Awhile back during the holidays, I had my hands on some wheels. And while I typically would go far searching for ramen, this time I was craving xiao lung bao, the delicious juicy Chinese soup dumplings.
And when searching for XLBs, it makes it easy when a restaurant has it right in its name. Someone recommended Xiao Long Bao Kitchen in South San Francisco, saying it had the best xiao lung bao in the Bay Area. (Note that I’m going with spelling xiao lung bao with a “u” instead of an “o.” Either one is correct, but I just see the lung spelling more often.)
In Old Downtown
The restaurant is right in the heart of downtown South San Francisco on Grand Avenue. Luckily, during the holidays, metered parking was free so that was a plus.
Xiao Long Bao Kitchen is your typical neighborhood Chinese restaurant with dark wood paneling, Chinese written specials scribbled on paper on the wall, and gold-and-red lucky decorations sprinkled around. When I went for a late lunch, there were only a few tables of diners, so it had a quiet, old-time vibe. It’s the kind of place where you would see those old Chinese men just hanging out sipping tea and telling stories.
While the menu is several pages long, with several Northern Chinese specialties (think lots of meat dishes), I went straight to ordering the xiao lung bao. While there were crab and pork dumplings ($8.95), I wanted to get the basic to see how they made the most simple of XLB.
My order of xiao lung bao ($6.95) came out in a steamer, with eight dumplings looking nicely formed. They were filled simply with pork and encased in the soup. I felt the wrapper was nice and thin, but may have been overcooked because it was really sticky. And while the broth was nice, the pork filling seemed dense, and the meat didn’t taste necessarily special.
Another favorite Northern-style dish I always get is pork with preserved vegetables; this time I got it as soup noodles ($6.95). The steaming bowl was big and the vegetables looked bright and green, but it was a sad bowl of overcooked noodles (think spongey) and the pork and vegetables lacked flavor.
The Last Bite
Xiao Long Bao Kitchen makes a decent version of xiao lung bao, but they didn’t seem enticing enough to drive away from San Francisco to go south for XLBs. Maybe the meat dishes are more tasty, but the soup noodles I tried didn’t give me much confidence in trying my luck – or wasting more gas.
Xiao Long Bao Kitchen, 331 Grand Ave., South San Francisco. PH: 650.589.8188. Opened daily for lunch and dinner, except Tuesday. Reservations, major credit cards accepted.