What makes a perfect soup dumpling? Also known as xiao long bao (or in some cases, tangbao), this traditional Chinese dish hails from Shanghai and combines two of the greatest things in the known universe: hot soup and dumplings. A good XLB is all about ratio - the soup must compliment the filling, the filling must go well with the wrapper, and most importantly, no one part should overwhelm the others. It’s a delicate balancing act, one that’s equal parts science and practical magic, but when prepared correctly, there’s really nothing better for a chilly day when temperatures reach an unbearable 65 degrees.
If you know anything about LA’s geography, you won’t be surprised to learn that many of the best spots for xiao long bao exist in the San Gabriel Valley. But there are also family-run shops in Highland Park, dim sum on the Westside, and five Din Tai Fung locations sprinkled throughout the city. Here are the best soup dumplings in Los Angeles.
If LA’s soup dumpling scene were a high school, Din Tai Fung would be the starting quarterback - so prolific you almost want to roll your eyes, but nonetheless, they win every game. Each dumpling is weighed by hand and crafted with some god-like ratio of exactly 18 folds, top-quality pork, etc. It’s all a bit… heady, but in essence, Din Tai Fung has cracked the xiao long bao code. Each dumpling comes out perfectly crafted - uniform, with no soup spilling out. The skin is thin, just membranous enough to keep everything together, and the marinated ground pork pairs well with the hot POP of broth and fragrant ginger and onion.
Mama Lu’s needs almost no introduction. This Monterey Park restaurant is known for serving some of the SGV’s best dumplings - quite an achievement, considering the neighborhood. Their soup dumplings are neatly pinched at the top, like little mountain ridges, and the meat-to-dough ratio is scientific perfection. For the filling, pork melds with sesame oil, fermented Chinese wine, and a bit of delicious MSG.
Located on the second floor of a San Gabriel strip mall, Long Xing Ji is everything you want from a soup dumpling operation. The dining room is big and spacious, packed with families eagerly talking amongst themselves and fighting over the last xiao long bao. There’s a glass-paned kitchen, where you can see the chefs making the food from scratch, and the namesake XLB are some of the best around. There are a few versions on the menu, but our favorites include the ones made with shrimp and the giant pork and crab buns. The shrimp is a welcomed surprise, meaty bits of prawn are sprinkled throughout each and every dumpling, and the giant pork and crab buns arrive the size of water balloons, to be eaten with the help of a boba straw.
Hui Tou Xiang Noodles House is one of the SGV’s best-kept secrets. This place serves a killer line-up of Chinese dumplings while still managing to fly under the radar of bigger names in the neighborhood like Kang Kang Food Court and Mama Lu’s. Of course, the name of the game here (literally) is the hui tou dumpling, rectangular pan-fried blocks, but their soup dumplings shouldn’t be missed either. They’re the juiciest version in town - plump, round satchels filled with minced pork the size of a golf ball, surrounded by a rich, decadent broth we’d happily drink on its own any day of the week.
Most don’t come to Kang Kang Food Court, a cafeteria-style restaurant in Alhambra, for the soup dumplings. Their specialty is shenjianbao, a heftier, thicker-skinned cousin of the xiao long bao that has a deep-fried, crispy brown bottom. However, if you’re craving something steamed, their traditional XLB are quite tasty as well. Super-sized, approximately 50% larger than the average soup dumpling, these are served with a slightly sweet sauce that’s rich and less vinegar-y than others in the area.
The busy intersection of Sunset and N. Bronson Ave., just blocks away from the Walk of Fame, is the last place we’d expect to find quality xiao long bao, but iXLB proves that anything is possible. Located in a slick, minimalist building, this family-run takeaway shop sells all the traditional Sunday morning favorites: translucent hargow, bright yellow shumai, and wontons doused in chili oil. Their XLB are served in small aluminum tins, where the broth is light and tasty. Overall, these don’t make the top five, but for Hollywood, these are by far the best dumplings you’ll get.
Are the xiao long bao at Mason’s, a handmade dumpling shop in Highland Park, the best in the city? No, but they’re still a decent choice if you’re in need of a soup dumpling and are outside the SGV. They sort of taste XLB-lite: the wrapper is a bit thin and the filling could be richer. We wanted them saltier, more savory. However, in a pinch, they do the trick - hot, tasty dumplings, ideal for overcast days or soothing yourself whenever you realize your ex started dating again.
The xiao long bao at 101 Noodle Express, a classic Chinese restaurant in Alhambra, aren’t fancy. In fact, they’re a bit plain; the wrapper is more on the starchy side, the filling, slightly sweet. It’s essential to dunk them in the provided sauce, mixed with a few scoops of their tableside chili oil to create a more well-rounded bite (one that’s both spicy and extremely slick). Mostly, this is a great option when you’re looking for a quick, easy meal involving some solid XLB.
The rumors are true: soup dumplings indeed exist on the Westside. We may sound like a broken record at this point, acting shocked whenever decent Chinese food crops up outside the SGV, but in our defense, it is genuinely rare. Which is why Northern Café feels like such a relief. This Westwood restaurant caters to hungover UCLA students, with a wide-ranging menu including fried beef rolls, mapo tofu, and super sticky orange chicken. The XLB here are similarly fine, a bit soft and glutinous, served in traditional metal steamers. Definitely not worth driving across the city for, but if you’re on the Westside and not within 100 feet of a Din Tai Fung, Northern Café is a more than acceptable option.