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Jun 24, 2008 08:17 PM

The New XLB Champion in Vancouver

I have amassed some data from eleven XLB joints here:

I can now pronounce (unequivocally) that my favorite Xiao Long Bao in the GVA is served at Lin Chinese Cuisine. The broth is thin and flavourful, the pork ball is light, and the skin is Din Tai Fung thin.

Close seconds are the XLB from Chen's (Richmond), Northern Delicacy (Richmond) and Wang's (Burnaby).

The trump card could still come from Shanghai River or Shanghai Wind where I have yet to sample this dish. I'll update as soon as I get a chance.

I know that management and kitchen at Shanghai Wonderful used to be the management and kitchen at Shanghai Wind. The owners could have very well taken their dumpling makers along with them when they sold to the Shanghai Wind's new owners.

Also I have tried the XLB from other places such as Long's Noodle House - but it has been a while. I am going by memory on some of these places. I didn't included them in this survey.

Good dumpling makers are traded and moved around like elite athletes so things could change at a moment's notice.

If anyone has any XLB recommendations, please post it here.


Lin Chinese Cuisine and Tea House
1537W Broadway W, Vancouver, BC V6J1W6, CA

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  1. Imagine my delight that your front runner is mere steps from my office! Keep up the good work, fmed -- it's appreciated. Just curious: where did the other Vancouver proper contenders -- The Place, Peaceful and Legendary -- fall in the list of 11?

    2 Replies
    1. re: grayelf

      I would say that the XLB at The Place and Peaceful are worth eating and probably fall within the top 5 or 6. The ones at Legendary were quite poor.

      1. re: fmed

        That was my sense as well, though I don't have nearly the comparators you do. As I recall, I didn't even know that the ones at Legendary were XLBs the first time I ate them, and we haven't ordered them since as we prefer their other dumpling offerings.

    2. It's time to check Lin out.

      My current fave is Chen's.

      The last time I was at Northern Delicacy was 2 years ago. The XLB was just decent then. Should I give it another try? The Tea Duck was very good.

      Where is Wang's in Burnaby?

      I find the XLB at The Place to be too big. The lamb skewers were great though.

      9 Replies
      1. re: kwailan4

        Wang's is in Crystal Mall. It has the cheapest XLB in town. The skin is also very thin.

        Northern Delicacy a great restaurant. Nearly every dish is well executed. I think their Tea Smoked Duck is the best in town. I usually try to sneak in a meal at ND with a trip to Daiso. Give it another try - it has been a few months for me too.

        The word on the street is that the dumpling maker at Lin used to be the dumpling maker for The Place (Lin used to own The Place and then sold to new owners). I agree with you about the size of the XLB at The Place - too big.

        Now The Place is interesting - they also have an honest to goodness Sichuan chef. Their Sichuan dishes taste proper (with "ma la" from Sichuan peppercorn, and they use the right fermented vegetables and beans etc.). Hhhmmm....I may do a full review. Pics from my most recent visit:

        1. re: fmed

          I had tea smoked chicken at Chen's last week. Yummy! What I really wanted to try was the fatty pork hock (ti-pang). It's on the menu, but they hardly ever make it. I was so choked.

          I heard that the XLB grandma at Wang's used to make XLBs for Chen's.

          Thanks for the report on Lin's, fmed. I'm going to make it my next XLB stop.

        2. re: kwailan4

          Just came back from Lin's. I liked the XLB,. It was as fmed described. However, I think there was a bit more broth at Chen's, but the Lin's skin is thinner yet does not break easily.

          Sad to say, the overall experience was not as good though. I arrived around noon on a Saturday. The room was nice decorated, and nice cutlery too. There were 5 other tables, 4 with no food on the table and 1 about to leave. Apparently, the other 4 has not even ordered. I heard the server mumbling "What's the hurry?" to herself when a neighboring table flagged her down to place their order. Perhaps that's when my mood changed.

