Din Tai Fung (San Diego)
The famous Din Tai Fung chain opened its first San Diego location last week. The highly anticipated opening was delayed for several months, but I am so thrilled it is finally now open.
Din Tai Fung originated in Taiwan, but has over a hundred locations in Asia and has opened several locations in California the last few years. They are known for their xiao long bao, a type of Chinese dumpling that is steamed and contains soup in the filling.
We’ve visited several Din Tai Fung locations including the original one in Taiwan, along with several other branches in Taiwan. We’ve also been to almost all of the Southern California branches.
Currently in its soft opening phase, you can only dine here with a reservation. The month of October has already been filled, but you can follow them on social media for announcements on the next set of reservations.
The restaurant is quite beautiful, forming a semi-circle space that spans about 10,000 square feet, with dozens of over-sized windows letting in natural light.
There was a little confusion when checking in for our reservation, showing some signs of soft opening kinks, but once we were seated, service was flawless and on par with our visits to other locations.
When you enter the restaurant, you can watch the dumplings being handmade. It’s a fascinating process to watch the speed and precision the employees are able to execute.
They provide both a menu that has pictures of all the dishes as well as a two-sided order sheet. The menu is quite extensive, but over the years, we’ve managed to narrow the list of dishes we order down to just a few.
DTF has always had excellent service and it was no exception here. After ordering, our server spaced out our food so that we only got a few dishes at a time. Most of these dishes, especially the xlb, are best enjoyed right away, so this ensures that you enjoy all your food at the ideal temperature. The server checked on our progress quite often and would put in the order for the next few dishes when he saw that we were almost finished.
This is one of their most popular cold appetizers and one of my favorites. It is quite expensive for the portion but the cucumbers were very crunchy and nicely coated in their secret recipe chili oil.
Kurobuta Pork Xiao Long Bao
This is the most classic xlb, filled with ground pork. Din Tai Fung’s version features kurobuta pork, a more premium pork that is supposed to be more marbled, tender and flavorful.
The pork xlb were very much on par with ones we’ve had at the other branches. No dumplings leaked, the skins were thin and elastic, and the filling had a good amount of soup.
The pork xlb is what DTF is most famous for, and while it is excellently made, it’s actually not my favorite xlb filling. I think if this is your very first time eating at DTF, you may be underwhelmed if you were anticipating a flavor explosion, because the pork filling is quite simple and a little bit plain. (Though I still believe in ordering it as it is the classic version.) The other fillings are a lot more flavorful.
For those unfamiliar with eating xlb, you are usually given a small plate of thinly sliced ginger. You then add black vinegar and any other of the condiments you wish, to create a dipping sauce for the xlb. I prefer just vinegar and ginger.
Crab & Kurobuta Pork Xiao Long Bao
One of my favorites is the crab and pork filling. A small crab-shaped dough is placed in the steamer to differentiate that these are the crab filled ones. As you can see, they are a little plumper and contain more filling than the pork only ones.
The crab flavor is very pronounced, which I like, but if you are not a huge crab fan this may not be for you.
Truffle & Pork Xiao Long Bao is my personal favorite but we didn’t get it on this visit. We’ve had it at other locations and while I love it, I do find it a bit overpriced.
Sauteed String Beans with Garlic
Most of the vegetable dishes are quite well executed (though portions are small for the price), but our absolute favorite is the string beans which is prepared a little differently than the rest of the vegetable dishes. The beans are first briefly fried before being stir fried with a lot of minced garlic. The are wonderfully crunchy and flavorful and I can never seem to get enough of them.
Pork Chop Fried Rice
We also enjoy the pork chop fried rice. The pork is nicely seasoned and the fried rice is cooked well.
Shrimp & Pork Pot Stickers
This is always a fun dish. To ensure maximum crispy bottoms, the dumplings are pan fried with a starch slurry. It connects the dumplings and creates a delicate crispy crust around the dumplings.
Chicken Wontons with Spicy Sauce
Their chili wontons are a fan favorite, mostly because of their secret recipe chili oil sauce. Don’t let all the red chili oil sauce covering the wontons scare you– the sauce is not that spicy. It is mildly spicy and sweet. According to our server, many customers ask to keep the sauce so they can pour it over their rice or other dishes.
The chili oil is sweeter and less spicy here than what I remember having in Taiwan, but still enjoyable and especially good for those who can’t eat a lot of spice.
I had not been much of a fan of the desserts here until they introduced their chocolate xlb a few years ago. Delicate xlb wrappers are filled with mochi and dark chocolate. The dark chocolate becomes almost like a liquid lava center when steamed. It’s wonderfully unique and delicious.
Overall, we had a good experience at Din Tai Fung. The service was excellent and the food was as good as the other branches we’ve visited in the US. Prices are a little on the high side, but they do make the best xlb in San Diego and they have great service too.
For those familiar with the DTF brand, of course it’s not as good as it is in Asia, which I think has a lot to due with the ingredient limitations. However, it is as good as the other US locations and we’ll definitely be back.
For those who’ve never experienced DTF, I think sometimes people leave disappointed because they’ve heard so much hype and they expect their first bite of a pork xlb to be one of the best things they’ve ever ate. But what made DTF famous is actually their technique and it may take experiencing xlb at other places to appreciate how well made their version is. In addition to weighing out the dough (5 grams of dough for their classic pork xlb), the filling (16 grams of pork filling), and folding exactly 18 pleats per xlb, they’ve managed to create a dough that can be rolled out thinly and retain enough elasticity that it doesn’t break or leak.
The most common problem that plagues xlb is that the skin breaks, causing all the soup to leak out. DTF has perfected their dough so that the dumplings can withstand the high pressure steaming process and the gentle (or sometimes clumsy) prodding of chopsticks and still stay intact until it reaches the customer’s mouth. Many restaurant will serve much thicker-skinned xlb to prevent the skin from breaking, but this leads to too much dough to meat ratio, along with a very thick and dense build-up of dough at the top of the dumpling where all the folds meet. DTF’s dough is incredibly thin and elastic, something most other places have not been able to achieve.
I’ve tried xlb at a few dozen places over the years and there have been very few restaurants that can match the technique of DTF’s xlb, which is why I enjoy theirs so much.
- As I mentioned above, reservations for the rest of October are full. Follow their social media to learn when the next set of reservations open.
- My favorite dishes to order here are the truffle pork xlb, crab xlb, sauteed garlic green beans, pork chop fried rice, wontons with spicy sauce and chocolate mochi xlb.
For another look at Din Tai Fung, check out Kirk’s post from opening day.
Din Tai Fung San Diego
(Inside UTC mall)
4301 La Jolla Village Dr #2000, San Diego, CA 92122