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Din Tai Fung -- What has been your experience?

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Yes, Virginia, Din Tai Fung is a chain, with 25 branches in 8 countries. Besides, it comes up on multiple boards, so I don't know where else to post this.

Where have you been to a Din Tai Fung and was the xiaolong bao worth the shouting? What else was good? Have you noticed variations in quality between branches? (There have been some reports of the Arcadia and Singapore locations not being up to the standards of the Taipei branches.) How do they compare with other xiaolong bao venues in the same localities? Were they greatly overpriced for their area?

I've only been to the Shanghai (Xintiandi) branch of DTF, and the XLB there were excellent; of course, one would expect DTF to put their best foot forward on XLB's home turf. They also were grossly overpriced for Shanghai, and at least one local xiaolong bao purveyor (Jia Jia Tang Bao) trumps the XLB at Din Tai Fung, IMHO, at a fraction of the price.

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  1. My parents actually prefer the XLB and the shrimp/pork dumplings at the Arcadia branch to the Taiwan branch. I've found the Arcadia branch to be very good and consistent over the past few 3-4 years.

    1. The Taipei location is good for XLB, better than the Arcadia (CA, USA) location.

      Only thing worth getting at the Arcadia DTF is the chicken soup. Everything else is subpar.

      7 Replies
      1. re: ipsedixit

        Subpar compared to the Taipei branch or subpar to XLB in LA in general? The latter may be a bit of an exaggeration since few people can think of 1, maybe 2 places that they feel is better than DTF Arcadia.

        Compared to XLB in NYC, DTF Arcadia is clearly better IMHO. There are a couple of places in SF that I like as much as DTF Arcadia but certainly not better.

        I agree with below that the pork only XLB is much better than the crab+pork XLB. In fact, I would even agree with you that the crab+pork XLB at DTF Arcadia is only average.

        The pork XLB, the shrimp/pork dumplings, the fish dumplings, and the chicken soup are all well done and worth waiting in that insane line for.

        1. re: Porthos

          Subpar in comparison to XLB in all of San Gabriel Valley.

          No exaggeration.

          1. re: ipsedixit

            I grew up eating asian food in SGV and surrounding environs and I have not had many superior to DTF.

            I've heard arguments for Mei Long and very few others but I'd be interested to hear which other restaurants you feel serve superior XLB.

            1. re: Porthos

              Mei Long Village, J&J, Dragon Mark, Giang-Nan and Ho Ho Kitchen all do XLB better than DTF.

              See my prior post: http://www.chowhound.com/topics/359048

              1. re: ipsedixit

                Well it's as you said in that post. It all depends on what you consider good XLB. I give higher marks for thinner skin that maintains its shape and integrity when picked up. As for the filling, there's a certain balance and subtlety that I like at DTF.

                If you like J&J more because the skin is thicker and the filling is stronger tasting, that's completely respectable but more reflective of your preference for XLB. Personally, I don't like a thicker skin in my XLB.

                I'm not sure which style is closer to the "original" Shanghainese version.

                1. re: Porthos

                  While the XLB at DTF is excellent and true to the spirit of Shanghainese style, you have to consider the price/quality ratio. Do you think DTF is worth twice or 3X the amount from top purveyors of XLB on the West Coast? I have not returned to DTF in Arcadia since after being invited there for the first time. I have had better tasting XLB elsewhere in Taiwan/Shanghai at fraction of what DTF was charging. Kudos to DTF for its successful marketing in upscaling a peasant food.

        2. re: ipsedixit

          thats my general concensus as well. however, their shanghai rice cakes (nian gao) are quite good. other than that......DTF is OVERRATED.

        3. I've only been to the DTF in Arcadia, and only once. I like the XLB better at Mei Long Village, and prefer the pork-only version to the crab+pork version there. I used to like the XLB (crab+pork) best at New Green Bo in NY but on our last visit to NY (October 2006) the wrappers were mushy and the filling was ground more finely than in our past (mutiple) visits and the amount of soup inside and its richness seemed diminished. These are the only 3 places I've ever had XLB. We're thinking of going to Hong Kong for my *big* b-day in Nov. 2008. Are there any DTF's there?

          p.s. my picture is our XLB at New Green Bo last October.

          1 Reply
          1. re: Debbie W

            Unless more than one has popped up, the DTF Hong Kong location I went to in 2002 is located in Whampoa Gardens, Hung Hom, top (or near the top) floor of the gourmet building, across from Jusco Japanese dept store (and where the big ship is). No direct way of getting there unless you know the bus lines, or get a cab from either Yau Ma Tei or TST (ask to be taken to Wong Bo Fa Yuen).

