On the hunt for the best soup dumplings in San Diego
I had my first soup dumpling (xiao long bao) or XLB years ago during a visit to Dumpling Inn in San Diego with a few friends. I’ve been hooked ever since. I still remember the first time I introduced the boyfriend to them. He was so excited and absolutely loved them. Although, even with my warning, I’m pretty sure he still burned his tongue on the first one. To this day, they are one of his favorite dishes. We have worked past the tongue burning to expert status now.
So what exactly are these magical pockets of soupy deliciousness?
What is a Xiao Long Bao (XLB) or Soup Dumpling?
What exactly is a soup dumpling you ask? Well that’s a good question. It’s a magical morsel of rich, flavorful deliciousness.
But really, XLBs originate from right outside the borders of Shanghai. However, they became popular worldwide only when they started showing up in Taiwan. The now restaurant chain Din Tai Fung started in Taiwan and has now opened locations across the world, increasing the worldwide popularity on these lovely little dumplings. I like Din Tai Fung, but my favorite spots are Luscious Dumplings in Los Angeles and Joe’s Shanghai in New York City. However, that’s not to say I’m not excited about the Ding Tai Fun opening in San Diego in 2018!
Xiao Long Bao are a steamed dumpling, typically stuffed with pork, but occasionally served with crab as well. Often served with dark vinegar (zhenziang) and thinly sliced ginger, the dumplings are commonly served in a dim sum type setting.
So how do they get that hot, mouth scalding soup into the dumpling? Easy, when the broth is chilled, it is in aspic form (like jello) and placed alongside the pork before it is wrapped. Then when it’s steamed, it melts into the broth. The aspic and pork are wrapped in a thin flour wrapper then cinched together at the top of the dumpling.
How to Eat XLBs
There is a method used to eat the soup dumplings. First, use your chopsticks to lift the dumpling out of the steamer into your spoon. The soup inside is scalding hot, so we must then create small a hole in the outside to let some of that steam out. Ever try and pop a whole dumpling in your mouth without doing this first? I don’t advise it. You may never taste again! Me? I bite just enough of the top off to make a hole. Now from here, it’s all up to how you like to eat it. Traditionally, the soup is slurped from the dumpling, then the dumpling dipped in the vinegar/ginger sauce to be eaten. I like to pour a touch of the vinegar sauce right into the hole I bit off and enjoy it like that. Experiment, find the way you like to eat them.
Finding the Best Soup Dumplings in San Diego
San Diego is not Los Angeles (duh). We only have a few options for XLBs here in my lovely home town, but they certainly hold their own. I can’t say they are on the same level as Luscious Dumplings in LA, but they are pretty damn good nonetheless. Plus, we get to stay in San Diego. I do everything in my power to stay out of LA, however, am there far more often than I would like.
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Below is a list of the best soup dumplings in San Diego. I’ve put them in order from my personal favorite to my least favorite, however, this is up to interpretation. Not only so these places have great XLBs, many of them have some other dishes that are to die for. Totally worth the visit.
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Red Moon Noodle House
In my opinion, these are the best soup dumplings in San Diego, hands down. On the menu, the dumplings are referred to as Juicy Dumpling and served as an order of 6 for a little under $7. Not the cheapest option, but totally worth it in my opinion. The dumplings were stuffed with a rich pork mixture, and cooked to perfection. The filling melts in your mouth. The broth had incredible flavor and the dumpling skins were cooked perfectly. All in all, a damn good dumpling! This is my go to spot whenever I feel that craving coming on.
If you’re looking for other dishes to order along with your XLBs, I highly recommend the Red Moon Beef. Crispy fried beef covered in a sweet and savory orange sauce, I couldn’t get enough of this stuff. It was so delicious. OR…just order more dumplings.
Tasty Noodle House
The XLBs here are also amazing. First off, the menu is long and overwhelming, as is so common among Asian restaurants it seems. Why is that? It’s so much information to digest! Well, for $8, you get 8 steaming dumplings stuffed with pork, which is a decent deal. The dumpling skins were perfectly chewy and the filling flavored quite nicely. The broth had that perfect fatty quality to it.
Want something to go with your XLBs? They’ve got a great Tan Tan Noodle dish but also these delectable Shanghai Grilled Pork Buns. They are amazing. I mean seriously, so good. The filling was seasoned perfectly, the pork was tender and the bao style dough was thick, chewy and grilled to perfection. It’s a must try to go with your XLBs!
For a long time, this was my favorite place for XLBs in San Diego. Until I found Red Moon and Tasty Noodle House. However, they still serve an excellent XLB. The filling is always flavorful, the dumplings full, juicy and delicious! You do have to request black vinegar if that’s your thing (it’s always my thing – that stuff is like vinegar candy in a bottle), but the table has white vinegar, soy sauce and chili oil. $8 for an order of 10, this place is a great deal!
Looking for other options too? Try the deep fried Beef Curry Dumplings or the Pork Pot Stickers. This is my favorite spot to get pork pot stickers, they are cooked to chewy perfection and have the best flavor.
The dumplings here were quite tasty, and great if you’re looking for value. It’s $8 for an order of 10 dumplings here. Same price as Dumpling Inn, but I’ve never had to wait here (Dumpling Inn has a wait most weekends). So when you get to Dumpling Inn and the line is crazy, this is a great alternative.
Facing East Noodle and Bar
A Taiwanese place in Kearny Mesa, I can’t say I loved this place. But they do serve soup dumplings, so I feel obliged to add it to the list. While they have a fun selection of XLBs, I found the flavor lacking in each. They serve varieties such as black truffle, foie gras, snow crab, cheese, garlic and kale XLBs. They offer a sampler of 8 different varieties for $13. Understandably, the higher price is for the premium ingredients, but the ingredients could hardly be tasted. I felt as though I was eating a regular pork dumpling, and not a great one at that. But, trying all the different flavors can be a fun experience and I hear their milkshakes are pretty on point (I’ve never personally tried one).
My favorite part of the meal here was the edamame. I mean, it was good, seriously good. Especially since we did not order nor pay for it.
There you have it, the Best Soup Dumplings in San Diego. What did I miss? Where is your favorite spot? What do you like to order with your XLBs?
Interested in some other great places to eat in San Diego? Check out these great spots: