FAMOUS WORLDWIDE

There are few international restaurant brands that garner such wide acclaim as Din Tai Fung. This beloved Taiwanese brand has expanded to international locations cross Asia, Europe, and the United States all on the reputation of its noodles and bao (steamed bun). I have long heard about this restaurant and its accolades, including a Michelin Star awarded to its Hong Kong location some years ago (which has since been adjusted to a Bib Gourmand).

This is an incredible story for a restaurant with such humble beginnings. Din Tai Fung’s history dates back to 1958, when it originally operated as a cooking oil retailer. As that industry experienced a downturn in the early 1970s, Din Tai Fung converted a part of its retail space to start cooking and selling their now famous xiaolongbao.

XIAOLONGBAO

Making dumplings at Din Tai Fung
Making dumplings at Din Tai Fung

Xiaolongbao (sometimes abbreviated as XLB) traces its origins to the Jaingnan region of China. These delicate dumplings are typically filled with meat and/or seafood then steamed in large round bamboo baskets. Unlike your typical dumplings, xiaolongbao also contain a broth or soup, which give them their English moniker of “soup dumplings”. In order to keep the soup hot without overcooking or destroying the delicate wrappers, XLB are typically steamed to order. At Din Tai Fung’s location in the Southcenter Mall just outside of Seattle, hungry patrons waiting for a table can watch as the kitchen staff make basket after basket of these famous dumplings.

XLB AND MORE...

Although Din Tai Fung is most well known for their xiaolongbao, the restaurant’s Chinese and Taiwanese menu contains a variety of dishes. Much of the menu utilizes the fresh dough made at Din Tai Fung.

Braised beef noodle soup at Din Tai Fung
Braised Beef Noodle Soup

Since this was my first experience at Din Tai Fung, I opted to stick to some of the more popular recommendations. First up was a bowl of braised beef noodle soup. This was a very rustic and homey dish. The noodles were cooked fairly well, although perhaps a bit softer than I would typically prefer. The broth had a mild spice to it, along with a savory beef-broth quality.

Shrimp & Kurobuta Pork Wontons with Spicy Sauce at Din Tai Fung
Shrimp & Kurobuta Pork Wontons with spicy sauce

I am a huge fan of the chili oil dumplings at Mian Taste, so when I saw this dish on the menu at Din Tai Fung I had to get it so I could compare. I think that the wrapper on Din Tai Fung’s dumplings was fresher and more delicate than Mian Taste’s. However, the flavor of the filling and the chili oil is much more satisfying at Mian Taste.

Crab & Kurobuta Pork XiaoLongBao at Din Tai Fung
Crab & Kurobuta Pork XiaoLongBao
Kurobuta Pork XiaoLongBao at Din Tai Fung
Kurobuta Pork XiaoLongBao

On to the main event… the famous xiaolongbao. We ordered two varieties, although they were quite similar. Each order comes with 10 pieces and arrived at our table pipping hot. I picked up one of the XLB and gently placed it inside of my soup spoon. I used my chopsticks to puncture a little hole on the side of the dumpling to let the soup flow out so that I could give it a taste. The flavor of the fillings really influenced the soup. Both dumplings had good flavor in both the filling and the soup (the crab version was slightly sweeter), but unfortunately both sets were rather dry. Each XLB only had about half the soup that I would typically expect, which was too bad since that’s one of my favorite elements of this dish.

Shrimp Fried Rice at Din Tai Fung
Shrimp Fried Rice

Online reviews indicated that the fried rice at Din Tai Fung was worth trying out. The seasoning of the rice was good and, unlike so many restaurants, the rice was not too oily. The fairly large shrimp were tender and sweet. This fried rice was good, but again not something I’d necessarily write home about.

OVERALL IMPRESSIONS

After years of hearing about Din Tai Fung’s reputation I was excited that I finally had the chance to visit one of their locations, albeit one in the USA versus in Asia. Unfortunately I did not find that it lived up to the hype. From a flavor perspective all of the food we ordered was fair to good. The dishes were cooked well, seasoned properly, and served hot. I just didn’t find anything that was special or particularly outstanding. The main letdown on the food was, unfortunately, with the most anticipated and famous dish. The lack of adequate soup in the xiaolongbao was the main detractor for me.

Service at this location was excellent and attentive. We were lucky to have had a reservation as by the time we left the place was packed and there was a line. The interior design of this Din Tai Fung was modern and clean, reminiscent of other major international Chinese restaurant chains.

Prices at Din Tai Fung are a bit higher than your typical Chinese restaurant. An order of the xiaolongbao rings in between $13-$16. The perceived dollar value for me is hurt by the quality shortfall of the XLB.

In the end I have a mixed impression of Din Tai Fung. A part of me was glad to have tried it and a part of me left disappointed. I do wonder, however, what the quality difference might be if I were to try one of their locations in Hong Kong or Taiwan. Perhaps one day I’ll have the opportunity to find out.

SCORECARD

Food 83/ 100
Service 90/ 100
Atmosphere 80/ 100
Price Value 80/ 100
Overall Score 83/ 100

Din Tai Fung
Westfield Southcenter
181 Southcenter Mall
Tukwila, WA 98188
Ph: 206.257.2888
https://dintaifungusa.com/