Din Tai Fung is one of the most polarized place where it attracts both ends of the spectrum. It's either you hate the place or love it where there is no middle ground to compromise.
To look back on this place, you have to take into the account that the founder grew up in Shanxi (northern province of China) who immigrated to Taiwan after the fall of Kuomingtang. The founder decided to sell his signature xiao long bao (Little Dragon buns - Juicy Pork soup dumplings) to support his livelihood back in the 80's during a difficult phase of his fiancial standings. A happy success story where he was able to turn a food cart venture selling his xlbs into a full fledged restaurant in Taipei. Within those short years later, it would culminated into the restaurant being name the "top 10 Restaurants in the world" by the New York Times in 1993.
With that being said, there are some detractors who like to point out that the soup dumplings are made by Taiwanese that catered only to Taiwanese. Therefore, the taste and even the skin are not authentic to the standards of a genuine Shanghai cuisine. The debate continue to rage on even as the restaurant expand worldwide picking up new fans of their dumplings...at the same time picking up more detractors as well.
The new opening of another branch of Din Tai Fung was welcomed as the old location endured crazy long wait for people just to experience their delicious signature xiao long bao. The new added restaurant (not joined in by the old location as it is a stand alone new restaurant) has a very upscale look with a 2nd floor to handle more customers descending on this place. The trick about coming here is that most people would park in the lot at the 1108 Baldwin Ave's location, to scout on the wait time for a table at the 1108's location. Then sly trekked over to the hidden plaza behind the first location where the newer modern looking 2nd restaurant is at.
For us to start off, we ordered the Shanghai Rice Cake Noodles. I'm beginning to like this dish more and more each time I ordered this type of noodle patties. It's sliced to a round rice noodle wafer patties. With the right amount of soy sauce, it is very delicious. Love it as a possible memorable bite of 2008.
The cheapest item of the night was a small order of pork chop for only $3.50. Why did we ordered this? Apparently, Din Tai Fung was running out of other types of dumpling dishes and anything relate to their 20 dumpling specials. The pork chop was suitable, but not very memorable.
My favorite dish of the night? The Shrimp won ton soup. Ahh, you know the night is going to end bad if that was the best thing going for you. I like the above normal size of the won ton and the soup was very simple to be enjoyable. It's not going to blow you away, but with Won Ton Time closed in Alhambra, it's always good to look out for a possible won ton destination.
The biggest disappointment of the night for me was their signature xiao long bao. I have ordered their pork and crab version. To my amazement, I was shocked at how bad those two meat are together. The taste didn't meshed very well and the soy sauce could not hide the displeasing taste. For the very first time, I also did not liked the way how the skin tasted. The texture of the skin was very rubbery and the size portion of those xlb were very small. For those little treats, they were setting us back at $9 per plate. Thank goodness, we didn't ordered more than one as it was an absolute bust for the night.
The other two dumplings that ended the night for us was not that great either. One was the pork and shrimp steamed dumplings, which were fine, but not stellar. The other was the steamed fish dumplings that was not up to par for the night. Was it that bad in terms of dumplings taste? I think the foul taste from the xlb never set the course for the evening and the steamed fish finished off the tone of the night with its offsetting flavor for the dumplings. The night never recovered from the won ton soup and ended on a disappointing notes from the dumplings.
If there is any consolation out of this night was that the service was friendly and fast. The big stinger of the night was the prices for the dishes added up to $44.50 before taxes and tips. Definitely not cheap at all coming here to dine.
It's one of those places that have the huge hype that didn't live up to its billings.
ps. I did like my meals at the 1st location at 1108 Baldwin. I doubt there is any difference between the two in terms of taste.
1088 Baldwin Ave
Arcadia, CA 91006