turning it in to a member of the waitstaff.
Our discussion at the table quickly turned to which type of xiao long bao to order. In addition to the classic kurobuta pork soup dumplings, we also tacked on an order of the ones that had both kurobuta pork and snow crab as well as Jidori chicken steamed dumplings. To complement our selection of dumplings, we also got shrimp noodle soup and Jidori chicken fried rice.
In terms of a dining room flow, I thought it was pretty efficient the way the restaurant has things set up. Once you turn in your order form, your waiter will go and print out a ticket that contains everything you requested and set it on the table. As other members of waitstaff start to bring food over to your table, they will cross off the items on the ticket until your total order is complete. One other bonus is that there is a windowed area in the back of the dining room where you can watch members of the kitchen staff as they are preparing the xiao long bao before steaming, which I thought was pretty cool as well.
One by one, our menu dishes began to arrive at the table, starting with the shrimp noodle soup. I can’t say I’m as big of a fan of shrimp normally, so I just had a small sampling of the noodles, a piece of shrimp, and the broth. Everything was pretty well-flavored, and the taste of the shrimp was very much at the forefront, with the accompanying vegetables adding to the broth’s flavor.
But then, it was time for the main event: the xiao long bao. Even just lifting them out of the steamer basket to transfer to your spoon requires a delicate nature, because if you end up tearing the outer dough, you’ve lost all the broth at that point. But the rich umami flavor of the broth is really satisfying, combined with finishing off the dumpling in another bite after sipping the broth out from inside. After having sampled both the pork only and pork/crab mix, I think that I lean slightly in favor of the pork/crab mix soup dumplings. There’s just something about that flavor combination between both the kurobuta pork and snow crab that works so well, which are both very rich flavors on their own. But both types of soup dumplings are still delicious nonetheless, and I’m always glad for the opportunity to have some, especially since I can’t really get them down where I live.
In all of the times I’ve come in to eat at Din Tai Fung, the consistency between the xiao long bao has always remained the same. The look, the flavor, and the quality of each dumpling has been on point. The experience of eating a xiao long bao is something I haven’t found in any other type of cuisine yet, which makes it that much more unique. If you’re an adventurous eater and are looking to step outside of your comfort zone a little bit, these Shanghai soup dumplings are certainly worth the try.
Let’s now take a look at the Din Tai Fung Dish Spotlight. Asterisks (*) below mark my recommended dishes.
And finally, here are my rankings for Din Tai Fung:
Food: 5 / 5
The consistency of the xiao long bao at Din Tai Fung, in taste, quality, and visually, is what helps garner such a high ranking for this section. That is what has made this restaurant such a great place to introduce some of my friends to the Shanghai soup dumplings for the first time. In addition, some of their other rice and noodle dishes that I’ve gotten the chance to sample are also quite delicious as well.
Atmosphere: 4.75 / 5
For this particular restaurant’s layout, I thought that having the large windows up-front brought a lot of natural light into the dining area. Even though there were a lot of tables laid out in the space, they never felt too packed in or anything like that. Bonus points for having the area where you can see the kitchen staff making the xiao long bao, although in other locations, this room is located more towards the front of the restaurant. In this particular case, you’d have to either walk over or be seated in a certain area of the dining room to get a look.
Service: 4.5 / 5
The overall system that the entire restaurant has in place, from the waitlist for getting seated to ordering to food delivery is very efficient. All of the waitstaff that we interacted with throughout the meal were also very courteous.
Price: 4.75 / 5
Even with all of the food that we ordered, the total price came out to right around $25 / person, and we were relatively stuffed. Each order of the dumplings will yield you 10 in a basket, with an average price of about $1.25 – $1.50 per dumpling. It’s certainly a price I’d gladly pay again.