Dumpling alert: Din Tai Fung to the Seattle area


Note (11/22/10): Din Tai Fung has opened. Please read my challenging update.

A friend with Eastside restaurant knowledge told me first, and then a representative from the restaurant just confirmed it: Din Tai Fung (famous for its xiao long bao, pictured to the right, courtesy of Din Tai Fung) is apparently coming to the Seattle area.

Knowing the food scene here, knowledge of Din Tai Fung’s arrival will be cause for every food lover in Seattle to have a simultaneous orgasm – first when the news hits Twitter, and next when groups gather upon the restaurant’s opening. Hint to Din Tai Fung: Come up with a kitschy, catchy name for a party, like Din Tai Fun-Time, and no matter how much you charge, food followers will flock to the event.  Trust me on this.

Seattleites have been desperately waiting for good xiao long bao to come the area. I’m one of them. I’ve even taken to making my own (pictured below), rolling out dough to do wrappers, using pig skin to gelatinize the soup inside, and coming up with a tasty pork belly filling. It’s a lot of work, and my dumplings are far more rustic than the delicate ones found in Taipei – which is why I’d rather fly to Taiwan (which I’ve done twice!) than make them at home. (Xiao long bao first appeared in Shanghai, but while I liked them there, they’re better in Taipei.)

Din Tai Fung’s challenge: How to make the xiao long bao as great in Seattle as they are in Taipei. Something seems to get lost in translation when food like this travels far. Beard Papa’s cream puffs in Seattle, for example, are not nearly as compelling as the ones you find in Tokyo. The same problem surfaces with my favorite xiao long bao in Taipei, which are from Jin Din Rou. Last month, I saw that Jin Din Rou was in Tokyo, so I pounced on the chance to try them. But the quality was worse. I think part of the problem is that the Tokyo (Ebisu) location was far fancier than the locations in Taipei.

xlb_homemade(Actually, my favorite xiao long bao are the crab-and-pork variety at Joe’s Shanghai, which originated in New York. They just opened a branch in Tokyo, but I fear the fancy decor comes at the expense of the quality. Just compare the dumpling quality between Joe’s Shanghai in Midtown Manhattan versus either the Chinatown or Flushing locations. Midtown wasn’t nearly as good.)

I’m told that Din Tai Fung will open later this year in Lincoln Square Mall. (Further proof that just about all of the best Chinese food is on the Eastside.) Will a high-rent district like that again mean lower dumpling quality? Or will the jump over the Pacific makes the dumplings less perfect? Perhaps more important, will the local food world care? After all, for many, it’s not about the quality of the orgasm, but just having one…

Note: More on my perspective on xiao long bao here. I also appreciate the availability of good xiao long bao just north in Richmond, and value Lorna Yee’s perspective on options here.

Continuing Lorna’s theme, I’d say Din Tai Fung has the thinnest, most delicate wrapper. Jin Din Rou’s are a little thicker (which I might actually like better), and with better broth taste and more porky flavor. Joe’s Shanghai has the thickest wrappers of the three, but I can’t resist the combination of their crab and pork broth. In Richmond, I liked the thinness of Shanghai River’s small xiao long bao, but preferred Chen’s broth. Hope to get back to Richmond for further analysis!



16 Responses to “Dumpling alert: Din Tai Fung to the Seattle area”

  1. May 24, 2010 at 5:14 pm #

    You just made my day! The scarcity of XLB in the Seattle area is astonishing.

  2. Equinoise
    May 26, 2010 at 1:30 pm #

    Any idea on the approximate opening of Din Tai Fung?

  3. admin
    May 26, 2010 at 4:21 pm #

    Allecia, yes, very scarce in Seattle. Hope DTF can replicate the quality they maintain in Taipei. That hasn’t been the case, by most reports.

    Equinoise, I was told sometime between September and December. I’m trying to get more specific information.

