Din Tai Fung (Location No. 3)
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The latest addition to of this chain of Dumpling Houses…now in Glendale at Americana at Brand.
Okay, when it comes to chain restaurants I tend to repeat myself when it comes to reviews. Here’s what I said about Din Tai Fung in Arcadia:
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.
Stop. Make a note of that first sentence. We’ll come back to it.
Okay, so first things first. Like Philippe’s, it’s going to be crowded whenever you get there. But with the quality of those Juicy Pork Dumplings (aka Xiaolongbao), 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.
Well, the crowds are still there at the newest Din Tai Fung, but the main difference between this branch and the two in Arcadia is…well…the machine-like efficiency isn’t there.
Don’t get me wrong, the Watistaff is working hard. They’re working their asses off, but…there’s a difference, a slightly important difference.
The ladies working the slide at Din Tai Fung No. 1 and 2 aren’t there to chit chat. Like I just said: they want you in, they want you fed, and they want you OUT. They barely say “Hi” to you as you sit down, and expect you to have your game face (okay, dumpling face) on and ready to go.
In Glendale, it’s a somewhat…well…different affair.
If anything Din Tai Fung has been…Americanized, and I can say as native born Amer-i-can, that’s not necessarily a good thing.
Yeah, the waitstaff is multicultural. That’s fine. I miss the ladies who run the show(s) in Arcadia, and having the United Colors of Benetton serve me my Xiaolongbao takes away a little of the flavor, but that doesn’t matter much. The real problem is these kids are chatty. You know, chatty in the way you’d find in a normal American Restaurant. How are you doing? What would you like? Are you comfortable, can I get you anything else?? Now, is this the first time you’ve been here?
If you are, like me, a Din Tai Fung professional…someone’s who’s been to the restaurant a bunch of times, you’ve got your routine down. You know you to park. You know how to order and how much. You don’t need instruction in how to eat Xiaolongbao, much less how to use Chopsticks properly.
What I am saying, and yes I am saying it, is that the staff at Din Tai Fung #3…actually gets in your way if you’ve been to Din Tai Fung before. It’s not their fault. Their mission, and it’s a correct call made by Management, is to educate you in the ways of Shanghaiese Dumplings. If you’ve already had your education, this can be a hindrance. After all, unlike the Arcadia locations, the overwhelming majority of the customers at Din Tai Fung #3 is going to be non-Asian.
Which is why I recommend…and this is painful for me to say, given that I live in freakin’ Glendale, that if you are a practiced hand at eating Xiaolongbao, keep going to the Arcadia locations for the foreseeable future. The one at the Americana may be closer and more convenient, but it’s also the minor leagues. You don’t need Xiaolongbao training. Go to the location where they know that.
WHAT SHOULD I GET?: Have I mentioned the Juicy Pork Dumplings (Xiaolongbao) 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. Also, make sure you get the Cucumber, AKA A1 on the Menu.
IMPORTANT SAFETY TIP, PEOPLE: First off, the fewer people in your party (as in 2), the quicker you’ll get seated. Second, Xiaolongbao 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.
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.
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.
The same goes for the Americana Branch, where they have two hour waits even on some weekdays (at least in the early goings on). But they have a wonderful, and I mean wonderful text system, where they will not only text you when they’re ready for you, but give you a link to a smart phone-sized website that will tell you your place in line.
Worry not, even if you’re locked up in the bowels of Barnes & Noble or Nordstrom’s you’ll have plenty of time to make it back to the restaurant. All the text means is that they’re about ready for you. But even though you’ve got a few minutes, doesn’t mean you should dawdle. The sooner you get there, the sooner you’ll be eating.
PARKING: It’s the Americana, and…well…that can be a crap shoot.
Look, the Americana has a massive and massively well organized Parking Structure.
Now, if only you can get a parking space.
Look, I’ve told you of my travails before in the Americana Parking Structure. I think they’ve gotten rid of the Overflow from the local Car Dealership. But now, they’ve started to wall off additional parking spaces for the Residents of the Americana. I guess I’m a little more sympathetic and all, but it is very possible to get to the Americana on a Friday and Saturday Night and be jammed for parking.
And, at least as of January 2014, don’t buy into what the Lot Indicators are selling. The lit-up guide telling you how many spaces are available when, is at best…unreliable. My guess is that the Americana hasn’t yet factored in for the spaces they’ve sliced off for benefit of the Residents again. So you may get to Level P4, thinking there’s 100 available spaces, only to discover those 100 spaces are walled off behind a barrier only Residents can park in.
Failing all else, park across the street at the Glendale Galleria. It’s free, and you probably need the exercise.
Din Tai Fung (Location No. 3)
177 Caruso Ave
Glendale, CA 91210
Tel: (818) 551-5561
Mon-Fri 11 am – 10 pm
Sat 10 am – 10 pm
Sun 10 am – 9 pm