Xiao Long Bao Soup Dumplings, Shanghai Vegetarian Dumplings, Spicy Ma Po Tofu
Occupation: English Professor
Location: San Francisco
Favorite Restaurant: Shanghai Dumpling King
Reviewed Shanghai Dumpling King: Thursday, December 25, 2008
Christmas came early for us this year — the 19th! — so on Christmas night, we found ourselves driving around the city in search of a place serving dinner, and like a holiday miracle, the Shanghai Dumpling King was actually open. It’s been a favorite spot for the past four years, and it never disappoints. As its name proclaims, this restaurant is indeed the king of dumplings, and we are its royal (and loyal) subjects. They make the best Chinese dumplings I’ve ever had, and it’s their xiao long bao, the soup dumplings, that put them on the map — perfect pouches filled, not only with pork, but with actual soup, just enough so that you need an actual soup spoon to eat them. You pick up the dumpling with a spoon, give it a quick dip into a bit of soy sauce and vinegar, and bite. Since we’d celebrated Christmas the week before, the soup dumplings were the perfect present to open on Christmas night. The slippery floury pouch and the tender bit of pork inside mix perfectly with the hot and just-salty-enough soup. On a foggy and windy Outer Richmond night it was the gift that kept on giving.
While soup dumplings are the superstar on the menu, the others are excellent as well. They offer about a dozen different kinds, and my favorites are the pork and crabmeat, the pork and chive, and the vegetable. All are steamed, and arrive in their own bamboo steamers. I also love the pan-fried pork buns, which are like little pork buns you might find at a fast food dim sum joint along Clement Street, but much better. The quality of the pork filling and the bun itself surpass those by far. For new visitors to Shanghai Dumpling King, I always recommend making an entire meal out of the dumplings. Ranging from five to eight dollars each, they’re an amazing deal.
But the non-dumpling fare is good too, and on Christmas night, we feasted. We ordered three dumplings (the soup dumpling, the chive, and the vegetable) along with several entrees (the bok choy with bean curd sheet, the salt pan cake, the spicy pork noodle soup, which they recommended, and the orange peel beef).
The bok choy is stir-fried just enough to maintain its flavor and crunch, with bits of garlic mixed in, and I’m a fan of the bean curd sheet, these thin ribbons of tofu. They have a subtle flavor, and a rubbery texture that I happen to enjoy. I’d never had the salt pan cake before, and I loved it. It was like a fried pastry stuffed with bits of pork, sautéed onion, and cabbage, which mixed together, had an almost gooey texture. The spicy pork noodle soup was also new to me, and it was perfect for the cold night. It had rice noodles in a thick broth that tasted like a more subtle Thai peanut sauce. The orange peel beef had a Panda Express-y quality (the sauce was a bit too thick and heavy), but it was undeniably flavorful, and I appreciated the fact that you could actually taste the orange peel.
For dessert, we had the egg puffs. This is always an interesting moment at Shanghai Dumpling King. Half the time, the egg puffs (which are doughy and eggy and sugary and deep fried and delicious—think of it as a Chinese doughnut) are free — there have been times where they’re literally handing them out to anyone who wants them. On Christmas night, they were free again, but they’re so good that we’d gladly pay for them, too.
Their mysterious egg puff policy is, I have to say, indicative of Shanghai Dumpling King. There is something a little haphazard about the service: you never know which order they’ll bring out first, if they’ll treat the dumplings as your appetizer or your entrée, if your water glass will ever be re-filled (or filled). But I consider this part of the restaurant’s hole-in-the-wall charm. It’s a small, two-room joint, modestly decorated with hand-written menus taped to the wall. You get the sense that the place is family-owned and family-run. You can see them cooking and chatting in the kitchen area, and on Christmas night, I liked that some of the staff were enjoying their own dinner at the table next to ours. A very Merry Christmas from the King of Dumplings.
Occupation: Fashion Writer
Location: San Francisco
Favorite Restaurant: farmerbrown
Reviewed Shanghai Dumpling King: Sunday, December 28, 2008
If I lived anywhere near Shanghai Dumpling, I would probably eat there every other night, if not more often. Unfortunately (or fortunately for my belly), it’s a 30-40 minute ride on the 38 bus to get there, and I’m not really willing to commit to that — even though the dumplings are heavenly.
