Din Tai Fung
177 Caruso Ave.
Glendale, CA 91210
Din Tai Fung is an award winning chain of Taiwanese restaurants, known best for their xiaolongbao (juicy pork dumplings on their menu). It’s Shanghai location is listed as one of Time’s 10 things to do there. The same location in Shanghai was given a rave review by the New York Times as well. Forbes even titled an article they did on the chain “The World’s Greatest Dumpling” and the New York Times named the restaurant one of the ten best in the world 20 years ago. They expanded to America in the early 2000s and to this day you still have to endure at least one hour waits, even at off peak hours, to get a seat at any of their Los Angeles area locations (including 2 locations in Arcadia that are practically neighbors).
Given all of this, it’s no surprise that my first time at a Din Tai Fung made me anxious, nervous, excited, and content at the same time. While I had wanted to go to Din Tai Fung for years, I never quite managed to make it. Therefore, I seized the opportunity to have lunch there before I drove back to Albuquerque (via Phoenix) during my holiday break.
When I finally got to Din Tai Fung at their Americana at Brand location in Glendale it was about 3PM. The wait for a table of one at 3PM on a Monday? One hour. Luckily they have a small bar section and I decided to hop on the first seat available. After five minutes I got a seat and quickly ordered, especially since I had a six hour road trip ahead of me.
Given my limited budget and inability to take leftovers on a long drive, I decided to order two items: a half order of the juicy pork dumplings (5 in an order instead of 10) and a bowl of beef noodle soup. Before the items arrived, the bartender gave me a small plate of finely slivered pieces of ginger and vinegar for the dumplings. Fairly soon after, my bowl of beef noodle soup arrived. The beef noodle soup had a nice broth that was spicy, but not overpowering. It was probably one of the better broths I have had. The noodles were thin wheat noodles that was a hair overcooked for my taste. The beef was well seasoned and had good flavor, but it was tougher and chewier than I would have liked.
When the soup dumplings came, the real moment of truth arrived. My first dumpling was perfect. There was a slight chew to my first bit to let out the steam and the broth was clean and flavored well. The pork was very tender and flavorful as well. The second and third dumplings were just as good and I marveled at the ability to craft a dumpling that not only had a good balance of flavor, but skins that held its own as well. Unfortunately, my fourth dumpling was a little too flimsy and broke, letting a bit of the soup out. It was disappointing given the reputation the restaurant has of very well crafted dumplings, but it was still delicious.
Service, which they are also well known for after their experience expanding in Japan, was also top notch. The bartender was very helpful and attentive, even with drink orders occasionally pouring in from the restaurant side. While I did not need too much help, he also gave great recommendations to the party next to me and even engaged in very friendly banter. He also helped to calm a couple that was indignant about the hour long wait for a table and just needed food (which I understood given that it is 3PM, but shouldn’t they have known how long the lines were?).
All in all, my Din Tai Fung experience was very good, even if the food did not quite hit my admittedly very high and built up expectations. I do also want to applaud the restaurant for allowing half orders as well, making it nice and perfectly portioned for tables of one or two. The bill was pretty good too, coming to about $15 including a soft drink and sales tax, making Din Tai Fung very reasonable priced given the quality of food and service. Next time I hope to try some of their other well regarded items, like their soups and other small plates.