Lately it seems Asian restaurants are taking on a form of fusion or serve dishes which are less than authentic. One of the first restaurants to bring truly authentic Chinese cuisine into the mainstream across the United States — and now all over the world — was Din Tai Fung, which continues to grow and bask in well-deserved praise.
If you’ve tried their soup dumplings, which are definitely worth the potential two-hour wait, you need not read any further. If not, you need this in your life. There is no in between. The location at the Americana at Brand in Glendale is nearing its five-year anniversary, and now is as good as any to revisit the popular dumpling house.
Din Tai Fung opened its first restaurant in Taiwan in 1972, attracting so much attention and gaining such popularity that it now has locations in Japan, South Korea, Singapore, China, Indonesia, Malaysia, Australia and Thailand. At The Americana, it is situated off of Caruso Avenue, conveniently located next to Nordstrom’s. If you haven’t been there, the first thing you must do is make your way to the hostess who takes names and cell phone numbers, since it can take a few hours to be seated. In the waiting area, patrons browse the menu (and social media, because, hello, you’re so close to the deliciousness) and begin marking which items they’d like to order as soon as they are assigned a coveted table beyond the glass encasement.
Din Tai Fung is perhaps best known for its soup dumplings, or xiao long bao, which are both extremely difficult to make well and sometimes equally challenging to eat correctly. Fortunately for first-timers, the friendly staff is quick to explain how one should consume the plump beauties: Three parts vinegar, one part soy sauce, break the skin, top with ginger, then enjoy. What makes xiao long bao at Din Tai Fung so unique is that it’s made by hand. The thin skin doesn’t break upon picking it up, and it holds in the delicious soup like a blanket swaddling a newborn — both precious cargo. Each dumpling is made with precisely 18 folds, the magic ratio found through continuous testing, and the method is rumored to take months or even years to perfect.
My dining partner and I were seated within 45 minutes and quickly decided what to order on our first round: Crab and pork xiao long bao ($14), chicken wontons with spicy sauce ($10.50) and noodles with spicy sauce ($9). Having tried the sauce before, we knew it was a must-have. It pairs perfectly with any wonton and has a kick that doesn’t overpower any of the other flavors. The chicken wontons, which were labeled “new,” were not your typical bland chicken menu option. They were juicy and, although less flavorful than the pork, worthwhile.
The crab and pork were packed with flavor using the proper soy sauce and vinegar ratio, as well as on their own. Servers walked briskly around the dining area with towering stacks of bamboo baskets in which the dumplings are steamed, and anticipation quickly built in the few seconds as we wondered whether the delicate treats they carried were headed for us or a fellow patron.
Before we ordered anything else I decided to try their yuzu margarita ($13) made with honey, a unique take on a classic drink. Yuzu has a tarter taste than a traditional margarita, yet when mixed with sweet honey creates a perfect balance. They also serve a variety of green and black teas, including honey, mango, lychee and passion fruit ($4.25). Lemonade and smoothies are also on the menu in similar flavors for $5.
Of their vegetarian options, we settled on a simple vegetarian dumpling. It comes in a green skin, as if to remind you there is no meat inside, but is great whether or not you abide by a vegetarian diet. Is it worth ordering for true carnivores? Probably not, but it’s good to know a flavorful vegetarian wonton is out there that consists of more than cabbage and carrots.
The staff at each location I have visited is always energetic and happy to help guide you through the menu. It was because of them that I felt compelled to try their chocolate mochi xiao long bao ($8) for the first time, and my life has not been the same since. Dumplings are amazing to begin with because of the delicious, doughy skin, and, if pork or crab weren’t enough, one bite of these and the burst of chocolate that melts in your mouth definitely will be. It may have become one of my favorite desserts. The order comes with five dumplings, which can be shared but reasonably acceptable to eat on your own, if you ask me.
Other must-try items include the braised beef noodle soup ($9.75), shrimp and pork shao mai ($7), chicken fried rice with a choice of white rice ($9.50) or brown ($10.50), and shrimp fried noodles ($12). While we saved ourselves for the dumplings, the cucumber salad ($5.25) was both spicy and vegetarian friendly, and the sautéed string beans with garlic ($10.25) were a great starting point for those of us in it for the long haul.
If you haven’t yet braved the long wait for a table, just know that the culinary payoff at Din Tai Fung will make it well worth any inconvenience.
Din Tai Fung
177 Caruso Ave., Glendale | (818) 551-5561 | Westfield Santa Anita
400 S. Baldwin Ave., Arcadia | (626) 446-8588 | 1108 S. Baldwin Ave., Arcadia
(626) 574-7068 | dintaifungusa.com | Alcohol Served/ Major Cards