17 Essential Dumplings You Must Try in the San Gabriel Valley
Eating dumplings on Lunar New Year is symbolic of a fresh start and good fortune in the year to come.
Although every culture has its own take on the beloved dumpling (hello, gyoza, pierogi, mandu, ravioli, and empanadas!), they’ve always been a distinctive hallmark of Chinese fare. Eaten year round and on most special occasions, dumplings take on even more significance for Lunar New Year. Their shape, which resembles an ancient form of money, is a symbol of wealth and prosperity in China. The Chinese word for dumplings, jiao zi, even sounds similar to a phrase that means you’re bidding farewell to the old and welcoming the new. So eating these delicious savory pockets is far more than just a feast for your stomach—it’s symbolic of a fresh start and good fortune in the year to come.
While jiao zi covers a broad range of dumplings in the Chinese repertoire, within that category lies a dizzying array of doughy delicacies: classic Cantonese Har Gow, fluffy Sheng Jian Bao hailing from Shanghai, slippery Sichuan Chao Shou. They’re steamed, boiled, fried, or occasionally a combination of the above. Sometimes they’re referred to by a name in Mandarin, Cantonese, or another dialect, or identified by Romanized spelling that can vary depending on who you ask! But no matter how they’re served (or spelled), these delectable meat- and veggie-filled pockets have delighted us for thousands of years—and will continue to do so.
Lunar New Year is coming up quickly on February 1, so to help you navigate the universe of dumplings we’re taking you on a guided tour through the San Gabriel Valley—a mecca for Chinese cuisine thanks to a significant (and steadily growing) Asian and Asian-American population. Read on for 17 must-try renditions to ring in the Year of the Tiger:
Jiao Zi at PP Pop
At this beloved Taiwanese strip mall joint, you can order Jiao Zi steamed or fried, but you’ll want the latter. The fried version includes a crisp “skirt” that forms at the bottom of the pan, which connects all the dumplings and adds a delightful crunch. The contrasting textures are what makes this restaurant’s plump potstickers such a delight—the ultra-crackly, paper-thin lace webbing that gives way to a juicy, generous filling. Break apart the delicate disc, spoon a little hot chili oil over your dumplings, and try not to fight with your dining companions over who gets to enjoy the last one.
How to order: Pickup via their website.
Xian Bing at Zui Xiang Yuan
Much to the dismay of many a dumpling devotee, the pandemic forced SGV’s beloved Beijing Pie House to close. But for fans of the Beijing-style savory pies called Xian Bing, which are like dumplings on steroids, don’t worry: Zui Xiang Yuan’s rendition of this Northern Chinese specialty will satisfy all your cravings. This strip mall restaurant turns out hearty, hand-sized pockets stuffed with meat and veggies—like beef, pork, or leeks—and lightly pan-fried to golden-brown perfection. Each bite begins with a crispy-crusted outer layer, followed by chewy dough and a savory burst of juice from the well-seasoned interior filling. Zui Xiang Yuan also serves up dependably delicious dumplings of the regular-sized variety, too. While you can order any of the usual suspects, we’d be remiss not to encourage the more unexpected renditions—like the shrimp, pork, and sea cucumber combo.
How to order: Pickup via their website.
Tang Yuan at Jiang Nan Spring
A Lunar New Year celebration isn’t complete without Tang Yuan—smooth, spherical, slippery balls that can be served sweet (often oozing with black sesame, red bean paste, or crushed peanuts) or savory in piping-hot soup or syrup. Glutinous rice flour lends tang yuan its sticky texture, but beyond being delightfully fun to chew, these bouncy dumplings serve as a symbol of family reunion and harmony in Chinese culture. Few do it better than Jiang Nan Spring, which made Michelin’s Bib Gourmand list last year. For dessert, the restaurant prepares black-sesame-stuffed rice balls in fragrant osmanthus sweet rice wine and egg drop soup, served in a tureen that’s large enough to satisfy several diners.
How to order: Pickup via their website.
Guo Tie at Mama Lu’s Dumpling House
Ask any SGV native for a stellar dumpling spot and Mama Lu’s inevitably pops up on their list. This acclaimed restaurant specializes in Chinese comfort food—so naturally, dumplings have a starring role on the menu. While the soup-filled Xiao Long Bao are popular, we also love the simplicity of the Guo Tie, basically dumplings with pan-fried bottoms that add crunchy texture to the otherwise soft, steamed dough. To get your Mama Lu’s fix without driving to the SGV, order from Cali Dumpling Delivery—which makes its dumplings in partnership with the restaurant using the same recipes (the notable exception being its non-traditional pho XLB). Launched at the start of the pandemic, the service now delivers thousands of flash-frozen dumplings a day throughout California—and whether you boil, steam, or pan-fry ‘em, they taste just as good at home as they do at Mama Lu’s.
