Din Tai Fung Dumpling House has branches in Taipei, Japan, and Los Angeles (actually Arcadia). I have only been to the Arcadia branch.
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Din Tai Fung Dumpling House
1108 South Baldwin Avenue
Arcadia, California 91006
Open Daily * Lunch 11AM 2:30PM * Dinner 5PM 9:30PM (Sunday 9:00PM)
Several of the customers I spoke with say the Arcadia branch is not as good as the one in Taipei, but on further questioning they admit to driving 50 miles or more, and these are the only good dumplings in the US. For the rest of us these are the best Chinese style dumplings we are likely to taste.
The process starts with bags of freshly milled flour. I was there the day a truck was delivering dozens of 100 lb sacks of flour. On weekends there are a dozen men clad in white making dumplings in a small immaculate room with big glass windows. On weekdays there are fewer dumpling makers. The men who roll the dough (by hand) look like body builders with very well developed shoulders and arms. You can see this is very hard work, as stiff dough is the secret to making great dumplings.
Long round strips of dough are passed off to another crew of men who form the dumplings into exquisite little packages. The highest form of this art is the small dumplings with soup ($8). These are tiny soup filled dumplings that are served with a bowl of clear chicken soup. You can poke at them with your chopsticks, but the little buggers wont leak. It is amazing how the dough holds. These are only available weekends, but come early as they sell out in the first few hours.
The dumplings are placed in a round stainless steel vessel, and these are stacked five high over a heated water bath the size of a house door. After a few minutes of steaming, the dumplings are rushed to your table. Din Tai Fung proudly displays its well-deserved LA County A cleanliness rating on the kitchen window.
The quality control is pretty amazing. Each type of dumpling is folded in a different style. Dumplings come ten to an order, and each one is identical in size and number of folds. Some dumplings are crescent shape. Others are like little sacks that look as though a draw string is gathering the material at the top. The wonton in the wonton soup ($4.50) includes a little loop so you can easily pickup the wonton with your chop sticks.
Even though many of the dishes contain pork, this is low fat cooking as everything is steamed, and nothing is fried. There are no pot stickers. If you want a delicious no fat choice, try the vegetarian dumpling ($6). It contains some sort of chopped spinach substance with a bit of cracked wheat giving it an interesting texture. It is one of the best tasting guilt-free dishes I have ever tried.
The shiaomai are another interesting variation on the basic dumpling. I tried the shrimp and pork shiaomai ($8). These are shaped like little bottles with the shrimp as the stopper.
The house chicken noodle soup ($6) is also low fat. It is served with pieces of chicken with the bone in. I gather this confuses many non-Chinese because the waitress will warn you about the bones. If you have ever wondered why Chinese insist on fresh killed chicken, this soup will make you a believer. Western style chicken soup is loaded with vegetables, salt and frequently garlic. You cant tell if the chicken has been sitting in a refrigerator for a week. Chinese chicken soup is just chicken and a little bit of salt. You can taste that the chicken at Din Tai Fung is fresh.
Din Tai Fung serves two kinds of fried rice: pork ($4.50) and shrimp ($5.50). Their interpretation of fried rice involves a lot less oil than any other fried rice I have tasted. The result is a fragrant dish that carries the spices rather than the usual oil smell that is commonly associated with fried rice. When I first started going to Din Tai Fung, Id order several different kinds of dumplings just so I could try them all. Now I frequently have one order of dumplings and the fried rice to make a filling meal.
There is always a line of people waiting for a table, but the line moves quickly, and there is an interesting store next door worth browsing. You will be given a number and a clipboard with menu choices in Chinese and English. Dishes will start to arrive instantly. You might try the entry labeled appetizer ($2.50). This was an attractive pile of thinly sliced seaweed, glass noodles, bean sprouts, and some sort of chicken or pork pate. It looked like something from one of those expensive yuppie restaurants, but it was delicious.
Even though I have been there many times, Im still not sure how well the waitresses speak English. They seem to chat in Chinese with customers, but English seems to be only understood as necessary. There is no alcohol served, and a sign warns you not to attempt to bring it on premises. This is not a place to linger long at the table. There is always a line outside, and your dishes will be picked up promptly and your bill totaled as soon as you appear to be getting full.
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