Dear Mr. Gold:
What’s the next step up for fans of Din Tai Fung? I’m taking some friends out Saturday and they are die-hard dumpling fans.
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If by next step, you mean splendid doughy Chinese things in addition to dumplings, you could try 101 Noodle Express in Alhambra, where the beef roll built on Chinese pancakes is splendid, and the rustic, vegetable-stuffed steamed dumplings are very good, if the furthest thing from refined. The Shandong-style dumplings at Noodle House in Temple City are fine, slightly inflected toward the Korean taste. The seafood dumplings at Kingburg Kitchen in San Gabriel certainly have their fans, as do the delicate pot stickers at Luscious Dumplings across the street. I like the slightly chewy dumplings with shrimp and sea cucumber at Dumpling 10053 on Garvey Avenue in El Monte.
But if you are looking for further explorations of the xiao long bao, or XLB, the juicy steamed dumplings for which Din Tai Fung is famous, you might try the slightly more soulful renditions at Giang Nan in Monterey Park, which supplements full Shanghai menus with wonderful XLB, which become the counterpoint to big dinners of braised fish tail, lion’s-head meatballs and fish fried in a seaweed batter. Soft, luscious XLB are a specialty at Shanghai Mini Town in San Gabriel, which you can sample on a Saturday afternoon while waiting in line for the fried Vietnamese spring rolls at Golden Deli in the same mall. But for the full XLB blowout, you might want to check out the mall at 301 West Valley Boulevard. in San Gabriel, which boasts not one but three XLB of note, the sturdy ones at J&J (which have many fans, not including me), Dragon Mark, which is incredibly cheap and open very late, and the estimable Mei Long Village, which also happens to be the best Shanghai-style restaurant in the area — at least after the local branch of Green Village closed last year.