          I waited about 5 minutes for a menu and another 15 to place my order. I ordered the XLB, Shen Jian Bao and Smoke Duck (my usual 3 dishes). Smoke Duck arrived 30 minutes later, XLB another 10 minutes and Shen Jian Bao another 5.

          The 3 dishes that I ordered all takes time to cook. I understand that, but it is still too long for a restaurant has only 4 other tables. Perhaps it was because I was by myself, the wait seemed longer.

          BTW, the smoke duck was ok, but the shen jian bao was bad. The pork ball was mushy and it probably needed another few minutes in the pan. Maybe it was because I rushed the server, so ...

          So for now, I still prefer Chen's overall for a meal with XLB because they do all my usual dishes very well. Lin's menu has a lot more variety which looked interesting (next table had a reddish/orangy pork dish in a round vegetable). But for XLB heads-up, it's a tough call.

          1. re: kwailan4

            Yep -- Lin's certainly has some service issues. Chen's on the other hand is fast, efficient and friendly. Wang's is also superfast - without the baggage attached to a full service restaurant. Long's service is also very fast and friendly.

            1. re: fmed

              Why does "chinese food" and "good dining experience" sounds like an oxymoron in the same sentence?

              I can probably count on 1 hand the number of restaurants that serve chinese food and provide a decent dining experience. I am not even talking about "good chinese food" and a "good dining experience".

              Note that I am not talking about fine dining.

              1. re: kwailan4

                I'm used to the terseness of eating Chinese. It's even worse in Asia ...unless you go to the four-star places. Some of the places in Richmond are near hostile.

                The young servers (sons and daughters of the owners, I believe) at Peaceful are very friendly. ...probably the friendliest Chinese service I have ever encountered.

                1. re: fmed

                  Agreed, fmed -- we were at Peaceful last night and both the son and daughter waited on us. There was a slight mixup with one dish we ordered (understandable as they are both prefixed with Xi-an) and it was taken off the bill. We went late so they were out of the cold noodles we wanted but brought the lamb stew instead. The menu has been completely redone to good effect I think -- by the daughter, so she said. The XLB are now called XLB too :-). And BTW we ordered the 1000 chili dish which was really excellent. The ma la you talk about was definitely in evidence and very addictive.

                2. re: kwailan4

                  "Why does "chinese food" and "good dining experience" sounds like an oxymoron in the same sentence?"

                  It certainly does not to me. I have been to your fair city a number of times and have eaten at many a Chinese restaurants there. I have also spent lots of time in Monterey Park, SF Bay Area, Toronto and Hong Kong. The services at Chinese restaurants range from the very bad to the very good.

                  In Vancouver I have experienced some of the best Hong Kong style service, comparable to the best and finest in HK.

                  I don't know why your experience is different from mine. But I can tell you that good dining experience and Chinese food is definitely not an oxymoron.

                  1. re: PeterL

                    I did qualify I am not refering to Chinese fine dining.

                    What do I consider a good dining experience? Nice clean room, friendly non-rushed service and food served timely. A decent drinks list helps too.

          2. Because of you fmed (and admittedly, a few others) I started getting into XLB and other Chinese dishes previously unknown to me. These dumplings are absolutely wonderful. I've only ever had them at two places, Lin and Peaceful. Both were good, but you could tell the ones at Lin had a bit more finesse to them. Super thin skin and a very tasty broth.

            It's unfortunate that I'm sitting in my basement in suburban Calgary... if I weren't, I think it would be time for a little XLB adventure. September couldn't come any sooner.

            Great pics of the XLBs!

            1. Thanks for the report! Please keep us updated (it's a tough job but somebody has to do it ;)

              1. I have to try Lin's again. I went about a month ago and still prefer Chen's. To be fair, when I was at Lin's, there was some confusion with making of the XLBs, eventually after we've eaten everything else we ordered, one of the waitresses went behind the window and started making them. Not sure if she's the one normally making XLBs or if it's another person. So for now, my vote is still Chen's =)

                23 Replies
                1. re: gourmet wife

                  If you didn't get the XLB A-team, then yes, I can see how it can end up second rate XLB. Even at Chen's, I have had a second rate product because I came in the middle of the afternoon.

