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Mar 11, 2003 12:00 AM

Xiao long bao/shao long bao. Shanghai small dragon dumplings

  • j

Looking for the best place for small dragon dumplings in SF. I know a great place in Oakland (Shanghai restaurant) but would like to find one closer to home.

xiao long bao are the little dumplings served in a steamer. They have a meat/veg filling that produces a bit of meaty broth that is released when you bite into them. Absolutely delicious. Native to Shanghai.


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    1. re: vn

      summary of SF choices

      where do you go in oakland?


      1. re: vn

        It's Shanghai Restaurant (the Chinese name is Shang Hai Xiao Cai) on Webster and 10th I think.

        Best Shanghai food outside Shanghai I've found so far. Taiwan place on irving has some good dishes too.

        Thank you all for suggestions! I'm going to work my way down the list (: going to shanghai next month so I'll reconnect with the real thing again which will make me even more fussy!

        1. re: jasmine

          If you did a search for "xlb" you might turn up even more discussion on this topic. Good xlb have been the subject of a quest here for over a year.

          I'm glad to get another opinion on Shanghai in Oakland. I like their xlb, too. The first time I went in there I made a huge impression on the staff (actually I seem to have amused them greatly -- makes me wonder if I pronounced it in such a way I said something silly and/or obscene!) by asking for them in Chinese (I'm Caucasian). Other things there I've ordered have been hit and miss (red cooked pork: excellent, tofu strips with soy beans and mustard greens: watery and overcooked).

          What else do you recommend there? Since I don't read or speak Chinese, I'm always frustrated by the large number of Chinese-only specials on the wall.

          1. re: Ruth Lafler

            Actually, most stuff at Shanghai restaurant in Oakland is hit or miss. Even the stuff on the walls are hit or miss. The only reson I go back is the xlb and the hits are REALLY good. Just ask them what they suggest, and let them know you want to try the items they like, not the "for American" dishes. The small dishes in the counter in the back is usually good. Stewed gluten is great.

        2. re: vn

          It's Shanghai Restaurant (the Chinese name is Shang Hai Xiao Cai) on Webster and 10th I think. That's in Oakland.

          Best Shanghai food outside Shanghai I've found so far. Taiwan place on irving has some good dishes too.

          Thank you all for suggestions! I'm going to work my way down the list (: going to shanghai next month so I'll reconnect with the real thing again which will make me even more fussy!

          1. re: jasmine

            Sounds like you know the good stuff. I'll probably be there next month, too. Maybe I'll run into you in line at the Nanxiang Xiaolong Mantou Dian. I waited in the takeout line for an hour last April for a single order of XLB. (It was worth it!)


            1. re: Gary Soup

              Thanks for posting this picture! Now I'm wondering if I've actually had xlb's. What we've had is something called "tiny buns" that look very much like in this picture. We had delicious ones at a place in NY's Chinatown and also ordered them off the dim sum menu at Koi Palace in Daly City. Does the Chinese character "shao" mean little? The "Chinese" reading for the Japanese character is "SHO" so I'm guessing it might be the same.

              1. re: Wendy-san
                Caitlin McGrath

                On NYC menus, they're often called steamed juicy buns, steamed tiny buns, tiny juicy buns, or some other variation, so they probably were the same thing, although Gary has said that the NY standard version has a lot more "soup" (they're also known as soup dumplings here) than what one finds in Shanghai.

                1. re: Caitlin McGrath

                  My favorite translation was at the (quite good) dining room of the Chinese Academy of Sciences Hotel in Shanghai where I spent three weeks in 1992. They were identified in English as "Steamed Dune." I never have figured out how they came up with that.

                2. re: Wendy-san

                  Yes, xiao or shao is little. I'm sure you know that character.

              2. re: jasmine

                Thanks for the tip. What are your favorite dishes there?

                Lucky you to be headed to Shanghai! You might want to check out the International message board for more info and please do share your finds there when you return.


                1. re: Melanie Wong

                  Thanks to your posting I went back and looked at the prior discussion. I see Charlie T had the same reaction to the "Soy Bean, BeanCurd Sheet w/Vegetable (mao dou xue cai bai ye)" that I did.

                  I also took mine home and doctored it (although I'm guessing his version did not include adding sour cream and sriracha sauce -- my current favorite doctoring for almost anything!).

