When it comes to soup dumplings (xiao long bao or XLB), one name has international acclaim above all others: Din Tai Fung. Guffaw all you want at the ubiquity of restaurant chains, but when a 60-year-old dumpling giant opens in our area, it is a big deal—big enough for hundreds of people to wait in line for hours on a recent Tuesday morning.

Din Tai Fung (DTF) opened its first Northern California location last month at Valley Fair Mall to a much-expected crowd of fanatics. I braved the line at 5pm on opening day. After 30 minutes, I reached the front to enter my name and phone number in the hostess’ tablet. Then I was told I would get a text in three-and-a-half hours to be seated. The wait turned out to be a mere two hours. I was ready to geek out on these Taiwanese goods.

As a Din Tai Fung virgin who did not study the menu ahead of time, I was gently eased in by the patient and knowledgeable wait staff. Everyone was very efficient and remarkably calm despite hundreds of hungry patrons literally drooling outside the window. We marked down on a paper menu the quantity of dumpling servings and within minutes our order arrived, starting with the Truffle and Pork XLB (5 pieces for $25), which were suggested to be served first and without dipping sauces to ensure the palate is cleansed for the truffles. The black truffle slices were crunchy and full of umami flavor, and at $5 apiece they were a luxurious indulgence.

The Pork XLB (six pieces for $8) is the signature bao and rightly so. DTF is well known for a rigid adherence to consistency. Each bao has at least 18 folds and the same amount of meat. Had I been willing to let my dumplings go cold while I counted all the folds and weighed all the meat, I’m sure they would all be up to standards, but that’s not a sacrifice worth making. A bite through the thin, soft yet chewy dough, and a slurp of the warm broth confirmed that this was worth the wait. For a surf-and-turf twist, the Snow Crab and Pork XLB (six pieces for $11) came in the same perfectly executed dumpling pouch and a chunk of real crab meat along with the pork mixture. Though the flavor combination is not as exquisite as the pork or truffle options, the crab dumpling is a good choice for seafood lovers.

Although the popular Sauteed String Beans with Garlic ($10), Fried Pork Chop ($6.50), and Pork Sticky Rice Wrap ($5.50) ordered by diners around me looked irresistible, my mission was clear: I came to consume dumplings, even those of the non-soupy variety. The Shrimp and Pork Wontons with Spicy Sauce ($10.50) were especially tasty. Wontons in delicate wrappers, prepared with the same perfection as with the XLB, were coated in a sauce layered with spicy, salty and sweet flavors. This is easily one of my favorite dishes here. The Shrimp and Pork Dumplings (six pieces for $8.75), which are steamed pot stickers, were also a great option for non-soupy dumplings.

Din Tai Fung proves that practice makes perfect. Every dumpling fold, every equally weighted ball of pork, and every grand opening must have been practiced tirelessly. Once sheltered inside the high-vaulted ceilings with the grandeur of oriental décor and ambient lighting, we were cradled in the hospitality of an experienced staff. A number of people served our table and each were on the same page about what had been served prior and what should be served next. The dumpling makers can be seen hard at work, making perfect dumplings through the glass window at the front.

In response to the massive crowds since opening, Din Tai Fung has relented and started accepting online reservations. Snagging a seat, however, may still require patience and a little luck.

Din Tai Fung
Taiwanese (Dumplings)
2855 Stevens Creek Blvd, Santa Clara