If the San Gabriel Valley is, mentally or geographically, far from you, but xiao long bao—Chinese soup dumplings filled with hot broth and usually, but not always, pork—are more your speed than, say, tasting menus and escargot, then maybe the restaurant opening you were most excited about this year was not Trois Mec or Republique, but Din Tai Fung in Glendale. For the uninitiated, Din Tai Fung is arguably one of the best XLB specialists stateside. There are two locations in Arcadia alone, practically next door to each another, yet both are perpetually packed, and now one in Glendale, next to Nordstrom in The Americana at Brand, a huge outdoor mall outfitted with a trolley that can transport your tired shopping legs from Anthropologie to the restaurant, bags and all.
The Glendale location is stylish, sleek and modern; it looks like it belongs in the sort of mall that offers valet parking. Unlike the Arcadia spot, this outpost includes a full bar and a special menu item: Soup dumplings with a slice of truffle layered on top of minced pork. It’s pricey—$22.50 for 5 dumplings—and not particularly good, as the earthy truffle doesn’t mesh well with the hot, gingery soup and meat.
Much better are the restaurant’s signature juicy pork dumplings ($8.50). These are lovely, thin-skinned pouches filled with savory pork and hot broth and eaten with a dab of soy sauce, vinegar and ginger. Significantly, these taste largely the same here as they do in Arcadia. The quality, too, is similar. You can order several steamer basketfuls of XLB here and not one dumpling will have sprung a leak. These are worth the wait in line, but whether they’re worth the trip to the Americana? Well, that depends entirely on how much you love to shop.
What to eat: The xiao long bao are Din Tai Fung’s specialty. Every steamer basket includes ten soup dumplings but folks have been known to order just one basket for themselves, so plan accordingly. As good as those are, don't overlook other dishes on the menu: Din Tai Fung does an excellent job with its vegetables. Try, for instance, the spinach perfectly sautéed with garlic ($8.50). The spicy wontons, tossed in a fiery red chili sauce, are excellent ($8-$9), as are the sticky Shanghai rice cakes tossed with tender bits of pork ($9.50) and the tasty, slightly nutty dry noodles with minced pork and tart pickled vegetables ($8.50). Finish your meal with a bun stuffed with red bean paste ($2.50).
What to drink: Hot tea is probably the best complement to your meal, but also consider taking advantage of the full bar here. You can have sake, say, or a special cocktail like the Pear and Lychee Martini ($11) with Smirnoff Pear, St. Germain and fresh lemon, or a Ginger Mule ($11) with Tanqueray Gin, Stirrings Ginger and ginger beer. Red and white wines are available by the glass or the bottle, and there’s a variety of bottled beer (i.e., Asahi) and a few craft brews on tap.
Where to sit: If the line is too long, see if you can snag seats at the bar. Otherwise, put your name down for a table and feel free to wander around the mall: The restaurant will text you when your table is ready.
Conversation piece: Din Tai Fung originated in Taiwan and has some 80 locations worldwide. Next year, it will open an outpost at South Coast Plaza in Costa Mesa.