Where to Eat Great Dumplings from Coast to Coast
Photo By: Phil Design Studio
Photo By: Yvonne Gu
Photo By: Matthew Bacon
Photo By: Mott St.
Photo By: Bridget M. Rehner ©Bridget M. Rehner
Photo By: Stephanie Breijo
Photo By: Marc Piscotty ©2011 Marc Piscotty
Photo By: Hakkasan
Photo By: Chung Chun Hsien c/o Din Tai Fung ©CHUNG CHUN HSIEN
Photo By: Evan Sung
Photo By: Phil Design Studio
Photo By: Kingmond Young Photography
Dumplings from Coast to Coast
Dim sum dumplings — once the sole province of Chinese restaurants — are having their breakthrough moment. From a fifth-generation chef in Philadelphia folding traditional xiao long bao to a Portland food truck steaming up bacon cheeseburger dumplings for passersby, chefs across the country are delighting diners with dim sum and then some. Whether you like your shumai from a Chinatown dive or in a glitzy nightclub, we've tracked down some of the best dumplings to fit your taste and budget.
Photo courtesy of Phil Design Studio
Atlanta: Gu's Bistro
This unassuming family-run place on Buford Highway has been Atlanta's go-to for Szechuan for years. The menu features over 150 items (both mouth-numbing and "Americanized"), but the thing to get is the Zhong-style dumplings topped with a sweet and spicy chili sauce. Both the pork filling and the sauce are family recipes dating back to 1893, and chef Gu and his wife, natives of Szechuan Province, still make the dumplings by hand every day, using skins thick enough to withstand the generous pour of sauce on top. (At $8 for a plate of 12, they're a steal). The Zhong-style dumplings have been so popular that the owners are poised to open a second dumpling-centric offshoot in Krog Street Market in Inman Park.
Photo courtesy of Yvonne Gu
Boston: Blue Ginger
Celebrity chef and cookbook author Ming Tsai has been regaling Bostonians with his brand of East-meets-West cuisine since 1998, when he opened his first restaurant, Blue Ginger. Since then, he's added Blue Dragon to his empire, but no dish encapsulates Tsai's style more than the foie gras shumai served at Blue Ginger. A riff on the classic French pairing of foie gras and Sauternes wine, the open-faced dumplings are stuffed with a foie gras-and-shiitake mousse and served with a caramelized shallot-Sauternes broth. At $16 for three pieces, it's definitely not Chinatown prices, but then again, we're not talking mystery meat either.
Chicago: Mott St.
From the hip open layout to the boldly flavored Asian-fusion mash-ups (General Tsao lamb sweetbreads, anyone?), it's easy to see why chef Edward Kim's casual little sister to his acclaimed Ruxbin has racked up countless awards for best new restaurant in Chicago. Snag a seat at a communal table, order a cocktail (Dashi martini, perhaps?) and settle in with a plate of steamed pork dumplings — pillowy pockets stuffed with pork, ginger and green onion — served with a traditional black vinegar dipping sauce that's been spiked with a housemade sambal. Be sure to follow up with the restaurant's other must-try item: double-fried Everything Wings.
Photo courtesy of Mott St.
Clevelanders have James Beard-nominated chef Jonathon Sawyer (also of Greenhouse Tavern) to thank for bringing the gospel of ramen to Ohio. At Noodlecat, his Public Square paean to New York City's noodle houses, and at his newer walk-up stall in the historic West Side Market, Sawyer offers over 10 different ramen options along with handful of Japanese-American appetizers such as brisket steamed buns. Before slurping down a bowl of his housemade Tokyo-style ramen (get it topped with the buttermilk fried chicken), we recommend you order a plate of his vegetable gyoza, Sawyer's inventive (and vegan) take on the traditional Japanese dumpling, that's stuffed with root vegetables and chickpeas.
Washington, D.C.: The Source
If you're looking for great dumplings inside the Beltway, look no further than Wolfgang Puck's stylish bi-level modern Asian restaurant and bar near the National Mall at the Newseum. Purists might pout, but the Austrian chef is no stranger to Asian-fusion cooking, and running the show is Scott Drewno, a longtime Puck protege who's spent decades studying the art of Chinese cooking. On any given day, Drewno makes anywhere from eight to 12 styles of dumplings, but the most-popular is the crystal garlic chive dumplings. Stuffed with flat garlic chives, Maryland crab and Kurobuta pork, they're steamed and then pan-fried to get a crispy bottom. The dumplings are available in the lounge and in the main dining room at dinner.
