When it comes to soup dumplings in Los Angeles, many opt to flock over to Din Tai Fung over in Arcadia. Hundreds of people make the pilgrimage from the Westside to the Far East just for their holy grail menu item: the xiaolongbao 小籠包 (XLB), which when translated literally, means "little caged bun." But what most don't know is that technically, the Taiwanese chain isn't serving a XLB at all. It's a Nanjing tangbao 南京湯包.
Believe it or not, there is a classification of soup dumplings. A true xiaolongbao, which originates from Shanghai, has a thicker skin and not that much soup. A Nanjing tangbao, like the ones over at Din Tai Fung, are soup-filled dumplings with a very thin skin. And if you're lucky, you might stumble upon a giant variety of dumpling with a leathery exterior that's larger than the average fist and requires a straw to get to the soup inside. That's your crab soup dumpling, or xiehuangtangbao 蟹黃湯包.
All three classifications of soup dumplings originate from the Jiangsu Province, with the exception of Shanghai, which was technically classified under the Jiangsu before it was granted independent municipality status in 1927. It's an eastern coastal province and champion of huaiyang 淮揚菜 cuisine -- a Chinese cooking tradition focused on light flavors, the liberal use of vinegar and utilizes pork, freshwater fish and other seafood such as crab as primary ingredients.
Fortunately for Angelenos, the specifics don't matter much in the States: They all fall under the broad category of soup dumplings. Though Din Tai Fung admittedly still tops our list, we've rounded up some other places so you don't always have battle the long queue to get your soup dumpling fix. Turn the page.
10. Golden Shanghai:
Golden Shanghai is one of the few XLB places that serves their soup dumplings over a wonderfully steamed piece of Napa cabbage. The hallmark of this joint is the price. You get eight wonderfully pump pieces of pork for $4.35. And if you want to upgrade to crab meat, it's just a little over an extra buck ($5.50). 828 W Valley Blvd., Alhambra; 626-588-2284.
Located right next to Luscious Dumpling, Hui Tou Xiang is the dumpling underdog that never seems to get credit where it's due. Though they're constantly entertaining leftover foot traffic from next door, they're solid competition in their own right. The store is known for their hui tou pot stickers, a oblong pan-fried dumpling and a store original, created on a whim by the owners. The name is appropriate: Hui tou means "to return to" in Chinese and that's exactly what the owners want you to do. Scroll further down the menu and you'll spot their xiaolongbaos. They're wrapped with a skin thick enough that it doesn't break on contact and filled with just the right amount of soup to prevent you from burning your tongue. There are two options that come in a set of ten: pork ($6.75) and crab ($6.95). 704 W Las Tunas Dr., San Gabriel; 626-281-9888.
8. ROC Kitchen:
ROC Kitchen is the closest thing you can get to authentic soup dumplings west of the 405. In fact, the dumplings are the star of their menu. Their goal is to strike a balance between the markedly soupy dumplings you'd find in Flushing with the less soupy version at Din Tai Fung. The pricing: eight pieces of pork for $7 and eight pieces of crab-filled versions for $9.25. 2049 Sawtelle Blvd., Los Angeles; 310-235-2089.
7. Mei Long Village:
Mei Long is a Shanghainese eatery with a xiaolongbao that packs in quite a bit of flavor. They're larger than your average soup dumpling and the skin is super thin -- almost translucent. Mei Long XLB's come in a pack of ten and it's a great option for those who prefer more meat to dough. The pricing is $5.95 for the pork and $6.95 for the crab. 301 W Valley Blvd., San Gabriel; 626-284-4769.