The culinary world never shies away from pouring on the adjectives in an attempt to attract customers. Take the word “famous.” It can be attributed to several well-known brands, such as Famous Amos, Famous Dave’s BBQ and our very own Henry’s World Famous Hi-Life.

Then there’s Famous Dumpling House on San Jose’s west side. I suspect the name is a way to compete with the globally-renowned dumpling shop, Din Tai Fung, at the nearby Westfield Valley Fair mall.

Famous Dumpling House’s ordering system might not be famous, but it is intriguing. Diners receive a laminated menu and a dry erase marker to put check marks next to each item they want. Their menu features classic dim sum items, including various forms of xiaolongbao (a.k.a. XLBs), as well as scores of vegetarian-friendly items like taro ($4.50 for three ) and red bean dumplings ($4.50 for three). They even have a “cheese beef bun” ($9 for three) that had been described to me as tasting exactly like a White Castle cheeseburger. I passed.

Whenever I visit a Chinese restaurant there are always a few “go-to” test dishes that I like to order as a gauge of quality. My standard order is Mongolian beef ($15), vegetable stir-fried noodles ($11) and, of course, broth-fulled pork XLB ($12 for nine). I also wanted to sample their vegetable dumplings ($11 for eight) and figured I’d give their pan-fried buns ($12 for six) a shot.

First out were the XLB and veggie dumplings. The dark green, grassy color of the veggie dumplings really made them pop. Unfortunately, their flavor didn’t follow suit, as the combination of ginger, cabbage and other spices had a flavor I’d call “chemical.” Their skins were obnoxiously thick, as well—causing way more effort than was necessary to bite through.

The XLB on the other hand were very delicate and thin-skinned; maybe a bit too thin, as about half of them broke and unceremoniously dumped their fluid as we peeled them off the wax paper below. But the ones that did make it had a generously filled and unctuous porky soup,  though a touch greasier than I like. Nonetheless, the pork filling was cooked perfectly—moist and had just enough diced cabbage to give it an appealing texture and a light vegetal flavor.

Next out was the Mongolian beef and veggie noodles, and they were both absolutely spot-on. The beef was spicy from the liberally sprinkled dried chilies and wonderfully. I prefer ordering my noodles sans meat if possible, as it’s a true test of the noodle flavor.  The noodles had a light eggy flavor, toothsome bite and an amazing mouthfeel.

Last were the pan-fried dumplings. They contained essentially the same filling as the XLB, but no soup. The doughy, thicker exterior was reminiscent of the BBQ pork buns at most Vietnamese sandwich shops. My favorite are the crispy-fried bottoms that give a nice snap and provides an interesting amalgam of textures in the mouth.

Famous Dumpling House can keep the name, as far as I’m concerned. They’ve proven they can compete. Are they a better choice than DTF? When considering the lack of wait times, better value and not having to deal with the mall crowd—I’d say it’s a resounding yes.

Famous Dumpling House
4996 Stevens Creek Blvd, San Jose