Photo courtesy of Stephanie Breijo
Denver: ChoLon Modern Asian Bistro
Denver may be better known for snow bunnies than snow peas, but Chef Lon Symensma (who cut his teeth at Buddakan, Spice Market and Jean Georges Shanghai) is making a name for himself at his modern upscale bistro in the lively LoDo district, where he presents wildly creative Southeast Asian-inspired dishes such as bacon "thrice fried rice" carbonara. He's also managed to turn the traditional Asian soup dumpling on its head. Inspired by the classic French onion soup, Symensma fills his dumplings with sweet caramelized onions, melted Gruyère cheese and a sherry-infused broth that bursts when you bite into them.
Las Vegas: Hakkasan
As the saying goes, when in Las Vegas, go big or go home. The same attitude applies to dining at Hakkasan, the glitzy MGM Grand outpost of the international chain. While headliners like Calvin Harris dominate the nightclub, a refined Cantonese menu keeps high rollers enthralled at the table. To get a taste of everything, order the Hakka steamed dim sum platter, which includes har gow, Chinese chive dumpling, black pepper duck dumpling and scallop shumai. At $28 for six pieces, it isn't cheap, but you'll probably spend more than that in your first 10 minutes at the craps table. The dim sum platter is available at all the Hakkasan locations, including Miami, New York, San Francisco and Beverly Hills.
Photo courtesy of Hakkasan
Los Angeles: Din Tai Fung
The City of Angels has no shortage of great Chinese restaurants — you can get lost in the San Gabriel Valley for days — but ask Angelenos where they get their dumpling fix and the answer is always Din Tai Fung, an internationally acclaimed juggernaut with nearly 70 branches in Asia and five in Southern California (plus two newer locations in Seattle). These sprawling strip-mall joints feature over 13 different kinds of steamed dumplings on the menu, but come here for the xiao long bao. These signature Shanghai-style soup dumplings are each meticulously weighed and closed with at least 18 hand-crimped folds to ensure both an elegant presentation and a sturdy enough pocket to contain the broth while steamed.
Photo courtesy of Din Tai Fung
New York: RedFarm
Say all you want about your favorite Chinatown dive, but in our book, Joe Ng, the executive chef of these twin restaurants in the West Village and on the Upper West Side, is a dumpling savant who turns out over 20,000 dumplings every week. Ng works in the time-honored tradition of the great banquet chefs of Northern China, meticulously crafting dumplings that represent different animals and settings, but at Red Farm he puts his own modern stamp on it. To wit are these Pac Man dumplings, a whimsical twist on the classic har gaw, stuffed with an assortment of shrimp fillings and perfectly symmetrical cut vegetables, that plaintively gaze out with their black sesame-seed eyes.
Photo courtesy of Evan Sung
Philadelphia: Dim Sum Garden
Countless Chinese restaurants make xiao long bao, but not many can claim to be run by the great-great-granddaughter of one of the four people who invented the famous soup dumpling back in 1870 in the village of Nanxiang — that would be ShiZhou Da, chef and owner of Dim Sum Garden in Philadelphia, who learned the technique from her grandfather. A Philly Chinatown fixture for years, Dim Sum Garden recently relocated to larger, fancier digs around the corner, but the dumplings, including the signature Shanghai crabmeat and pork soup dumplings, which are still made by ShiZhou Da herself, are just as delicious. Be sure to also try the kitchen's unique pan-fried pork soup dumplings.
Photo courtesy of Phil Design Studio
Portland: The Dump Truck
Food truck? Check. Cheeky name? Check. Bacon cheeseburger dumpling? Check. At first glance, everything about The Dump Truck seems straight out of Portlandia. But this isn't merely stunt food. The husband and wife behind these mobile dumpling operations lived in China before launching a makeshift business selling dumplings out of a local karaoke bar. Since 2010, the couple has been slinging traditional and Westernized dumplings curbside at food pods on the Westside and Central Eastside. There are four flavors, but the dumpling that launched a thousand blog posts is the Bacon Cheeseburger. Filled with locally sourced ground pork, bacon bits and Tillamook cheese that melts when it steams, it tastes like the real thing, fans insist.
San Francisco: Yank Sing
It isn't the cheapest dumpling palace in town, but Yank Sing is considered one of the best for freshness and execution. The reigning Chinese brunch specialist draws long lines to its twin downtown branches for specialties such as sliced-to-order Peking duck and minced chicken lettuce cups. But the most-popular item is xiao long bao, or Shanghai dumpling, filled with minced Kurobata pork, scallions, ginger and an aromatic broth. The restaurant sells an average of 1,200 pieces on the weekdays and 2,800 pieces on the weekends, and the dumpling even has its own dedicated cart operated by food servers who have been trained in teaching first-time customers the proper way to eat it.
Photo courtesy of Kingmond Young Photography