                  Here's how XLB can go wrong:

                  -XLB takes years of skill to get sushi or patisserie. You apprentice for many years and by the time you are in the A-Team you may have made hundreds of thousands of these things. If your XLB is not made by the best XLB maker or worse a quasi-XLB maker, then you will get a second rate product.

                  -Some places outsource the XLB production. The XLB are either pre-prepared and/or pre-frozen. This results in dense meat balls, no juice and chewy and bubbly skin.

                  -Even some of the top places only make fresh XLB up to a certain time...after that, you might be getting prepped XLB that has been refrigerated for a while. This also results in the same kinds of problems as I previously outlined.

                  To avoid these issues -

                  -Look for the XLB lady behind the glass. If she is there making bao, then you are good to go.

                  -Go when it is busy so they have no time to refrigerate the prepped XLB. It just goes from the XLB lady straight into the steamer...then to your table.

                  -and of course, go only to places that have a dumpling specialty. It's all in the dough.

                  1. re: fmed

                    Fmed, you are spot on. At Lin's and The Place, you can easily see if the XLB Lady is on active duty. The first time we went to Lin's we ordered XLB, tried them and wanted to order a second batch but XLBL had "retired" and no more were to be had -- this was during the noon hour lunch rush!

                    1. re: fmed

                      Great report and pictorial lineup on Picasso, fmed.

                      I was up in Vancouver recently and tried out Peaceful. Great noodles and dumplings, but the XLB were subpar in my opinion.

                      (Also, just a minor quibble because I'm anal about these things. XLB and dumplings are very different creatures. Just because a place can put out good dumplings does not necessarily mean that their XLB will likewise be noteworthy. Historically, XLB were a southern Chinese speciality, whereas dumplings were a northern delicacy.)

                      1. re: ipsedixit

                        Hey ipsedixit, nice to see you around these parts.

                        Yes - I agree about Peaceful's XLB...they are down the ratings list. Still good enough to eat - especially if you are already there to eat their Beef Roll ;)

                        I only mentioned "dumplings" because it is usually the XLB lady who also makes the jaozi, etc.

                        And on the origins of XLB - I had always thought that they were first developed in Nanxiang just outside of Shanghai. Wikipedia's XLB page seems to agree.

                        1. re: fmed


                          You're absolutely right that XLB have their origins in Shanghai, but from where I'm from (or more precisely, where my family is from) -- Beijing -- Shanghai is "southern" China.

                          I really enjoyed Peaceful's beef noodles, and their beef tripe is something worth going for on its own. They should make a beef roll with just that tripe and some raw garlic slices! The dan-dan mien was also another standout.

                          I'm going to have to try Lin next time up there.

                          1. re: ipsedixit

                            >>You're absolutely right that XLB have their origins in Shanghai, but from where I'm from (or more precisely, where my family is from) -- Beijing -- Shanghai is "southern" China.

                            I can see that now. Looking at the map. It's similar to how Vancouver is often described as being in the Pacific "Northwest" I guess ;)

                            I see you are a Dan Dan aficionado. I have a Dan Dan Mian survey amassing now...still not done, but here's a preview:

                            I'm still looking for one more place that serves one of the canonical versions of Dan Dan - the Chengdu, vinegar/chili style (as outlined in Fuchsia Dunlop's book).That seems to be a rare beast here in Vancouver, which is a city not known for authentic sichuan.

                            1. re: fmed

                              I should add that my favourites are served at The Place and at Northern Delicacy (Richmond).

                              Something happened to the once glorious Dan Dan at Lin's - it is no longer the dark toasted sesame rendition that I really liked. It is now closer to the run-of-the-mill sesame-peanut type. It's still good...but not revelatory as it once was.

                              This is a topic for another post.

