First We Feast: 10 Favorite Chinese Dumplings in Los Angeles

All photos by Clarissa Wei, unless noted otherwise 

All photos by Clarissa Wei, unless noted otherwise 

First We Feast:
From pierogis to samosas, dumplings are a universal dish, embraced by cultures around the globe. But no one values the seemingly endless variations of texture, size, and fillings quite like the Chinese.

In fact, the earliest recording of the dish can be traced back to the Eastern Han Dynasty (25 AD-220 AD) in China. The legend states that a man noticed that peoples’ ears were suffering from frost bite. He decided to make a dish in the shape of an ear to cure the cold—hence its current iteration. The first dumplings had lamb, chili, and herbs inside, and their soothing qualities quickly gained currency across the country.

Due to mass immigration waves, Los Angeles has continued to carry the torch for Chinese dumpling tradition. What sets the dumpling culture apart here is sheer variety—you can fine representatives from Shanghai, Beijing, Jiangsu, Tianjin, and beyond. There are even variations that were invented in Los Angeles, like the hui tou potsticker. If you’re going to judge the merits of Los Angeles’ Chinese cuisine, dumplings are a good place to start.

Broken down by region, here are First We Feast‘s 10 essential dumplings to understanding L.A.’s varied repertoire.

1. GIANT SOUP DUMPLING AT WANG XING JI

giantsoupdumpling Our 10 Favorite Chinese Dumplings in Los Angeles

Address and phone: 140 W Valley Blvd, San Gabriel (626-307-1188)
Website: N/A
Region: Jiangsu

Wang Xing Ji (also known as Juicy Dumplings) makes food inspired from Wuxi in the Jiangsu province. Known affectionately throughout the country as the Land of Fish and Rice, the region is know for dumplings that are sweeter and commonly stuffed with fresh, pulverized crab because an abundance of crustaceans during certain months of the year. Wang Xing Ji is a soup dumpling specialist known for its softball-sized dumplings that require a boba straw to extract the liquid.

2. BEIJING PIE AT BEIJING PIE HOUSE

meatpie Our 10 Favorite Chinese Dumplings in Los Angeles

Address and phone: 846 E Garvey Ave, Monterey Park (626-288-3818)
Website: N/A
Region: Beijing

The dumpling in question is called a xian bing—a pan-fried disc stuffed with heavily spiced pork and assorted aromatics. This is a Beijing meat pie and is arguably the most addictive stand-alone dish in greater Los Angeles area. Pies come flying out of the kitchen in plates of four. Pair the dish with their cucumber salad, and if you have a hankering for more carbs, Pie House does wonderful zhajiang noodles—cold noodles with thin cuts of cucumber and a dollop of fermented soy beans.

3. SICHUAN WONTON AT CHENGDU TASTE

wontonchili Our 10 Favorite Chinese Dumplings in Los Angeles

Address and phone: 828 W Valley Blvd, Alhambra (626-588-2284)
Website: N/A
Region: Sichuan

The Sichuan wonton is called hong you chao shou. Hong you means red chili oil, and chao shou means ”folded hands,” a reference to how the dumpling is formed, and how—during the cold months in Sichuan—folks would fold their hands across their chest for warmth. The wonton is usually served as an appetizer and the skin is delicate—bordering on translucent. Chengdu Taste, the Sichuanese king of Los Angeles, undoubtedly serves the best rendition in town. It’s stuffed with ground pork, and served over with a light chili oil infused with the potent Sichuan peppercorn—a notorious spice known for its lip-numbing after-effect.

4. SHENJIANBAO AT EMPEROR NOODLE

shenjiangbao Our 10 Favorite Chinese Dumplings in Los Angeles

Address and phone: 800 W Las Tunas Dr, San Gabriel (626-281-2777)
Website: N/A
Region: Shanghai

While Emperor Noodle is marketed as a noodle joint, their specialty is really the shenjianbao. Invented in the 1920s in Shanghai, the shenjianbao has become an iconic breakfast snack of the region, usually served outdoors on street carts. Stuffed with pork, it has a thicker skin than most dumplings. It is first steamed in a huge bamboo steamer and then pan-fried on the bottom before getting a sprinkling of sesame seeds.

