Flying saucer doughnut dumplings do exist. Use the 101 Best Restaurants to find them

Round fried dumplings topped with a white sauce and chives
Bánh ít kep bánh ram from Ngu Binh in Westminster.
(Mariah Tauger / Los Angeles Times)
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L.A. can feel overwhelming. And I say this as someone who was born and raised here. There’s a vastness that’s hard to grasp, even more so when considering where and what to eat.

For years, The Times’ 101 Best Restaurants list has been my guide, adding context and a sense of manageability to the city’s dining scene. I was fortunate enough to accompany Jonathan Gold on many of his meals around town. I was in awe of his process and grateful for the insights he shared. Then I eagerly devoured his lists, attempting to visit all 101 restaurants before the next year’s edition.

Critic Bill Addison is just as thoughtful and rigorous in his preparation. He eats for months, going to the far ends of Los Angeles and beyond to narrow down a group of restaurants that capture the heart and plurality of the city.


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It is an indispensable list of where to eat. It is also a snapshot of a moment in the L.A. culinary discourse.

As much as I eat out for this column, there’s always something new to discover. As my colleagues prepare to launch this year’s list, I visited some of the restaurants from the 2022 list for the first time. These restaurants weren’t on my radar until I saw them at last year’s reveal party.

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I found myself marveling over dumplings in a bustling strip mall in Westminster and sopping up curtido with my fingers in a tiny restaurant in Pico-Union.

Will my new favorites make it back on this year’s list? We’ll reveal the 101 Restaurants live at our 101 launch party on Dec. 5. Tickets are available for purchase here. And if you can’t make it to the party, the full list will be available online for subscribers. In the meantime, I suggest eating the two dishes mentioned below, as soon as possible.

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Bánh ít kep bánh ram from Ngu Binh

An overhead view of fried dumplings on a white plate, with chopsticks poised to pick one up
Bánh ít kep bánh ram from Ngu Binh.
(Jenn Harris / Los Angeles Times)

I could spend the entire day at Magnolia Plaza, the sprawling mini mall that houses Ngu Binh restaurant, at the corner of Magnolia Street and Westminster Boulevard in Westminster. There, you’ll find pho, banh mi, a restaurant devoted to egg rolls, a seafood palace and a beauty supply store.


Tucked into the southern end of the center is Ngu Binh, No. 74 on the 2022 101 Best Restaurants list. It’s a restaurant that specializes in food from Thua Thien Hue, a central Vietnamese province where chef Mai Tran is from. Addison steers readers to the restaurant’s rice cakes called bánh bèo, and to steaming bowls of bún bò Hue dac biet (spicy beef noodle soup). But I’ll be forever grateful for his introducing me to an entirely new world of dumplings with the bánh ít kep bánh ram.

In researching the many styles of dumplings in Los Angeles for the “Bucket List: Dumplings” video series, I reached out to more than a few Vietnamese friends for recommendations. They suggested I check out a couple of places in Westminster known for bánh bột lọc, a nearly transparent dumpling made from tapioca with a filling of pork and shrimp.

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They were all wonderful, but it wasn’t until I visited Ngu Binh that I learned of bánh ít kep bánh ram. The dumplings look like mini flying saucers on the plate. The top portion is a small, white mound of glutinous rice flour dough wrapped around whole, dried baby shrimp and morsels of diced pork belly. The milk white wrapper engulfs the filling in a viscid, slime-like dough that’s magnificently stretchy and fun to eat.

Underneath is a flattened blob of golden fried dough. The discs are like mochi doughnuts, with a crunchy, bubbly shell that encases a chewy center.

You dunk the dumplings into a ramekin of nuoc cham studded with chile. The funk of the cool fish sauce cuts through the varying textures of the dumplings. By the second bite, I had commandeered my own cup of sauce, greedily submerging the entire dumpling. Everyone should really have their own.

And just when you think that it can’t get any better than mini flying saucer doughnut dumplings, you spot the foot massage place a few doors down.


La Mañanera from La Pupusa Urban Eatery

A pupusa on a blue-and-white-paper-lined metal tray
La Mañanera at La Pupusa Urban Eatery in Pico-Union.
(Dania Maxwell / Los Angeles Times)

We’re lucky enough to live in a city of many pupusas. Delmy’s Pupusas, which pops up at various farmers markets around town, Sarita’s Pupuseria at Grand Central Market and VCHOS at the BLVD Mrkt in Montebello are all excellent. Last week’s visit to La Pupusa Urban Eatery, No. 88 on the 2022 list, is a new favorite.

You may have seen this place on an episode of Guy Fieri‘s “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives.” The celebrity chef left his signature silhouette on the restaurant’s back wall.

Owners Stephanie Figueroa and Juan Saravia make a heart-shaped pupusa that’s as big as a large pizza. It’s made the rounds on TikTok.

I need to bring more friends next time to devour the heart, but the Mañanera makes an ideal breakfast or lunch for one. It’s a single pupusa of your choice accessorized with a heap of curtido, the tangy cabbage slaw I can eat on its own, plus some salsa ranchera, two eggs and crumbled cheese.

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The pupusas here are griddled until extra crunchy. The cheese spills out of the middle and accentuates the edges of the crust. I went for the cheese and loroco, filled with plenty of cheese studded with bits of the pungent flower buds native to Central America. But there are nearly 20 filling options, so choose your own pupusa adventure.

Ask for the eggs over easy if you want two runny yolks spilling over your pupusa. On the side, there’s a small cup of crema and another of black beans and rice combined.


Though the Mañanera is already adequately adorned, I asked for the communal Tupperware of curtido and the squeeze bottle of red sauce anyway. I like my pupusas piping hot and overdressed.

Where to eat now

Ngu Binh, 14092 Magnolia St., Westminster, (714) 903-6000,

La Pupusa Urban Eatery, 1051 W. Washington Blvd., #G, Los Angeles, (213) 749-4573,