  4. PeteD
    May 27, 2010 at 11:09 am #

    Have you had Shanghai Cafe’s XLB in NYC? I’ve been dying to for the rumors to be confirmed about Ding Tai Fung to open in Bellevue. I’ve heard talk about it for over a year already.

  5. admin
    May 27, 2010 at 11:24 am #

    Pete, I haven’t been to Shanghai Cafe. I’ve heard mixed reviews, and hope to try it out for myself. That said, I’ve tried a few places in NY, and always find myself liking Joe’s better.

    I’m glad the Bellevue rumor (which I’ve also heard for a long time) seems to be finally coming to fruition. People will likely rave about DTF, and they really are good, but I think they’ll be quite expensive – and still not the best to be found for a traveler!

  6. dimsum4u
    May 27, 2010 at 12:30 pm #

    This is really exciting. Question though, there is supposed to be a Din Tai Fung in LA. Do you know if the one LA can meet up to the standards in Taiwan? My GF and I drive up to Vancouver and do day trips to just eat xiao long bao. We have come across some good restraunts but what is even more significants is we have come across a good brand of frozen one that we get at Yao Han center. Can’t wait for this to open in Bellevue, it’s going to be most excellent.

  7. admin
    May 27, 2010 at 12:41 pm #


    Yes, the only Din Tai Fung in the States is in Arcadia (Los Angeles). Word is that the xiao long bao there are not as good as back in Taiwan. In fact, many people say there are better xiao long bao places in LA. I’ve tried a couple, and while they beat what’s currently available in Seattle, they weren’t as good as Jin Din Rou in Taipei or Joe’s Shanghai in New York.

    Would love to know which ones you like in Vancouver if you’re willing to share.

  8. PeteD
    June 7, 2010 at 4:42 pm #

    I’m a huge fan of Shanghai Cafe. I always found the crab at Joe’s to be a little funky, but maybe that was just me. The skin is a little thicker at Shanghai Cafe, but the soup and interior as a whole is significantly better.

    I will definitely be at DTF on the opening day and probably every day for a week there after.

  9. DanM
    June 10, 2010 at 3:11 pm #

    I’ve had DTF in both Taipei and LA, and I thought LA was definitely up to par. I went with a friend a couple months ago and we split 50 of them. We weren’t really hungry after 30, but could not stop ordering and eating them.

  10. admin
    June 10, 2010 at 5:00 pm #

    50? That’s crazy – and I’m jealous! Glad you found the quality the same. I’ve heard some people say they’re not as good in LA as they are in Taipei. Hope the quality’s good in Seattle!

  11. lorax
    July 1, 2010 at 5:41 pm #

    Din Tai Fung is indeed coming to Lincoln Square in Bellevue. They haven’t yet begun the tenant improvements needed to make the empty space a restaurants, so I suspect we’re at least a few months about before the first bite.

  12. admin
    July 1, 2010 at 9:40 pm #

    Lorax, latest I heard was September or October. But a chance to peek through the window at their Lincoln Square location to see the practice dumpling-making is imminent.

  13. ShanghaiGirl
    July 2, 2010 at 2:02 pm #

    I left Shanghai before DTF opened a joint there so I have no way to compare. But I have tried Shanghai River and Top Shanghai in Richmond. The crab xiaolongbao in Top Shanghai is surprisingly good. The wrappers might not be the thinnest but they are delicate enough. Crab and pork filling is very good and juicy too. I’m eager to see if DTF beats them and the ones from old Shanghai in my memory…

  14. admin
    July 2, 2010 at 8:20 pm #

    ShanghaiGirl, I’m really looking forward to getting back to Richmond for my fill of xlb, dim sum, and more. It’s been far too long since I’ve been up there. And will look forward to your perspective on DTF if you can report back here!

  15. ChasL
    November 7, 2010 at 10:56 pm #

    Ding Tai Fung at Bellevue Square just opened this weekend

  16. admin
    November 8, 2010 at 7:28 am #

    I’m hearing that it’s still not officially open until perhaps next weekend.

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