                              1. re: fmed

                                Another great pictorial re: dan dan mien.

                                Have you ever tried the dan dan mien at Dai Ho in Temple City in the Los Angeles area? Best I've had so far in terms of the paste/sauce, but the noodles are not hand-pulled like at Peaceful. Too bad, if they were it might be the perfect meal in a bowl.

                                I didn't get a chance to try it, but have you had a chance to sample Peaceful's Xi'an steamed noodles?

                                1. re: ipsedixit

                                  >> Have you ever tried the dan dan mien at Dai Ho in Temple City in the Los Angeles area?

                                  I haven't. I may have to venture south very soon. I've been looking for a good excuse to go the LA and SGV and eat for a month.

                                  >> I didn't get a chance to try it, but have you had a chance to sample Peaceful's Xi'an steamed noodles?

                                  Not yet. I did have their Xin Jiang Noodles and Shan Xi Noodles. I may actually eat there for lunch today, actually.

                                  1. re: ipsedixit

                                    >> I didn't get a chance to try it, but have you had a chance to sample Peaceful's Xi'an steamed noodles?

                                    Here you go ipsedixit:

                                    It was good.

                                  2. re: fmed

                                    "Something happened to the once glorious Dan Dan at Lin's - it is no longer the dark toasted sesame rendition that I really liked. It is now closer to the run-of-the-mill sesame-peanut type. It's still good...but not revelatory as it once was."

                                    I agree, the dan dan mein at Lin's is really tasty, haven't tried the revised version but the dark one was amazingly good.

                                    1. re: gourmet wife

                                      Ah, so that's what happened. I remember the first time I had it at Lin and it was the incredibly dark sauced version. Soooo tasty (and inexpensive). The last time I had it though, it had changed and I thought to myself, "hmm... is this what the folks on CH mean by peanut-sesame Dan Dan?" Apparently it is. Still enjoyable, but I'd rather go to Peaceful for noodles now.

                                      1. re: peter.v

                                        If you are looking for that dark sesame Dan Dan - The Place makes an even better version than Lin's. (Remember that The Place used to be run by Lin)

                                        Perhaps its time to post my Dan Dan survey.


                                        1. re: fmed

                                          I've got to keep a database for these recs! That's fairly close to where I'll be living. I'll be sure to drop in.

                          2. re: fmed

                            "Look for the XLB lady behind the glass. If she is there making bao, then you are good to go."

                            Ha ha! Good stuff, fmed.

                            When I went to Lin's, the waitress tried to talk us out of the XLB and told us to get the pan fried buns instead. So we ordered both. The pan fried buns were good, but the XLB -- which were served much later -- were excellent. It didn't occur to me until after we left that they were probably out of XLB and they had to make it fresh (it was a weekend at 1:30pm after the lunch rush).

                            I also had the Dan Dan Mian, which I thought was really good. I liked it better than Peaceful's. Then again, I'm no Dan Dan expert, and I have no idea what authentic Dan Dan Mian is like. For years, my idea of Dan Dan Mian was more along the lines of the Japanese version, Tan Tan Men, which I also love if made right (head down in shame :-).

                            1. re: aburitoro

                              Inspired by the dan dan tangent on this thread :-), I dropped by Lin's today for a takeout order for lunch. As usual, strange service. Took a while for them to notice me and I'm not diminutive or retiring. Finally kitchen guy at the back points me out and waitron takes my order and bids me take a pew. Five minutes later, same waitron asks if I've given my order! This may in part explain why I waited 20 minutes for my noodles, as the resto was nearly deserted at 2:10 pm. When the noodles finally arrive she informs me I have a discount, no idea why. Whatever. I'd only had the "dark" version before so was interested to try the ostensibly more peanutty one. Must say I wouldn't order it again. The broth was much lighter and cloudier as though it did have either peanut or sesame in it but had no flavour to speak of, except a bitter aftertaste. Wasn't salty enough either. And the noodles were overdone. Doh.