                  The last time I was in there I saw a plate of the fish in wine sauce Charlie recommended and it looked good -- I'm also looking forward to hearing Jasmine's recommendations.

              3. re: vn

                Anyone know what happened to Sweet Temptation?

                1. re: TomG

                  changed to shanghai dumpling, this thread has an update


              4. re: vn

                The list is a little misleading, as it appears to be just a list of places with Shanghai in the name. Some of them do not have anything Shanghainese, and Shanghai Bazaar isn't even a restaurant. It's also dated, Shanghai King is gone (the chef is now the owner/chef of Shanghai Restaurant on Judah).

                There are a number of restaurants in SF with xiaolong bao which don't refer to Shanghai in their names: Fountain Court, Five Happiness, Chinese Harvest, etc.

                1. re: haochi

                  yes, as the other posters in that thread point out. more details and suggestions with commentary in the replies that follow the first post to help jasmine.

                  thanks for the update.

                2. re: vn

                  I occasionally eat at the listed
                  SHANGHAI GARDEN RESTAURANT Novato (415) 883-9060

                  Ain't nothin' Shanghaiese about it. Just the regular cloned menu, and no kinda bao's.

                3. In San Francisco, I'd suggest:

                  Old Shanghai (Geary)
                  Fountain Court (Clement)
                  Shanghai Dumpling (Balboa)
                  Shanghai Restaurant (Judah)
                  Five Happiness (Geary)

                  I haven't found any decent xiaolong bao in Chinatown. Some Cantonese dim sum places offer them, but they're usually way off the mark, IMO.

                  1. Jasmine, the search for the best xiao long bao has been a Chowhound project for more than a year. Welcome to the hunt!

                    While not in SF, the best we've found so far are at Su Hong in Palo Alto (not available at the Menlo Park location) and its sister restaurant, China First Gourmet, in Milpitas. Definitely worth checking out.


                    1. Just one minor correction. The word "long" in Xiao Long Bao does not refer to "dragon". It refers to a "cage" or a "container", essentially the little bamboo containers where these dumplings are steamed.

                      6 Replies
                      1. re: Peter

                        The orginal name of xlb's was little steamer buns, but I find a many places in Chniese words "little dragon buns". I think that they may think it sounds more impressive. Since I have been checking on this I have found that at more Shanghai places I have found more with the words "little dragons" the littel steamers.

                        The name has less effect than how good and soupy it is.

                        1. re: Yimster

                          Sorry to reply so late but xlb is my passion. I have prowled many a street and lane in Shanghai looking for the best. My Chinese is horrible, but I believe that both Yimster and Peter are right. In China, one will see the character 龙, which I believe means dragon, however, when you order, you ask for "yi ge long" which gives you a steamer rack of six to eight (or even a humongous one that you insert a straw into!).

                          The crazy thing is that in Shanghai the seldom disputed best place is Din Tai Feng, a Taiwanese chain that even has an outpost in LA. It is also waaay more expensive than the xlb on the street. Also, from my experience, in authentic places they won't be served for dinner as they are in the "xiao che" (small eats) category of food that one will see served from around 10:30- 3:00.

                          Okay... lunchtime!

                          1. re: JCRIV

                            小籠包 is correct, and 小龍包 is not. There is no conceivable correlation between a dumpling and a dragon. Believe it or not, Chinese people, even in Shanghai, are quite capable of writing characters incorrectly. Students used to be sent out on campaigns to document such errors and upbraid those responsible; they never lacked for grotesque errors.

                              1. re: poot

                                Funny how the steamer basket becomes a dragon when it takes off its little bamboo hat.

                                1. re: Tripeler

                                  Although I get your reference, Poot is correct. The dragon part of the character is what gives it the pronounciation. That said, I can also see how "little dragon dumplings" sounds much more exotic/enticing on a menu.

                                  Chinese have so many words that sound the same, but are totally different characters and add in the different dialects, it can be hard to sort out.

                        2. bund shanghai's xlb would rate at or near the top of my list now. the "owners" are shanghai natives. lot of good shanghai entrees here. grandma shanghai busses the tables here.

                          640 jackson st. (site of old jackson cafe?)
                          san francisco, ca.

                          they close mid day for (naps).