5. WONTON NOODLE SOUP AT SAM WOO

wontonnoodle Our 10 Favorite Chinese Dumplings in Los Angeles

Address and phone: 937 E Las Tunas Dr, San Gabriel (626-286-3118)
Website: N/A
Region: Guangdong and Hong Kong

Fragrance is the key to a good wonton noodle soup, and the fortified broth from Sam Woo—an institution that has been open for over three decades—takes days to make. You can ask them to throw a piece of roast duck on top if you’re extra hungry, but the dish by itself is enough to satisfy. The wonton, stuffed with pork and shrimp, is served with egg noodles imported straight from Hong Kong.

6. CRYSTAL SHRIMP DUMPLING AT LUNASIA DIM SUM HOUSE

lunasia4hagow Our 10 Favorite Chinese Dumplings in Los Angeles

Address and phone: 239 E Colorado Blvd, Pasadena (626-793-8822)
Website: lunasiadimsumhouse.com
Region: Guangdong and Hong Kong

It is said that the xiajiao, or har gow (in Cantonese), makes or breaks a dim-sum chef. Traditionally, a har gow is supposed to have ten or more pleats. The wrapper is made with wheat and tapioca and worked until it becomes translucent. Lunasia’s version is epic—they manage to tuck in at least three large pieces of shrimp without breaking the chewy, delicate wrapper. We recommend dipping this in sweet soy sauce, mustard, or sambal chili.  (Photo:The Minty Musing)

7. THE RETURN DUMPLING AT HUI TOU XIANG

huitou Our 10 Favorite Chinese Dumplings in Los Angeles

Address and phone: 704 W Las Tunas Dr, San Gabriel (626-281-9888)
Website: huitouxiang.com
Region: California

Hui Tou Xiang takes the guo tie, a traditional potsticker, usually oblong in shape, and sealed both sides. They call it the hui tou—which means “to return” in Mandarin—to symbolize their desire for customers to return. The dish is pan-fried on all sides and meticulously fried to a juicy crisp. A single order will get you eight pot stickers. Be sure to pair it with chili sauce. (Photo:Hui Tou Xiang)

8. GLUTEN-FREE DUMPLINGS FROM PEKING TAVERN

glutenfreedumpling Our 10 Favorite Chinese Dumplings in Los Angeles

Address and phone: 806 S Spring St, Los Angeles (213-988-8308)
Website: tooguapo.com
Region: California

Dumplings are extremely difficult to make gluten-free, but the owners of Peking Tavern knew that if they wanted to open a dumpling house in the heart of Downtown, they needed to appeal to Angelenos’ finicky eating habits. Months of recipe testing paid off: You can barely taste the difference (though the gluten-free variations are a little bit gummier). We recommend getting them pan-fried and stuffed with beef. Pairing them with a small shot of the Chinese spirit baijiu. (Photo: Peking Tavern)

9. SWEET GLUTINOUS RICE BALLS AT EMPEROR NOODLE

tangyuan Our 10 Favorite Chinese Dumplings in Los Angeles

Address and phone: 800 W Las Tunas Dr, San Gabriel (626-281-2777)
Website: N/A
Region: All over China

These sweet rice balls (tang yuan in Southern China, yuan xiao in Northern China) are traditionally stuffed with sesame paste or ground peanuts. It’s a common dish on the 15th day of the Lunar New Year. The roundness of the rice ball is indicative of a complete circle of harmony within the family. Emperor Noodle in San Gabriel serves a beautiful version spiked with sweet rice wine and dried osmanthus flowers.

10. TIANJIN BAO AT TASTY NOODLE HOUSE

tianjinbun Our 10 Favorite Chinese Dumplings in Los Angeles

Address and phone: 827 W Las Tunas Dr, San Gabriel (626-284-8898)
Website: N/A
Region: Tianjin

Tianjin is a coastal city in northern China known for an abundance of seafood and dough. The Tianjin bao is a thick doughy bun, made with yeast so that it rises slightly. The remarkable quality about this dumpling is that it’s able to hold quite a bit of juice without turning soggy. Each bun fits perfectly in the palm of the hand. Pair it with a dash of black vinegar for an extra kick.

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