How to order: Call 626-307-5700 for takeout or pickup via their website; pickup or delivery via Postmates, DoorDash, and Grubhub.
Xiao Long Bao at Din Tai Fung
If you haven’t heard of Din Tai Fung by now, you’re either living under a rock, or you just really don’t like dumplings. Either way, it’s not too late to get acquainted with this revered soup dumpling empire, which has roots in Taiwan and makes broth-filled bao known the world over. Even if you’re a dumpling snob, it’s hard not to appreciate the DTF kitchen’s consistency and near-surgical precision. Every angle of their exquisite XLB has been examined, analyzed, and refined to give you the ideal bite; each parcel is weighed at 21 grams with a golden ratio of five grams of pork to 16 grams of dough, before it’s beautifully folded 18 times.
How to order: Call 626-446-8588 for takeout or pickup via their website; pickup or delivery via Postmates, UberEats, and DoorDash.
Chili Oil Chao Shou at MIAN
The brainchild of Chef Tony Xu, owner of the wildly popular Chengdu Taste chain, MIAN is no stranger to accolades. In 2019, it earned a well-deserved spot on the list of Michelin Bib Gourmand restaurants in Los Angeles for slinging some of the city’s most superlative noodles—which is what MIAN means in Chinese. But here’s a not-so-secret secret: The restaurant also makes some of SGV’s juiciest Chao Shou (iconic Sichuan dumplings made with square skins and folded into two points). These pork-bloated parcels arrive bathed in a generous pool of slightly sweet Sichuan chili sauce, customized to your desired spice level and designed to titillate your taste buds. Pro-tip: They recently opened a second location in West Adams if you’re craving dumplings on that side of town.
How to order: Walk-ins welcome; pickup or delivery via their website, DoorDash, Grubhub, and UberEats.
Xiao Long Bao at Dan Modern Chinese
Dan Modern has a well-curated menu of Chinese classics made, well, with modern sensibilities. But Xiao Long Bao is their signature dish that’s said to rival Din Tai Fung’s. Crafted with high-quality dough, these mouthwatering marvels come in all sorts of tasty combos (like pork and dungeness crab, chicken and shrimp, or spicy pork). Each element hits all the right notes—from a savory, soul-warming broth that’s a revelation on its own to a perfect proportion of some palate-pleasing protein. The demand for Dan Modern’s insanely good dumplings is high; the restaurant now has five locations in LA—including its Pasadena outpost—with a couple more slated for later this year. To receive a complimentary dish for dine-in only, email email@example.com and follow @danmodernchinese on Instagram by February 9, 2022. Offer valid until February 28, 2022.
How to order: Walk-ins welcome; pickup or delivery via ChowNow, Postmates, UberEats, DoorDash, and Grubhub.
Shui Jiao at One One Dumplings
This dumpling house is sometimes referred to by its previous moniker, Luscious Dumplings, which was a neighborhood favorite. But when one of the restaurant’s partners expanded to a location in Monrovia and changed a few things, the original owners broke off to start anew. With that came a new name—but the dumplings remain luscious indeed. These freshly made, savory wonders are delectable boiled or fried, although we recommend the former, called Shui Jiao (which translates literally to “water dumpling” in Mandarin). While boiled potstickers may not have the pizzazz of their fried counterparts, One One’s are wonderfully tender and never under or overdone. Pro-tip: The earlier in the day you order, the better, as they often run out!
How to order: Call 626-282-8695 for takeout.
Hui Tou at Hui Tou Xiang
This unassuming strip mall restaurant specializes in a variety of delicious dumplings and noodles, but it’s most renowned for its signature dish and namesake: Hui Tou, which look nothing like your run-of-the-mill, half-moon-styled potstickers. And that’s precisely what makes these pillow-shaped bites, filled with either pork or beef, so heavenly. Thanks to a flat, rectangular silhouette (and the fact that both sides are pan-fried), these potstickers offer up more fried surface area than the average dumpling—resulting in a crisp shell that’s the perfect foil to its unbelievably juicy interior.
How to order: Call 626-281-9888 for takeout; pickup via their website.
Shui Jiao at Apt. Li-Xiang
It’s hard to order the wrong dumpling at Apt. Li-Xiang—they’ve got everything from pork with chili peppers (or corn cheese!) to black pepper beef and prawn and leeks. Their potstickers may look simple and straightforward, but a closer look reveals more: they’re made with paper-thin skins that, when boiled, turn translucent enough to see the filling underneath. It’s a sign of a great dumpling (because the last thing you want is a thick-skinned potsticker that tastes like a ball of dough)—in addition to a moist, flavor-packed mixture of shrimp and veggies.
How to order: Call 626-348-8335; pickup or delivery via Postmates and UberEats.
