It’s been three months since Din Tai Fung opened at South Coast Plaza, and the wait for a table can still stretch well beyond two hours, even on a Monday or Tuesday.
The Taiwanese chain is most famous for its Shanghai-style xiao long bao, aka soup dumplings, which are sometimes called juicy dumplings. Perhaps that has something to do with the sudden proliferation of dumpling restaurants. Super Juicy Dumplings debuted in Brea in October, and hanging in its window is a newspaper article about xiao long bao from Din Tai Fung. The article is meant to convey, I suppose, the popularity of this type of dumpling and, by extension, their own relevance.
Meanwhile, Tai Chi Cuisine recently opened in Irvine in the same shopping center as Wei Shian Noodles and 101 Noodle Express. The menu focuses on all kinds of Chinese noodles, including the shop’s own take on soup dumplings. Theirs involves a much thicker, chewier dough. And then there’s the Capital Noodle Bar, a new casual offshoot of Capital Seafood.
Here’s how everyone stacks up:
Din Tai Fung
The dumplings: The skins are micro-thin, and this is what separates Din Tai Fung from everyone else. The xiao long bao are available in pork, pork and crab or pork with black truffle. The crab version tastes a little fishy, but the pork variations are superb, with just a touch of sweetness to the filling.
What else to eat: The spicy wonton dumplings are slippery and delicious.
Average wait time: One and a half hours minimum
South Coast Plaza, 3333 Bristol St., Costa Mesa; 714-549-3388
Super Juicy Dumplings
The dumplings: The skins on these juicy pork dumplings are slightly thicker than Din Tai Fung’s, but they are also bigger and just as flavorful. They are available sweetened or unsweetened.
What else to eat: The Wuxi style spareribs, the cumin beef and the spicy beef vermicelli soup are excellent.
Average wait time: 10 minutes
2445 E. Imperial Highway, Brea; 714-928-7666
Tai Chi Cuisine
The dumplings: The pork buns here aren’t quite xiao long bao. They’re much bigger, with extra-thick and chewy, almost gelatinous wrappers. Although much less delicate, they are nonetheless full of flavor and fun to eat.
What else to eat: The beef short rib soup with traditional wheat noodles is exceptional, with a richly flavored broth that’s mildly redolent of star anise and cinnamon.
Average wait time: Rarely a wait
5414 Walnut Ave., Irvine; 949-653-5728
Capital Noodle Bar
The dumplings: The wrappers on these are thin and delicate, but there’s not much, if any, juiciness inside. They contain maybe two or three drops of soup, but they are stuffed generously with ground pork.
What else to eat: Best thing on the menu is probably the Vietnamese-style grilled lemongrass chicken, or the beef skewers.
Average wait time: Five minutes
3850 E. Barranca Parkway, Irvine; 949-651-8088
This article originally appeared in the Orange County Register. To view more of my work for the Register, check out the archives. I also invite you to follow me and join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter.