Native Taiwanese say that the Din Tai Fung (DTF) in Taipei is a tourist trap, mainly pandering to Japanese tourists. Its soup dumpling is a poor Japanese man’s version of a real soup dumpling from Shanghai. Most people agree that the Taiwanese DTF branch is better than the Arcadia branch. If that is the case, then the Arcadia branch serves a homeless American man’s version of the Shanghainese delicacy. Though still edible, the DTF Arcadia dumplings herald disappointment if you’ve ever had non-touristy shao long bao.
Shao long bao should boast a fine, translucent skin just substantial enough to shore in the velvety heartiness of seasoned meat bathing in its juices. The ones at DTF Arcadia don’t. In fact, the skin stuck to the basket, which is enough to make a dumpling advocate want to chuck the sticky offender at the chef’s forehead. Shao long bao should also be steaming hot; the DTF Arcadia ones were lukewarm and required a 45-minute wait. Worst of all, the filling of the DTF Arcadia shao long bao had a thoughtless, one-dimensional taste that let out a dumpling-curdling scream of “generic!”
I would not begrudge DTF Taipei and Arcadia so much if they were offering fast, cheap food instead. On the contrary, native Taiwanese consider DTF Taipei relatively expensive, and DTF Arcadia ain’t too cheap either. Yet, both restaurants still require lengthy waits. To me, DTF’s 15-minutes are up; it’s time to let a real dumpling house in on the dough to satisfy eager, hungry Americans. For a cheaper, tastier, and faster soup dumpling in Los Angeles, I recommend that you go try the Shanghainese restaurant (I forget the name) next to Dragon Mark in San Gabriel. You might have to bring a friend who speaks Chinese to go eat there, but you’ll be rewarded with truly inspired soup dumplings instead of the muted, monotonous Shanghai souvenirs at DTF Arcadia.