I started taking friends on dumpling crawls through the San Gabriel Valley almost a decade ago. We’d pick an afternoon and eat until we needed to be rolled out and into our cars. Most of the spots are places my Chinese grandmother took me to; others Jonathan Gold told me I had to try. Here’s a list of restaurants you can add to your next dumpling crawl.
Regardless of the hour, this Taiwanese restaurant, tucked into the back of a strip mall in Monterey Park, is packed with people eating the same two dishes: big bowls of beef noodle soup and pan-fried dumplings. The dumplings arrive upside down on the plate to show off a disk of dumpling lace across the top. The crisp lattice is made from a starchy slurry that’s added to the dumplings as they cook; it shatters as you eat it and tastes like the best parts of a good, crisp cookie. And while the pork-and-shrimp dumplings under the lace aren’t technically soup dumplings, they’re juicy enough that you’ll want to eat them with napkins at hand. 127 N. Garfield Ave., Monterey Park, (626) 307-7351
It’s easy to take one look at the Panda Express-ish troughs of noodles and stir-fried meat behind the sneeze guard and assume you are in the wrong place. But this “food court” of sorts, where you order at the counter, then sit at a sticky table and eat off foam plates, is indeed the place. You are there for the sheng jian bao: The dumpling’s wrapper, which evokes both a fluffy bao and a chewy dumpling skin, is studded with black sesame seeds and seared to a crisp brown on the bottom. It surrounds a middle of juicy, simply seasoned ground pork that explodes with hot juice when you take a bite. Go slow and bite carefully to avoid having the dumpling squirt your fellow eaters. 27 E. Valley Blvd., Alhambra, (626) 308-3898, kangkangfoodcourt.com
The sheng jian bao at Shanghai No. 1 have a soft, cloudlike wrapper, cinched into a pretty pouch with a knot of black sesame seeds at the top. Rather than a crisp bottom, the entire lower half of the dumpling is a single crisp layer encrusted with white sesame seeds. These, like their counterparts at Kang Kang, could be classified as weapons. While the wrapper is on the thicker side, it’s hardly protection from the juice that flows out like lava after that first bite. But that uber unctuous pork inside is more than worth the burn. 250 W. Valley Blvd., Suite M, San Gabriel, (626) 800-4016, shanghaino1seafood.com
Hui tou are the blintzes of the dumpling world, and Hui Tou Xiang in San Gabriel is one of the few places in the area to find them. The dumplings look like mini griddled burritos about the size of a glue stick. The skins are blistered and browned, perfectly chewy and elastic and swollen with garlicky pork or beef filling. The pork is similar to what you might expect in a very good xiao long bao, and the beef brings to mind the broth-enhanced meatballs in albondigas. Both are addictive, as is the house-made kimchi that arrives on each table when you sit down. 704 W. Las Tunas Drive, San Gabriel, (626) 281-9888, huitouxiang.com
Most people visit Long Xing Ji, on the second floor of the Ranch 99 plaza in San Gabriel, for the jumbo Wuxi-style soup dumplings. Filled with pork and crab soup, the dumpling jiggles with each knock of the table. And you attack the wobbling orb with a straw meant for the boba drink you’re going to have later. They are fun to eat, but you shouldn’t leave without trying the sweet xiao long bao. The restaurant makes a regular and a sweet version, with the sweet dumpling filling kissed with just a hint of sugar. That touch of sweetness adds a punchiness to the pork that’s hard to beat.140 W. Valley Blvd. Suite 211, San Gabriel, (626) 307-1188, ongxingji.com/menu.aspx
The best gyoza are the ones you can eat by the dozen: Poof and the entire plate is gone. They are simple, no-fuss dumplings full of ginger-scented pork, with perfectly crimped edges and a uniformly brown bottom. The gyoza at Nikuman-ya at the Tokyo Central and Main market in Gardena are those gyoza — and the closest thing to the superb version you’ll find at Harajuku Gyoza Lou in Tokyo. At Nikuman-ya, you don’t think about the hour you sat in traffic to get there or get distracted by the Gundam plastic model display nearby. You just gyoza. Just make sure you go on the weekend, the only time the gyoza are available.1620 W. Redondo Beach Blvd., Gardena, (310) 538-2929, nikuman-ya.com
Georgian khinkali arrive on a platter looking rather lazy. The heavy tops — meant for gripping, not eating — collapse the dumplings onto their sides so they look like they’re resting.