          2. Well, like most Angelenos (actually I'm from OC), I make a pilgrimage to the Arcadia branch and am already so used to the waiting ritual that awaits that I know how much time I will have to do some banking at the Wells Fargo next door.

            I love DTF, but also Mei Long Village...both good, but different.

            Here are a few pictures and a video I took of DTF:
            http://elmomonster.blogspot.com/2007/...

            1. I've got to believe there are differences between locations in different countries due to ingredients and preparation. When DTF opened in Arcadia the main issue was the health department wouldn't let them use bamboo steamers and they had to use stainless steel. Basic ingredients such as flour and meats are going to be different depending where they come from and maybe something as simple as the water for steaming and as an ingredient is going to make a difference. Geographically and genetically people's tastes are different.

              There is no one standard recipe or standard for XLB. Boils down to different strokes for different folks. I like the XLB at DTF-USA, Mei Long Village and J&J, doesn't mean I can't tell the difference, they're all good in their own way its all about personal taste. Like the poster above thinks the DTF chicken soup is the best thing to get and I thought it was the most marginal Chinese chicken soup I've ever had and wouldn't order it again.

              6 Replies
              1. re: monku

                You hit the nail in the head with geographical ingredients and methods of prep.

                Taiwanese chickens are superb for soup, particularly the free range variety called tu ji.
                Some of them/their white meat are as tough as rubber (like Arnold Scwarenegger with a beak and two legs) but yields way more flavor than our normal chickens stateside (unless you upgrade to free range organic chicken from a local farm or Whole Foods, but that's only a few notches of improvement). Hence DTF's chicken soup should in theory taste better than the one at Arcadia, at least that was how I remembered it.

                1. re: K K

                  Any freshly killed chicken is far superior than one that has been processed, frozen, thawed and cooked like most places serve.

                  1. re: K K

                    Chicken is also one component of the "soup" stock for XLB, along with pork and ham if done according to the long form:

                    http://www.galaxylink.com.hk/~john/fo...

                  2. re: monku

                    monku i completely agree with your post down to the opinion about their chicken soup

                    1. re: choctastic

                      Thanks.
                      So you're a DTF soup fan?

                      1. re: monku

                        I like the DTF dumplings but I like Mei Long and J&J too. I've only been to the Arcadia DTF. I taste the differences between the restaurants but I like them all anyway. J&J crab dumpling in particular is really good for on the road eating because they have a thicker skin and less soup and I like how they do the crab filling.

                        I'm not sure how DTF could screw up the chicken soup though. The actaul chicken chunks that are in the soup tasted pretty good to me, however, perhaps my tastebuds were shot from all the dumplings.

                  3. I believe there are 2 DTF locations in Taipei. The main/original one, and another one by a shopping district near Zhongxiao Dunhua. I've only been to the main one, and have been very pleased (though I've only ordered XLB and the chicken soup).

                    At Arcadia I've sampled the XLB, crab XLB, chicken soup, and beef noodle soup (definitely not representative of the Taiwanese street food bowl).

                    In Hong Kong, I can't remember exactly what else I had, but for sure did try the xiao long tang bao. BIG mistake. Imagine a soupless juiceless XLB with a bowl of boring brown broth on the side for you to dip in. The place was very busy when I did go during lunch.

                    These 3 visits were within 2002 to 2003. I can honestly say that the quality did not vary and certain the XLB alone between Taipei main and Arcadia were very consistent with each other, though I think Taipei's chicken soup is the best (given the better flavor of local free range chicken).

                    In Taipei DTF is also pricier than XLB you can get from a neighborhood restaurant/stall (you can even order this for breakfast at some places along with your soy milk, yoh tieou and starch coma goodness, but they're not very good) but you do get what you pay for.

                    5 Replies
                    1. re: K K

                      In Shanghai, the DTF price for XLB is orders of magnitude more expensive than the neighborhood price: RMB 45 for 10 dumplings, compared to the typical rate locally of 8 RMB for 12-16 dumplings, including some very good ones.

                      1. re: Gary Soup

                        Right around the corner from the original DTF Taipei location is a place, whose name I'm inclined to say is Gao's place or to that effect, that literally is a DTF clone. I've passed by there in 2002 and most recently 2007. They're still around, but I never see lines there like I do at DTF (tons of Japanese tourists too I'm sure).

                        There are tourists and/or food snackers that go in to DTF, order one steamer of XLB, pays the bill and leaves. Maybe a chicken soup or one small dish in addition at best. All within 20 to 30 mins. Then the table is occupied by another diner.

