Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Din Tai Fung - World Famous Soup Dumplings (aka XLB)? I think not! (Arcadia)

Outside Din Tai Fung

Din Tai Fung, one of the most famous names in either side of the Pacific when the topic of Xiao Lung Bao (XLB, soup dumplings) is mentioned. I've had it a few times in the two stores in Taipei (which has since expanded to 3 stores), and I was also dragged there a few times to the Arcadia location when I first moved to Southern California. Everytime, my reaction to eating here was a "meh." I was never impressed, but since I never took food pictures then, I figured it was about time to try Din Tai Fung again. I joined Jackie of citynitz and her boyfriend David for some XLB, since it's been awhile since we each had DTF.

"Hey Amigo!" I'm looking at you!

Dining room of the new wing of DTF

Workers wrapping the dumplings

Similar to what Anthony Bourdain had mentioned previously in No Reservations about restaurants in New York City , the Mexicans actually dominated the kitchen at Din Tai Fung, more specifically, the wrapping area. Even though I have no real gripes about this, I personally prefer an Asian person making the XLB, but hey, that's just me. I mean, do you really want to see a Chinese dude making your burrito? Same concept, but ya.....I'm going too deep with this. The new wing of DTF has 2 areas in the dining room, but most importantly, takes out the hour(s) long waits DTF had previously. Now, onto the food...


Beef Noodle Soup (NRM) - $7.50

I'm not sure why I ordered the NRM here, because I recall it wasn't very good when I had it in my previous visit, and at over $7, it's definitely more expensive than most places in the SGV. Not only it was expensive, the bowl was probably 2/3 the size of a bowl of NRM found elsewhere, it just wasn't very good. The noodle had a slight "somen" texture, and the soup was quite bland. In addition, there were probably about 3-4 pieces of beef in the bowl, so we were lucky enough to get piece of beef each. I wouldn't recommend this bowl of NRM to anyone.

Pork Chop Fried Rice - $7.25

I admit, I liked this dish, but don't be fooled by the picture, the portion was pretty tiny. Actually, to stop repeating myself, EVERYTHING at DTF were small. The pork chop was pretty juicy laid over a bed of flavorful egg fried rice. A solid dish, but I wish it was either cheaper or the portion size was bigger.

Juicy Pork/Crab dumplings - $9.25

Juicy Pork Dumplings (XLB) - $7.50

Since we're at Din Tai Fung, how can we not order their soup, or how they have it on their menu, juicy dumplings? We decided on the crab and the regular pork versions to compare. Honestly, I'd avoid ordering the crab juicy dumplings as it's not worth the $2 extra as it lacks any real crab essence, thus tasting similar to the regular pork version. What I do like about the XLB here is their thin skin, which made it really enjoyable to eat, but overall, the flavor was not much better compared to Dean Sin World, Mei Long Village, and various other San Gabriel Valley XLB hotspots. Now, to the million dollar question, was this XLB worth the extra $2-3 compared to other locations? No, it really wasn't. I know this place is world famous, and has attracted millions of Japanese tourists to the streets of Taipei, but I'm just not very impressed.

Stir Fried Rice Cakes, Shanghainese style - $7.25

This was a tasty, but nothing noteworthy. Honestly, I had a better version at Ding's Garden on Valley/San Gabriel the following week, but at $2 dollars less the cost compared to here, and 50% more in terms of portion size.

After eating here, the only conclusion I made was that this was my last visit to this overrated dumpling house. I never understood the lines, I never understood the NY Times article that pimped this place back in 1993, and I never understood all the people I've met previously that raved about the Xiao Lung Bao found here. It was disappointing, to put it nicely. The space is really nice and clean, and definitely a place you could bring your non-Asian friends to for a satisfying meal. I, on the other hand is done with this place. For $15/person, we had to do a 2nd, but much enjoyable dinner at Sin Ba La. Honestly, the other fools can have their DTF, I can just chill at my hole in the wall XLB place and not worry about lines nor do I have to worry about paying $15 for a meal that I wasn't too keen about.

Final Grade
  • Taste: 3 out of 5
  • Decor: 3.5 out of 5
  • Service: 3 out of 5
*Update* I was probably too harsh with Din Tai Fung. I might not like it, but it's probably better than a "2" for taste. I still won't go back though.

Din Tai Fung
1088 S. Baldwin Ave.
Arcadia, CA 91007

Din Tai Fung in Los Angeles


weezermonkey said...