One version is filled with soupy beef and herbs encased in a soft noodle wrapper that chews more like lasagna than a dumpling skin. The cheese version is a bit like a giant ravioli stuffed with a ball of mild, herb-studded mozzarella suspended in a slurpable broth. You eat them by biting into the noodle, sucking out some of the juice and then finishing them off. Khinkali are best eaten with some fresh black pepper or plain.113 Artsakh Ave., Glendale, (818) 649-1015, khinkalihouse.com
If there’s one rule to eating at Myung In, the Korean dumpling house in Ktown, it’s this: Bring friends. There isn’t a single dumpling variety at Myung In; there are several and you want to try them all. The King dumplings are softball-size baos, fluffy as clouds but heavy as an actual softball, filled with minced pork, mushrooms, glass noodles and scallions. The “Korean-style” dumplings resemble Pilgrims’ hats, steamed and stuffed with pork and veggies and chopped kimchi. You can get boiled dumplings and pan-fried shrimp-and-pork dumplings that resemble gyoza. But the best of the bunch are the spicy steamed roll dumplings. The thumb-size rolls are made with a thin dumpling skin wrapper that sticks to the filling like a wet T-shirt. It’s open at the ends so you can see the pieces of shrimp and pork peeking out. 3109 W. Olympic Blvd., Suite B, Los Angeles, (213) 381-3568, myungindumplingslosangeles.planetcafepages.site/
Chef Shirley Chung made a name for herself with her cheeseburger dumplings when she won a challenge with them on “Top Chef.” But the dumplings that will put her Culver City restaurant on your regular rotation are the vegan ones. The filling is a mix of sautéed kale, roasted mushrooms and caramelized onion bound by a silky edamame purée and encased in house-made dumpling skins that are perfectly al dente and chewy. Instead of the typical vinegar and ginger, Chung serves her dumplings alongside a spicy tofu aioli and tart pickled cauliflower. It works. 3829 Main St., Culver City, (424) 361-5225, mschicafe.com
Think of this bowl of wontons swimming in chile oil as a gateway drug into the magical world of Sichuan food for friends who don’t like spicy/Chinese/anything-with-cilantro to eat. The ones at Sichuan Impression whop a ma la punch that hits you about three wontons in, as the heat and that numbing sensation start to build. The sauce is fragrant with garlic and toasted chiles and just a tiny bit sweet; the tender noodle wrappers are filled with pork and showered in green onion and sesame seeds. I rarely leave, even when eating a full meal, without getting a few orders to satisfy the table. 1900 W. Valley Blvd., Alhambra, (626) 283-4622, sichuanimpression.com
Owners Robert and Anthony Mandler wanted to turn an In-N-Out cheeseburger into a dumpling. So they stuffed theirs with a tiny hamburger patty, sautéed onions, sliced dill pickle and melted American cheese, and then pan-fried them so they’re crisp and golden brown on all surfaces. These dumplings are so wrong, but so right. 8432 W. 3rd St., Los Angeles, (310) 450-9393, mylittledumplingla.com
The first time I tried the squid ink soup dumplings from Little Fatty, the small Taiwanese restaurant run by David Kuo in Mar Vista, I was running around at the Taste, our annual food festival at Paramount Studios over Labor Day weekend. The chef was serving the jet-black dumplings on a plastic spoon with a drop of vinegar and a couple of shards of sliced ginger. The dumplings were chewy, tender and full of pork broth, in a wrapper that was rich and briny. I ended up revisiting the tent that night until they ran out. At the Mar Vista restaurant, they are six to an order served in a proper steamer basket, so you can eat your fill instead of sneaking single dumpling after single dumpling. 3809 Grand View Blvd., Los Angeles, (310) 574-7610, ittlefattyla.com
You know how there’s that one kid in your class that everyone referred to as “big for his age”? This is that dumpling. It’s like someone injected a regular-size shumai with magic pork juice and caused it to swell to the size of a baseball. The pieces of shrimp tend to be large, interspersed with bits of pork that burst out of the dumpling’s signature yellow wrapper, making the entire thing look like a blooming flower. And it’s crowned with a dot of orange crab roe. Multiple locations at lunasiadimsum.com