Sheng Jian Bao at Kang Kang Food Court
Sheng Jian Bao are the more substantial, carb-loaded cousin to delicate Xiao Long Bao. Where XLB are enveloped in thin-skinned wrappers and steamed, these are pan-fried with crisp bottoms and thicker exteriors—which are great at containing a gelatinous paste that turns to liquid as it cooks. Kang Kang Food Court is known for its splendid take on these Shanghainese buns, studded with black sesame seeds and exploding with scalding-hot soup (you’ve been warned!). The filling is rich and flavorful, so it helps to dip the bao in the proffered vinegar sauce; its acid tang cuts through the oozing pork fat and lends an extra dimension of flavor.
How to order: Walk-ins welcome; call 626-308-3898 for takeout or order via their website.
Bao Zi at Tasty Noodle House
Bao Zi are traditionally fluffy wheat buns filled with meat and veggies—and Tasty Noodle House’s take is legendary. Made with a thicker dough similar to Sheng Jian Bao (a variation of Bao Zi), these round buns are soft and puffy on top, and lightly pan-fried so that their golden-brown bottoms are crunchy. The mix of contrasting textures—as well as the flavor of the seasoned pork within—is a game-changer. And despite the fact that the meat’s practically oozing with aromatic juices inside, the bao never gets soggy, even if you enjoy it the next day.
How to order: Call 626-284-8898 for takeout; pickup via their website.
Har Gow at Lunasia Chinese Cuisine
Alhambra & Pasadena
The steamed, crescent-shaped dumplings known in Cantonese as Har Gow—a classic dim sum dish—are wrapped in translucent skins that are stretchy, largely thanks to tapioca starch, and stuffed with shrimp. The shrimp, which should be firm, plump, and still crisp, is often folded inside with some kind of pork fat to keep this nugget juicy. Lunasia hits on all of the above and more: each one is made with a whole jumbo shrimp, resulting in supersized Har Gow compared to the ones served at other restaurants.
How to order: Pickup via their website or app.
Guo Tie at JTYH Restaurant
JTYH is so deft at executing one thing well (knife-cut noodles from Shanxi province) that you forget they’re also skilled at other dishes (dumplings). But of course, it all makes sense: if you’re good at working the dough for hand-shaven, slippery noods, you’re probably good at turning out plump, porky parcels too. While we’ve sung the praises of thin-skinned wrappers, JTYH is actually known for its thicker, chewier exterior—which no one seems to mind because they manage to remain springy and elastic. Paired with beautifully seared bottoms, these hearty dumplings are filling—so come hungry!
How to order: Call 626-442-8999 for takeout.
Wonton at Sam Woo Barbeque
There’s much debate about who serves the best har gow or makes the juiciest potstickers, but nearly everyone agrees that Sam Woo’s Wonton Soup is a rite of passage. The hallmark of wontons is their yellow, egg-based dough. Rolled out to a fragile thinness, the wrappers are what make wontons perfect for boiling in broth (instead of subjecting them to aggressive pan-frying). Sam Woo sticks to tradition here, tossing their pork- and shrimp-loaded dumplings into soup with a clump of al dente egg noodles and scallions. Another rite of passage? Adding a few droplets of Chinese red vinegar for a touch of bright acidity.
How to order: Call 626-281-0038 for takeout; pickup or delivery via Postmates, DoorDash, and Grubhub.
Siu Mai at NBC Seafood Restaurant
Although there are dozens of variations on Siu Mai, the one that’s most recognized stateside is the Cantonese staple served at dim sum restaurants. This steamed, open-faced snack (unlike other dumplings, their yellow, egg-based wrappers aren’t sealed) is usually gorged with a base of ground pork and shrimp and enhanced with any number of additional ingredients and aromatics: mushrooms, scallions, ginger, water chestnuts, bamboo shoots. The top is typically garnished with crab roe or diced carrot, but at NBC—a long-established dim sum mainstay that’s perpetually busy on weekends—they use a goji berry.
How to order: Pickup or delivery via UberEats.
Tang Bao at Long Xing Ji
Think of Tang Bao as the XL-sized rendition of Xiao Long Bao. A giant dumpling bursting with soup, it’s served with a straw (the better to slurp up that delicious broth before digging into the rest) in an individual bamboo steamer. In recent years, this supersized bao has enjoyed a lot of attention thanks to its Instagram-worthy appearance, but Long Xi Ji’s has substance instead of just being a social media draw. Chock-full of freshly ground pork and crab, it’s the perfect precursor to the rest of your meal at this spot specializing in cuisine from China’s Jiangsu province. Plus, it’s proof that bigger can be better!
How to order: Pickup via their website; pickup or delivery via Postmates, UberEats, DoorDash, Grubhub.