The Best Chinese Dumplings in Los Angeles

Xiao long bao at Fortune Dumpling | Photo by Dylan Ho

Known in China as the Spring Festival, Chinese New Year is one of the most anticipated and celebrated times of year for Chinese throughout the world. Tradition calls for the gathering of families and friends, which usually leads to the distribution of red envelopes stuffed with cash, firecrackers to ward off evil spirits, endless bouts of bad karaoke, and of course, plenty of eating. The Chinese are deeply superstitious and continuously seek wealth and prosperity in their lives, a symbolism that extends to their cuisine. The dumpling (jiao zi, 餃子) was historically shaped into a gold or silver ingot, which symbolizes wealth in Chinese culture. In China, America and throughout the Chinese diaspora, it is tradition to gather around a table with members of the family to make dumplings during New Year's Eve. The consumption of the "edible ingots" symbolizes the gathering of money and future prosperity.

The dumpling can be made into different forms with different fillings and prepared through pan-frying, deep-frying, boiling and steaming. This list expands into the steamed buns (man tou) / soup dumplings (xiao long bao) category as well, because in America, the definition of a “dumpling” has seemingly expanded to include “any flour wrapper with meat/vegetable filling." The usual suspects in the San Gabriel Valley (SGV) dumpling scene include Luscious Dumpling, Din Tai Fung and Dean Sin World (Mama's Lu, Lu Dumpling House). And while those places do have tasty offerings, the large influx of Mainland Chinese in the area since 2000 has opened up a plethora of amazing dining options, particularly in the xiao chi category (小吃, literally meaning "dim sum" or "little snack"). The constant turnover in the area's kitchens means there's always something new and exciting happening in the SGV. Here’s a selection of the numerous restaurants that are worth checking out, many that will appeal to the most adventurous foodies.

 

Flavor Garden

Pan-fried three flavor dumplings at Flavor Garden | Photo by Dylan Ho

When the Chinese say "three-flavor dumplings" (三 鮮 餃 子), they are referring to a "surf and turf" filling made typically of pork, shrimp and a third ingredient. At Flavor Garden, the mystery ingredient is finely chopped sea cucumber. Speaking of good luck, if you order the three-flavor boiled dumplings, you might be served an off-menu pan-fried version. Order the three-flavor dumplings and request them to be fried.  They are simply awesome and juicy.

Fortune Dumpling

Colored dumplings at Fortune Dumpling | Photo by Dylan Ho

At Fortune Dumpling, your fortune comes in a perplexing array of colored dumplings. They may resemble a new ravioli dish at Buca di Beppo, but the colored dumplings are actually Chinese dumplings with some very unique fillings. The colors correspond to the flavors: green for spinach, orange for carrot and red for red beets. The red dumpling consists of a chicken and goji berry filling that has an amazing bite and flavor to it. The green dumpling is your standard Chinese cabbage filling but with spinach skin. And the orange dumpling, made with seaweed in carrot skin, for some reason actually does taste Italian in a good way.

Xiao long bao at Fortune Dumpling | Photo by Dylan Ho

In addition to the multi-colored dumplings, the xiao long bao at Fortune Dumpling are worth mentioning. The skins are thin, the pork filling has a nice bite to it and the juice is substantial and flavorful. Fortune strikes again when you spend at least $10 here. The xiao long bao are sold for $3.99, versus the $6.50.

How to Eat Xiao Long Bao (one of many ways):

  1. Gently pick up the dumpling by the "head" by using the sides of your chopsticks, not the points, so you don’t puncture the wrapper.
  2. Place it on a flat-bottomed Chinese soup spoon. Raise the spoon to your mouth and take a tiny bite of the wrapper with your teeth, or use your chopsticks to tear a small hole. Let some steam out and even cool it by blowing air into it.
  3. Dip into black Chin Kiang vinegar provided. Usually has slices of ginger in the dish as well.
  4. Pour the juice into your spoon to drink. And consume the entire dumpling.
  5. Eat and savor the wrapper and the meaty filling all in one bite.

Go Go Cafe

Steamed fish dumplings at Go Go Cafe | Photo by Dylan Ho

Little Taipei in Arcadia is well known for being the home of Din Tai Fung, but there are several other dumpling houses worth checking out. The chef at Go Go Cafe offers an impressive list of Mainland "dim sum" such as dumplings, bun and pancakes. When ordering any sort of seafood-based dumpling, you definitely don't want it fried although it can be delicious. Steaming is still the best way to retain flavor. The fish used in the dumplings is probably sole, and it's amazingly moist and flavorful.

Hui Tou Xiang

Double-sided potsticker at Hui Tou Xiang | Photo by Dylan Ho

In Chinese culinary terms, hui tou ( 回 頭 ) means "to return to the pan/wok." At Hui Tou Xiang, this refers to a dumpling that is fried on both sides, not just on one side. The result is a rectangular pork potsticker that bizarrely resembles a Snicker bar. At Hui Tou Xiang, the texture of the double-sided potsticker is nice and crisp, with warm pork-flavored juices filling your mouth. You almost don't need dipping sauce for these dumplings, because they are indeed that delicious.

