When looking for good Chinese food in Southern California, people often point visitors to the San Gabriel Valley area.
The valley is more than an hour east of the coast, which is where I was staying when I recently visited my sister in Marina Del Ray. So it was an inconvenience to go too often to San Gabriel to satisfy our Chinese food cravings.
Only for XLBs
But one day we dedicated the time to visit our aunt, who lives in Arcadia, and until the day arrived, I recommended — often and repeatedly — that we have lunch at Din Tai Fung, the Taiwanese import known for its Shanghai soup dumplings, or xiao lung baos (XLBs).
I was able to try Din Tai Fung’s food when I visited Hong Kong in 2011, but the high-end chain only has three locations in the United States:
- Two locations are in Arcadia, virtually around the corner from each other
- One location is in Bellevue, Wash., on the outskirts of Seattle
Same Menu, Different Outcomes
My aunt, sister, niece and I ordered our favorites when we dine on Northern Chinese food, which for lunch is primarily focused on noodles and dumplings. The offerings were pretty much the same as what I saw in Hong Kong, but preparations and results seemed different.
For example, I wasn’t exactly blown away by the soup dumplings in Hong Kong. They were good, but seemed to lack some finesse. But at this Arcadia location, they were masterfully done. Although they looked like they were quickly thrown into the steamer (probably because of the lunch rush), each one was bursting with delicate broth and delicious filling.
They were so good (10 pieces in one steamer for $7.75) we ordered a second batch later.
Other dishes were just as good, such as the rich braised beef noodle soup ($7.50), which had tender beef with noodles cooked to the right bite. My other favorite, sauced noodles with pickled mustard green and shredded pork ($7.25) was a revelation when I ordered it in Hong Kong.
But at the Arcadia outlet, this bowl of light noodles lacked the brightness and crunch I fell in love with. Still, we ate it all.
Our chicken fried noodles dish ($8) came out with its standard chewy and thick Northern-style noodles tanned by soy sauce – a total comfort dish – and the simple string beans ($8) were fresh and tasty.
The Last Bite
We went to Din Tai Fung (the newer location) a half hour before it opened at 10:30 a.m. on Sunday to make sure we would get seated without a wait. There were other die-hard soup dumpling lovers who were already in line, and as we left more people sat around the entrance waiting to get in.
If you’re a fan of Shanghai soup dumplings, then there’s no excuse for not checking out Din Tai Fung if you’re anywhere near one. The clean surroundings and excellent service supplement an already well-known menu for an enjoyable dining experience.
Din Tai Fung, 1088 S. Baldwin Ave., Arcadia, Calif. (older location is at 1108 Baldwin Ave., and opens a half hour earlier). PH: 626.574.7068. Open weekdays, 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m.; Saturday, 10 a.m. to 9:30 p.m.; and Sunday, 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. No reservations. Major credit cards accepted. www.dintaifungusa.com
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