The Gossiping Gourmet: Din Tai Fung worth the wait

A truffle and pork xiaolongbao is displayed during a media preview at the Din Tai Fung at South Coast Plaza in August.
A truffle and pork xiaolongbao is displayed during a media preview at the Din Tai Fung at South Coast Plaza in August.
(SCOTT SMELTZER / Daily Pilot)

In 1993, Din Tai Fung was voted one of the 10 best restaurants in the world by the New York Times. The first one opened in 1958 in Taiwan. Eventually, its success led to other restaurants opening throughout Asia, Australia and then the U.S.

Its latest branch just opened in South Coast Plaza.

The restaurant doesn’t take reservations. When my companion and I first tried to get a table on the weekend it opened, we noticed a line of people all the way down the hall and others sitting around waiting.

When we approached the front desk, we were told that the wait was 2 ¾ hours and we could leave our cellphone number and receive a text when a table became available. We decided to leave and try again another time.


Someone later told us of a five- to seven-hour wait at lunchtime one day, although the actual wait turned out to be only three hours. I assume other people got tired of waiting and left.

We made our second foray at 5 p.m. on a weeknight and had no wait at all. Let me say that the food is worth waiting for, but not all day.

Din Tai Fung is most famous for its soup dumplings, or xiaolongbao. These are traditionally filled with finely chopped pork and, often, minced crab as well. In order to add soup to these dumplings, chefs wrap solid meat aspic inside the thin dough along with the diced meat. Heat from steaming then melts the gelatin-gelled aspic into soup. The dumplings then are served in a paper-lined bamboo basket.

These are an absolutely delicious treat. The experience of biting into the little package and having the wonderful broth explode in your mouth, along with the seasoned minced pork, is a delight. Condiments are on the table if you need them, including vinegar, soy sauce, shredded ginger and hot sauce.

We were equally pleased with our pork chop fried rice. The rice had been very lightly fried, just enough to give it flavor but not enough to make it greasy. Thin slices of fried egg were chopped up and mixed into the rice. On top of the mound of rice was a thin pork chop that had been seasoned very lightly, breaded and then sliced. The meat was juicy, tender and delicious. I think this was the best version of fried rice that I have ever eaten.

Our chosen vegetable dish was one of the best renderings of sautéed spinach that we have tasted. We were amazed at how good the garlicky spinach was, so fresh tasting and perfectly cooked.

The only dish that we found to be rather bland and not up to the high standards of the other items we ate, was the shrimp and fried noodles. The small shrimp had little flavor, and the thick noodles were also bland and left an aftertaste of grease. Even after we seasoned them, they left something to be desired.

For dessert, we tried the sweet red bean bun and the peach ice. I wasn’t crazy about the bean bun, but the peach slush smoothie had bits of actual peach in it. It was refreshing and a nice light way to end the meal.

Din Tai Fung is a very attractive restaurant with glass cases filled with lovely pieces of various types of Chinese colored glass bowls, marble tables and beautiful brown wood elements. In the middle of the large restaurant is a glassed-in area where guests can watch the nine or so chefs make the dumplings by hand. The several eating areas include an outdoor patio.

I recommend dining there on a weekday or night, or else handing over your cellphone number and then wandering around the mall until called. Once you have eaten at Din Tai Fung, you will surely be back for more.

TERRY MARKOWITZ was in the gourmet food and catering business for 20 years. She can be reached for comments or questions at

Din Tai Fung

Where: South Coast Plaza, 3333 Bristol St., Costa Mesa

When: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Mondays through Fridays, 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturdays, 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sundays

Prices: $2.20 to $12


Bottles: $35 to $180

By the glass: $9 to $15

Corkage fee: $20

Information: (714) 549-3388 or