Xiao long bao at Hui Tou Xiang | Photo by Dylan Ho

Lucky Noodle King

Red chili oil wontons at Lucky Noodle King | Photo by Dylan Ho

I've been a fan of Mr. and Mrs. Ho's Chongqing-style food for many years, since their days at Chuan Yu Noodle Village. At Lucky Noodle King, they make an amazing hot pot with their perfect house-made spicy, mouth-numbing chili sauce. Traditionally, the "red chili oil wonton" dish is prepared by boiling pork-only wontons and served with a heaping spoonful of chili sauce/oil and scallions. Mrs. Ho suggested that I try it Yunnan-style. Instead of inside a bowl, the wontons are served in a clear broth with a whole rice bowl full of the house-made red peppercorn/prickly ash chili. Simply scoop a few wontons into a separate bowl, add your desired amount of chili sauce and add a few scoops of the broth to dilute the sauce. The result is your own mini bowl of "wonton soup." It is unbelievably comforting and tasty.

Shang Ming

Potstickers at Shang Ming | Photo by Dylan Ho

Formerly known as Tasty Garden, Shang Ming serves some of my favorite potstickers. Oblong-shaped and sometimes nearly 6" long, these potstickers have a slightly sticky and crispy wrapper. The technique here is to bite off one end, hold a soup spoon and carefully pour out the pork juice. There are times during the cooking process where pork juice leaks out of the potsticker due to poor wrapping, which results in a nice bonus of a caramelized web of reduced sauce that's stuck to the bottom of the potstickers. For lamb fans, try the lamb version which is tasty, though not as juicy as the pork.

Shanghai Restaurant

Pan-fried buns at Shanghai Restaurant | Photo by Dylan Ho

In addition to xiao long bao, Shanghai is known for its shen jian bao (pan-fried buns), a heftier, meatier and sometimes juicier cousin. At Shanghai Restaurant, the buns are not steamed or pan-fried/steamed but simply cooked in a large skillet with a ton of oil and covered immediately with a large lid. The result is an enjoyable bun that has a slight stickiness to the dough. You can also sample the many other delicious dishes that Shanghai Restaurant has to offer, like the Yellow Croaker with Seaweed dish.

Shanghai No. 1 Seafood Village

Xiao long bao at Shanghai No.1 Seafood Village | Photo by Dylan Ho

Over the last year, xiao long bao were added to a number of dim sum menus. When Shanghai No.1 Seafood Village appeared, I gained a new found respect for Northern Chinese dim sum. At Shanghai No. 1 Seafood Village, the dim sum is stellar. If you want to sample xiao long bao that is closest to the Shanghai/Nanxiang style, you can find it here. The broth in Shanghai-style xiao long bao is much richer and more unctuous than the familiar, lighter xiao long bao broths.

Wang Xing Ji

Soup dumpling at Wang Xing Ji | Photo by Dylan Ho

Never mind the freakishly large xiao long bao, that's as big as a softball and served with a straw. Wang Xing Ji is the place is for Wuxi cuisine, a sweeter version of Chinese food. Upon puncturing the soup dumpling, a golden yellow broth spills out on the spoon - not the usual light brown. It has a sustaining sweetness on the palate due to the usage of yellow rock sugar – the same sugar used for Vietnamese pho. Even alone with just vinegar, it still has a sweet taste. But a little shot of soy sauce for salinity makes this quite unique.

Red chili oil wonton soup at Wang Xing Ji | Photo by Dylan Ho

The red chili oil wonton soup at Wang Xing Ji is very different than what I've had elsewhere. It is served as a soup and it already comes spicy. The shreds of seaweed and eggs are nice. But the dumpling itself has a unique taste. Instead of just pork, the wontons are spiked with small threads of dried scallops for that extra oceanic umami. It's reminiscent of the dried flounder/shrimp shell taste found in Hong Kong-style wontons. These were fun to eat with a little bit of black vinegar.

INFO

Flavor Garden
1269 E. Valley Blvd.
Alhambra, CA 91801
626.284.3549

Fortune Dumpling
500 N. Atlantic Blvd.  Suite 149
Monterey Park, CA 91754
626.293.8181

Go Go Cafe
838 S Baldwin Ave.
Arcadia, CA 91007
626.254.9926

Hui Tou Xiang
704 W Las Tunas Dr. Suite 5
San Gabriel, CA 91776
626.281.9888

Lucky Noodle King
534 E Valley Blvd.
San Gabriel, CA 91776
626.573.5668

Shang Ming Restaurant
301 W Valley Blvd.  Suite 110
San Gabriel, CA 91776
626.282.5953

Shanghai Restaurant
140 W Valley Blvd  # 211
San Gabriel, CA 91776
626.288.0991

Shanghai No. 1 Seafood Village
250 W Valley Blvd.  #M
San Gabriel, CA 91776
626.282.1777

Wang Xing Ji
140 W Valley Blvd.  #211
San Gabriel, CA 91776
626.307.1188