All hail the miracle of xiao long bao’s juice-spurting contents—delicious porkiness with gelatinous aspic that melts into ambrosial broth when the dumplings are steamed. Once found locally only at strip mall dumpling houses in the San Gabriel Valley, XLB, as they are known, seem to be everywhere these days. Or soon will be.
Din Tai Fung, which helped establish the cult-like status of Shanghainese soup-filled dumplings in Southern California, arrived in Arcadia in 2000. After opening a second operation there, the Taiwan-based chain eventually expanded to Glendale’s Americana at Brand a few years ago, then to Costa Mesa’s South Coast Plaza. This fall another one is opening in Torrance, just months after the restaurant rolled out a palatial 9,400-square-foot flagship in Arcadia’s Westfield Santa Anita Mall. It replaces the pair of Din Tai Fung restaurants nearby, one of which (the original) will become a take-out spot.
Other XLB purveyors have followed Din Tai Fung’s expansion. The fast-growing chain ROC opened outposts on Sawtelle Boulevard and on West 3rd Street last year, and in Playa Vista in January. This fall it’s launching a Culver City location. And ixlb DimSum Eats, with white tiles and black floors, materialized on Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood this past March.
Though gleaming, ixlb DimSum Eats doesn’t have the glamour of Din Tai Fung’s new space in Arcadia, which features a maze of booths and intricate wood screens; a light installation above the bar resembles a giant Chinese lantern. The real drama is in the glass-walled room at the entrance. Inside, dough rollers, fillers, and folders make dumplings—thousands a day—that are considered the standard-bearers because their wrappers are gathered into a swirl of pleats meeting at a center crown that isn’t overly thick (supposedly because the dough is rolled thinner at the edges).
Taking his cue from xiao long bao’s popularity, Cris Lee, an owner of Korean BBQ hot spots, including Quarters and Kang Ho Dong Baekjeong, opened Golden Pouch in Koreatown. It might be the first in L.A. to stuff its xiao long bao with bulgogi. Decked out with TV-screen menus, ordering tablets, and a mini Airstreamesque trailer, the stylish outdoor stand is so small, it makes its dumplings in an off-site kitchen. But project manager Seany Um says he hopes the next location will have a staging area, where people can watch them being made. “Just like at Din Tai Fung,” he says.