Food

Critic's Choice: Where to go for dumplings

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Love dumplings? The soupy, Shanghai-style ones filled with juicy pork? Puck-shaped Beijing ones with beef? Pan-fried? Steamed? Boiled? There are Vietnamese dumplings made with rice flour wrappers folded around chunks of sautéed shrimp. Or beefy Lebanese dumplings blanketed with yogurt-garlic sauce. Or hat-shaped Afghan dumplings served with stewed pigeon peas, yogurt and dry mint. If you're on the hunt for dumplings, check out these slingers from recent Find columns.

— Linda Burum, Miles Clements, Betty Hallock and C. Thi Nguyen

Afghan Express Be sure to order mantu. No one in L.A. makes these chubby, meat-filled dumplings like Laila Shinwari. The mantu, their translucent skins pinched into four-corner hat shapes, loll under three strata of brilliantly seasoned sauces that tempt you to keep the whole plate to yourself. Their garlic-laced tomato sauce is topped with a scattering of sunshine-yellow stewed pigeon peas. Then the whole construction gets a drizzle of tart yogurt swirled with sautéed dry mint that slices into the richness like a hot knife through butter.

15900 Crenshaw Blvd., No. C, Gardena, (310) 329-0101. Open 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Tuesday to Sunday.

Beijing Restaurant All the dough is made fresh and by hand, shaped into dozens of subtle variations. Every dumpling wrapper and bun is tweaked to match the particular heft and texture of its filling. The "meat pie" is a fat, squat puck of a dumpling, about the size of a slider, with a dense, dry beef filling, surrounded by a firm, thin wrapper. The fried pork and chive dumpling has a softer, looser, juicier filling, wrapped in a pillowier, thicker wrapper with an outer edge of pan-fried crispiness.

250 W. Valley Blvd., Suite B-2, San Gabriel, (626) 570-8598. Open 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily.

Ngu Binh This is a fantasyland for fetishists of subtle textures. Almost every dish involves some substance made from rice flour, and the textures of these various rice products are subtly and radiantly distinct. Banh uot tom chay is sheets of supple rice noodle, wrapped around firm grains of ground shrimp. Banh bot loc tran is transparent rice flour dumplings wrapped around shrimp; the texture here is strange and ephemerally slippery, like a marriage between mochi and jellyfish. Don't forget to dip everything in nuoc mam, the bright orange fish sauce that comes with every dish.

14072 Magnolia St., No. 107, Westminster, (714) 903-6000. Open 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday to Sunday.

Yu Garden The soup dumplings (xiao long bao) are pretty dreamy, but with skins a bit more substantial than the Din Tai Fung model. For some of us, that's precisely their virtue. There's an ever-so-slight chewiness when you nibble on a corner to suck out the hot soup inside. And the tender filling isn't overly sweet. (An aside: The menu includes loads of incredible choices for vegetarians.)

107 E. Valley Blvd., San Gabriel, (626) 569-0855. Open 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Thursday to Tuesday.

Mantee Chef Jonathan Darakjian's food is a somewhat lightened version of classic Lebanese dishes. (His kafta kebab, made with lean, hand-ground Angus beef, may not be greasy enough for some traditionalists.) But there's nothing "lite" about the house namesake dish, mantee. The tiny agnolotti-like dumplings of Turkish origin (sometimes spelled manti) are about as addictive as buttered popcorn. Inside the al dente pasta, nuggets of lemony vegetarian spinach filling or of subtly seasoned house-ground beef make ideal canvases for the creamy sharp yogurt-garlic sauce that blankets them.

10962 Ventura Blvd., Studio City, (818) 761-6565. 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Tuesday to Thursday and Sunday; 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday.

food@latimes.com

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