I will preface this by saying the food was delicious and once we were finally able to order, the food came rather quickly. The first mistake of the evening was leaving the house really hungry, making the bus ride feel like an eternity. Once we walked the two blocks from the bus stop and entered the restaurant, we were behind one family waiting for a table. The place was busy, but there were at least four or five tables open. We stood for ten minutes before the family before us was seated, then we stood for an additional six or seven minutes before being seated at one of the two-tops against the wall in the second room.
We were given tea the second we sat down, which was very nice. But no joking, we sat for 20 minutes before anyone came back to take our order. After several attempts to get a server’s attention, I pretty much had to stand and waive my arms frantically until one of the girls came by. I ordered a spicy tofu dish that was covered in a great sauce, almost similar to barbeque sauce. The tofu was excellent, although one gripe was that the plastic chopsticks made it very difficult to pick up sauce-soaked, slippery tofu. I mixed it with rice to make it easier to grab with my sticks and all was well. I also ordered the vegetarian dumplings, but they were out of the classic ones, so I had the Shanghai veggie dumplings — so good! I could have eaten ten of them. The boyfriend had the Tianjin dumplings, which he loved. He also had the Lion’s head soup, which he didn’t really like so much, as the meatballs were dry even though they were soaking in soup, but he did like the soup and silver noodles.
We followed the meal with the most wonderful little treats — the sugar egg puffs! They were so good, I couldn’t believe it. They’re like glorified donuts, but super light and fluffy. We ordered way too much food, but had plenty of leftovers for lunch the following day. After all of this, we were both in food comas and ready to lie down on the floor right then and there. Unfortunately, it took another 20 minutes to get anyone’s attention for the check. We sat and waited, and waited. Once again, I had to practically grab someone to come bring us the check. We actually had to ask for it three times before someone finally brought it to us! Thankfully, we didn’t need change, so we paid and ran to catch the 38 back to civilization.
I will definitely return soon, but I’ll remember to eat a small snack before going and be sure not to have anything I have to hurry back to after dinner.
Occupation: Electrical Design Engineer
Favorite Restaurant: Caesar’s Italian Restaurant
Reviewed Shanghai Dumpling King: Monday, December 15, 2008
I invited my neighbor to join me for lunch at this restaurant because we both
enjoy Chinese food greatly. Arriving to the location at 34th and Balboa Street, metered street parking was not a problem. The location was easy to find with their big white and red sign.
Upon entering, we were greeted and they indicated that we could select any table in either: 1, the main dining entrance room with five tables with a to-go counter; or 2, the adjacent main dining room with 12 tables.
The décor and atmosphere was very simple with some Chinese decorations. We selected a table for four in the main dining room with no tablecloth or utensils. Two minutes later, the waiter brought us chopsticks, napkins and the menus. Another waiter brought over a plate of three Sugar Egg Puffs and asked us if we would like some (they looked great), but we indicated “no,” it was too early for dessert.
In reviewing the menu, we saw they had it all: Dim Sum (24 selections), appetizers (10), soup and clay pot (17), rice and noodle (22), vegetable (14), beef (8), chicken (7), seafood (11), pork (11), egg foo young (5), and dessert (8). The selection was too great for our palates, we wanted ten to 15 dishes, but we ordered only six selections for three-course meal. Our waiter was new, so we had to order by number and name of each dish we wanted:
Course #1. #13. Vegetarian Pot Sticker (8)
Course #2. #43. Chicken and Corn Soup (for 2) — it comes in large bowl for four — and #21. Green Onion Pancakes.
Course #3. #80. Eggplant with garlic sauce and #95. Beef with Bean Curd. (Each portion was made to serve 3 persons; you would not go hungry.)
Comments: A. They also had a Lunch Special Menu of (18) dishes. Includes: Daily Soup and Steamed Rice for $4.95 or $5.50. B. They also had a take-out counter with fixed (4) items for $3.50. At 12 noon for lunch, they had line out the door, about 25 persons deep.
All in all, we had a very enjoying lunch for five reasons:
1. Each course was served quickly.
2. You had a choice: with or without MSG.
3. Each serving plate would serve 3 persons. (portions were large)
4. Each dish was very tasty and good.
5. The value and price of each dish, price was very reasonable. (Bang for the buck.)
I would recommend this restaurant to our familes and friends with no reservations, if they lived in San Francisco or were the neighborhood.