I don't care what you say! I still love it! ;P

Kung Food Panda said...

Sharon: Next time you and Mr. Monkey are in the mood for XLB, I'll take you to my hole in the wall XLB place =)

Great time at dinner tonight!

cocochanelella said...

I came here last summer with the family and the crab XLB are sooo small but I like their skin very translucent and springy. Very expensive cause I could eat 2 on my own.

Evelina said...

Yea, I'm definitely not a fan of this place. Have you been to Giang Nan in Monterey Park? They serve Shanghainese food and their XLB is delicious.

Personally, I like to buy my XLB frozen at, what I like to call, dumpling sweatshops. I know one in Monterey Park that makes it in their house and sells it. They've created quite a network and customer base! Let me know if you want details.

choisauce said...

is evelina talking about dsw? lol which I am now reminded that I havent gone in WEEKS (for shame). we need to make a visit back "home," stinky!

Kung Food Panda said...

coco: I agree with you here. The food honestly is decent here, but for the value, I just can't recommend it.

Evelina: I've been to Giang Nan before, but I heard their XLB came from somewhere else, and not made by them?
The dumpling sweatshop, is it Dean Sean World in the same plaza as Giang Nan, or someplace else? If it's some place else, I'm definitely interested in giving it a try! =)

KFCC: Ya, seriously, last time I didn't go back for 2 months and Lu Ma Ma thought I hated her cooking. LOL

Gastronomer said...

Those are harsh words, Danny. As a fellow frugal Asian, I agree that DTF doesn't offer a whole lot of bang per buck. As a liberal, I must slap you on the wrist for preferring Asian made dumplings to Mexican made ones ;-)

Aaron said...

I've only been to one of the Din Tai Fung locations in Taipei and I agree it's overrated. I didn't realize the Arcadia location had such a nice interior judging by your pictures.
You do seem a bit harsh though

Evelina said...

Yea, actually, Giang Nan doesn't make it in-house. I didn't even think about that. Haha, it's just good.

No, these dumpling sweatshops are run by homemakers. You can't find it in a store. They run it out of their houses.

Email me and I can give you the info. Don't want to get those homemakers in trouble with the health department/IRS


Kung Food Panda said...

Cathy: Ya, I think I was too harsh when I wrote this post last night. The appropriate changes has been made :) I guess I'm just not as liberal as you =P, I'm a hillbilly from Vacaville after all!

Aaron: The Arcadia location used to be fairly old and cramped, but they opened up a new wing a little over a year ago, and it's actually quite nice. It's not as bad as I made it out to be, but it's severly overrated. If you have more time, we should hit up DSW.

Evelina: I have a pretty good idea where the XLB comes from at Giang Nan =)

I'm interested in the dumpling sweatshop. I assume they make dumplings, pan friend dumplings, etc right? I hope it's cheap! =)

Exile Kiss said...

Hi Kung Food Panda,

Nice review. :) I feel about the same as you about DTF.

Kung Food Panda said...

Exile Kiss: Thanks! I don't want to be marked as a "hater" other than hating the Lakers, but DTF just doesn't do it for me....

joanh said...

have never been to the DTF in Arcadia, but the ones in Taipei are solid. though.. the Mexican food here in Taipei is made by Chinese people (mostly) and definitely doesn't taste the same BUT if they were trained by someone and using the right ingredients, I'd totally be all over it!

Kung Food Panda said...

joanh: I've never had Mexican food in TW before, that would be something! I've been to the two Taipei locations and I just think it's good, but nothing special. I guess when I'm back in TW, I prefer the "lu bian tan" or those street stalls. Cheap and good! =)

BTW, thanks for visiting and I love your blog =)

Pandalicious said...

yea, DTF is overpriced. and the NRM sucks. dont ever eat the dan dan mein, it's ever worse. but the shrimp fried rice and spinach are really good.

gill gill said...

same here in malaysia's DTF, nothing to shout about. Nice Blog :)

food je t'aime said...

visit Taiwan this summer and go to Din Tai Fung! please! :) it's amazing.

Kung Food Panda said...

Amy: Some of the dishes are good, but in the end, I don't think it's worth it.

gill gill: Thanks! I'm not sure DTF is worth the hype other than taking some out of town guests for a bite to eat, maybe?

Christina: I've been to the locations in Taipei twice. One at the original store at Yong Kong St. and the other at ZhongXiao (I think). Both time the food was good, but I guess to me, not worth the price/hype. I end up usually at some small shop for XLB. Even here in SGV!