                        Side note, there was an old Taiwanese tabloid article about past DTF employees. After they learned the craft of XLB and the 18 pleats, they moved on to open their own XLB shops. Quite a few have done that with some level of success, but not getting anywhere near the might of the DTF empire.

                        In Arcadia, it seems families and friends go to DTF and occupy tables forever like people generally do at dim sum restaurants all over California. Well who wants to rush a meal like this. I don't blame the mad haters, those waiting in line and end up so mad they can't enjoy the meal, for voting against DTF Arcadia as a result.

                        I suppose in addition to paying for the name, there's also brand name/franchise, and nice enough decor. More power to you if you can find as good or better quality off the street. What can I say, where there's a strong potential market, there will always be XLB fans/eaters.

                        I'm sure there are tons of great HK places for XLB outside of DTF that are just as good as the cheap places in Shanghai, though I've no idea where are the better places.

                        Can anyone comment on how the Japan branches are?

                        1. re: K K

                          Yes, there are two branches. The original is on XinYi Rd and there is a knock off place next door called Gao Dian I think (loosely translated to be "high class dim sum"). I've been to the XinYi original location a couple of times, but alas it was over 12 years ago so my memory is thin on it, though I do remember it was excellent. When I'm in that neighborhood, I'm usually there to eat at a couple of the best niu rou mian places in Taiwan, so had to skip on the XLB.

                          I haven't tried the Arcadia location but from reports of my Taiwanese friends who have gone to try it, they've been underwhelmed. Some also say that a few Bay area places do it better.

                          I'd also like to hear about the Japanese branch. Because from the couple of times I passed by DTF Taipei a few years ago when I visited, there were TONS of Japanese tourists waiting in line. I think it is almost a must-visit destination for Japanese tourists.

                          1. re: tanspace

                            There, in fact, ELEVEN branches in Japan.

                            http://www.dintaifung.tw/eng/where.htm

                            1. re: tanspace

                              You have to be careful about using quantities of Japanese tourist as the barometer to judge the quality of authenticity. It is ok for popularity of the restaurant. My traveling around the globe found that Japanese tourists are very well read about the eating guides and are not indicative of value and good chow. Locals know best!

                      2. The XLB at the Arcadia, California branch was underwhelming, however, it was a great experience, and I have returned since for those juicy pork dumplings.

                        Detailed report here: http://www.chowhound.com/topics/50446

                        http://bfdblog.net

                        1. Jakarta's no-pork DTF is a travesty!

                          1. I ate at the Shanghai Xintandi DTF and the Seoul DTF recently. Apart from the price issue, which is a big factor, I thought both places were wonderful. In Shanghai I only had the XLB. (I arrived on the dot of 3pm, closing time, so had little time to order and eat..) In Seoul we had pork xlb and pork and crab xlb, vegetable-stuffed fried dumplings,hot and sour soup, and the beef noodle soup which was wondrous. The braised beef itself was worth a visit to Seoul. The DTF is Seoul is very slick, done in red lacquer with lots of "art objects' scattered around. Honestly I thought the food at both of these was excellent and I could not discern any difference between the xlb at both places. But then I am a total novice...with much to learn on the subject.

                            1. Well I have been to the on in Arcadia and the one in Yokohama Japan (this is the one I have been to most often) and I like the XLB at the DTF in Yokohama better... =)
                              A Japanese friend once told me that he had been to the DTF in Arcadia, Tokyo and Taipei and he said that Tokyo was the best

                              The reason why there are TONS of Japanese tourists outside the DTF in Taiwan is because it is on MOST of the "day tour" routes - people know of it from the stores in Japan and want to go to the "original"

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: redglowh

                                As for Japan, I've been to the DTFs in Shinjuku, Tamagawa and Tachikawa. Very consistent. A steamer of 6 XLB is ~800 yen IIRC, about US$6.80 at the moment. Generally we get two of those, I get the surantanmen (think hot+sour soup with noodles in it), it's second only to Tokyo's Youshou Shonin IMO, and my wife gets the braised beef noodle soup. It's so consistent that it's not clear to me whether it's worth making special trips to any other ones in Tokyo.

                                http://www.ramentokyo.com

                              2. Din Tai Fung is a chain? Would you believe, I didn't know! The one I've been to is in Meongdong, Seoul Korea. I just love the place. Shrimp noodle soup and crab meat dimsims were just perfect.

                                1. Not to be a naysayer, but after a lot of people hyping it to me I recently went to one of their Singapore restaurants and was pretty disappointed in the XLBs. Great thin skins, nice meat to soup ratio, but tasteless. I'm shocked at the standards, considering this is an Asian restaurant in Asia; I find Crystal Jade's XLBs far more tasty.