The only American location in a chain of Shanghai Dumpling Houses.
Din Tai Fung is ruthless in its machine like efficiency. When I first heard about it, it was buried in a strip mall in Arcadia. Very popular, and of course, very crowded. When my Dad and I first decided to brave the joint, we were surprised to learn that they had opened yet another Din Tai Fung the next building over, and of course, it was able to hold a LOT more people.
This bowl of fresh Ginger and Vinegar? Trust me, THIS is why you showed up.
And when the first floor fills up, they now have a second floor they’re leaning on.
Okay, so first things first. Like Phillipe’s, it’s going to be crowded whenever you get there. But with the quality of those Juicy Pork Dumplings (aka Xiao Long Bao), should you really care? Expect to wait anywhere between 30 minutes and 30 seconds, depending on how many people are in your party (see the Safety Tip below). This is not necessarily a bad thing, as the time you have will allow you to come up with an attack plan. “How many Juicy Pork Dumplings can we eat?”, “Should we get any Chicken Dumplings”, “Should we get any Vegetables?”, “How exactly do I eat a Juicy Pork Dumpling without scalding myself to death?”
Well, if you really want to know, Tony Bourdain did it this way:
An another guy at an actual Din Tai Fung did it this way:
Once you are finally seated, the restaurant’s machine like efficiency continues. It’s not that they don’t like you, they just are focused like a laser on the task at hand: get you in, get you fed, and get you out.
WHAT SHOULD I GET?: Have I mentioned the Juicy Pork Dumplings yet? Well, they’re the star of the show (along with the fresh ginger). If everyone is down for the Juicy Pork experience, think about getting one tin per person (give or take depending on your hunger). A tin holds ten, and the average person can down 5-10 JDPs each. Of course, you may want to moderate that with a tin of Chicken Dumplings, which are tasty also, but don’t quite carry the same Heavenly Choir factor as the JDPs do. The sautéed String Beans (with just a touch of garlic) are great also, but I’ve noticed that the non-dumpling offerings are okay at best. Then again, maybe I wasn’t eating them right.
IMPORTANT SAFETY TIP, PEOPLE: First off, the fewer people in your party (as in 2), the quicker you’ll get seated. Second, Xiao Long Bao are sometimes made with some kind of fish roe filler. Since your humble author has a seafood allergy, this has presented certain challenges, like I can’t have any many Juicy Pork Dumplings as I’d like. (I’m limited to ten, tops.). Third, pay rapt attention to that form you get as you’re sitting there waiting to order. Odds are the staff will have crossed out whatever’s not available that day.
UPDATE: August 13, 2013: Should you choose to go to Din Tai Fung on say…a Saturday Night. You’re going to be waiting…a while.
Saturday Night is a night for Dumplings, and apparently, all of Los Angeles wants in on the action. And don’t fool yourself into thinking that going to the other location (around the corner) will somehow save you. It won’t. No matter which Din Tai Fung you go to, you will be waiting at least an hour.
Make that an hour and a half. If it’s a Saturday, just get a ticket (your place in line), and accept the wait to come.
And when the Americana branch opens, expect the pain to only spread.
Here’s another thing. The Restaurant closes at 9:30…on a Saturday.
So, you’re thinking…how could that be with the lines?
Well, worry not. You need a ticket by 9:30pm. The Restaurant will stay open until they get to everyone who’s been given a ticket for a table.
PARKING: Available…if only barely. Both wings of Din Tai Fung have their own free parking lots, but they fill up muy fast. Worst case scenario, you’re pushed to the back of the lot, or you can sneak in to an adjacent lot next door.
Of course, if the lot is that crowded, you can just take it as a cosmic hint that it’s just not your night. Not to worry, Tasty Garden is just down the street.