BATTLE OF XIAOLONGBAO

When I was planning my short weekend trip to Seattle, I naturally had to factor where I wanted to eat into the itinerary. When I had mentioned to some people that I was going to try out Din Tai Fung, some of them recommended I look at trying Dough Zone instead. Similar to Din Tai Fung, Dough Zone (a local Seattle chain) was known for its xiaolongbao and noodles. Since Din Tai Fung was more famous by reputation and brand recognition, I originally arrived in Seattle with plans to eat there and to pass on Dough Zone. Fate, it would seem, decided it wanted me to try both.

After a day of exploring Pike’s Place and driving up to see the Fremont Troll, Judy and I found ourselves wondering where we should eat for dinner. I pulled up OpenTable and Resy and found a few options that interested us, but they all had very long waitlists. I half-jokingly suggested Dough Zone and before I knew it we were heading down to Seattle’s International district to eat more xiaolongbao.

When we arrived we had a little bit of a wait. After about 30 minutes we were seated and started to peruse the menu. No visit to Dough Zone and Din Tai Fung in a 48 hour period would’ve been justified without trying both restaurant’s xiaolongbao, so naturally we got an order of those along with a variety of other dishes.

SO MUCH DOUGH

Sweet and sour cucumber at Dough Zone
Sweet and sour cucumber

One of the very few items on the menu at Dough Zone that doesn’t use some form of dough, these cucumbers served as a refreshing bite between the noodles and dumplings. The chili oil was mild in spice, offset by the vinegar tang of the lightly pickled cucumber. These were cut in a unique spiral pattern. While different and fun for photos, I think I would’ve still preferred a traditional sliced preparation for ease of consumption.

Dan Dan Noodle at Dough Zone
Dan Dan Noodle served in a rich sesame and chili sauce

These broth-less Dan Dan noodles were cooked to a slightly chewy texture. The imperfect crinkled texture allowed the noodles to pick up the sesame and chili sauces, which ensured that every slurp was full of flavor. The nutty aroma and taste of sesame and the light burn of red chilis made these an enjoyable bowl of noodles.

Q-Bao from Dough Zone
"Q-Bao" - Pan fried pork buns

A less common item for most dumpling restaurants are these steamed dumplings which are then finished in a pan to achieve a light crispy texture along the bottom. Anytime I’m served these thicker stye dumplings I’m always wary of the bun-to-filling ratio. These “Q-Bao” did not disappoint and contained a healthy portion of pork filing. The pork was well seasoned and paired well with the slightly sweet bun.

Green Onion Pancake from Dough Zone
Green Onion Pancake

A bit gummy and lacking on flavor, I’d recommend passing on these pancakes.

Pan Fried Dumplings from Dough Zone
Pan Fried Chicken Dumplings

In contrast to the pervious dish, these pan fried dumplings had a great textural balance. The filling of chicken was seasoned well and contained a hint of onion-like flavor and scent from chives.

Beef Stew Noodle Soup at Dough Zone
Beef Stew Noodle Soup

The same slightly chewy noodles from the Dan Dan dish are used here in this noodle soup. The broth is very mildly flavored and light.  I prefer these types of beef noodles to have some kick to them, so ended up adding some of the chili oil provided at the table to help liven up the flavor. Although I could’ve done with a bit more in the way of seasoning, I was still happy with the bowl overall.

Xiao Long Bao at Dough Zone
Pork and Crab Xiao Long Bao

Finally on to the main event! My visit to Din Tai Fung was marred with a surprising lack of broth in their xiaolongbao (soup dumplings). I’m happy to report that these dumplings at Dough Zone were exactly the opposite. Placing each dumpling into a spoon and then carefully poking a whole with my chopsticks revealed a healthy amount of broth. The savory and delicious broth enhanced the pork flavor of each dumpling. The use of crab lent sweetness to each bite, a subtle yet welcomed balance. These xiaolongbao were superior to those that we tried at Din Tai Fung.

OVERALL IMPRESSIONS

Although the green onion pancake was a hard miss, all the other dishes I tried at Dough Zone were decent to good. The noodles used in the Dan Dan and beef stew soup dishes were of a higher quality than the noodles at Din Tai Fung. Their texture was also more conducive to picking up the flavors of the dishes and their respective sauces or broths. It was very clear to me that the xiaolongbao here were better executed. They had the amount of broth you’d expect and contained great flavors.

The particular Dough Zone location I visited was in the Chinatown-International district of Seattle. This location’s interior was bright and bustling with the energy of a full house. Service at the table was relatively fast, albeit with a small language barrier depending on the server. Even though the restaurant was packed I didn’t feel rushed or pressured to clear out when we were done eating.

From a price standpoint Dough Zone is competitively positioned against Din Tai Fung. As a point of reference the pork and crab xiaolongbao here are priced at $12.50 per order versus $16 at Din Tai Fung. The rest of the menu is similarly lower in cost. For this reason I rate the price value higher at Dough Zone.

In the end, I found the suggestions to try Dough Zone over Din Tai Fung in Seattle to be warranted. Although the interior is fancier and service a tad better at Din Tai Fung, the food and value of Dough Zone put it ahead for me in the heads up comparison.

SCORECARD

Food 86/ 100
Service 85/ 100
Atmosphere 80/ 100
Price Value 90/ 100
Overall Score 86/ 100

Dough Zone
Various locations in and around Seattle
https://www.doughzonedumplinghouse.com/