                              On a brighter note, while I was waiting I observed an XLB Lady making the chive cakes (which actually look like crescent shaped dumplings to me). They looked amazing, super thin skins and lots of lovely green filling -- I'll be back for those...

                              1. re: grayelf

                                To continue with the dan dan tangent (sorry for hijacking this post!), my GF and I went to Lin's the other day and ordered the dan dan mian and the xlb. While eating the dan dan mian, I kept your post in mind, grayelf, and can understand where you're coming from. The flavor and saltiness is definitely on the light side for dan dan mian. But we liked it that way, since often times, the soup can be a bit too thick, heavy, and MSG-eezy for us. The noodles were cooked nicely. A bit firm and 'springy.' Definitely had substance to it. Is it possible that your noodles have gotten soggy on its take-out journey?

                                Authenticity aside, I'm not so sure that the sesame-peanut soup is something of the west. I've had dan dan in HK with peanuts and/or sesame. And don't they do a similar version in Taiwan? Anyways, maybe not authentic, but still tasty in my opinion. Even if I tried the real thing, I'm almost certain I would still enjoy the versions available here. After all, I still enjoy eating ramen, yakiniku, and Japanese curry :-)

                                Back to the topic of this thread, the XLB were quite good, though the meat was quite coarser than the last time I was there. There were lots of crunchy cartilaginous bits in it. No big deal, as the XLB were still delicious.

                                1. re: aburitoro

                                  On the peanutty-sesame dan dan:

                                  I've had it in Asia as well. HK and Taiwan could be where it started...or it could be of US origins....then moved back to Asia.

                                  The first time I had dan dan mian was at Szechuan Chongqing on Commercial Dr many many years ago and I instantly fell in love with it.They serve a thick peanutty-sesame sauce (not brothy/thin). It was only much later (in Sichuan) where I had the authentic Chengdu-style dan dan.

                                  I like all three types (Chengdu, Xie Laoban, and the sweet Peanutty-Sesame)...authentic or not you can get delicious renditions of all three. The Chengdu style is also an acquired taste - not sweet, very chili hot, lots of numbing sichuan peppercorn and toasty-earthy...many people may not like it if they are used to the other more common types.

                                  1. re: fmed

                                    The whole dan dan (or tan tan, as I first had them) thing is confusing. Up until recently, whenever I ordered it I got a noodle dish as opposed to a soup. It seems the soupy version has taken over regardless of the toppings. I kinda miss the drier, peanuttier, spicier versions but I'm willing to branch out and look forward to trying The Place's one.

                                    BTW aburitoro my office is a block from Lin's so I don't think I can blame the travel time for the noodles -- maybe just an off batch??

                              2. re: aburitoro

                                The Japanese version looks far more authentic than the Westernized sesame-peanut monstrosity.

                                I first ate Dan Dan Mian here, and it was the sesame peanut gloop. Then I went to China, and had it in Chengdu. After experiencing the real thing, I can't eat it here anymore. So consider your ignorance a good thing. I am spoiled. :(

                                1. re: miss_bennet

                                  I remember the Chengdu dan dan too. The most common ones are chili/soy/vinegar/ya-cai sauced wheat noodle with crisp-fried pork mince. There is another version that is authentic, but less common in Sichuan province - and it does contain sesame paste but no peanut butter. (I posted to another thread - so I won't expand on it here).

                              3. re: fmed

                                With a little practice I think anyone can make an excellent XLB. One of the best and most popular XLB place in Los Anglese, Ding Tai Fung, the XLB "ladies" are guys from south of the US border. None of whom, I assume, knew what XLB's are before they started working at DTF.

                                1. re: PeterL

                                  I recall from my last trip to DTF in LA that the XLB were excellent if not a little inconsistent. But I agree...with practice (and DTF's secret wrapper formula - how do they make it so thin and resilient? ) anyone with practice can make one.

                                  I know I have tried to make my own XLB a couple of times with less than stellar results. ;)