Is it possible to have too much of a good thing? Please direct that question to restaurateur Ker Zhu, the man behind both Luscious Dumplings in Monrovia and Highland Park’s new Mason’s Dumpling Shop. He’s finding he has more demand than his growing businesses can keep up with, and for good reason: The quality is high and the dumplings are just too good. So please, be patient. (And go early.)
In Highland Park, Zhu’s steamed, pan-fried or broth-filled dumplings—served alongside beef bao, rice bowls and sides of tangled mountains of seaweed salad and crunchy lotus root in chili oil—can’t seem to make it past 3pm, which means that everyone should be beelining to the Northeast L.A. spot at their earliest convenience, at least for the foreseeable future. “When we’re done, we’re done,” Zhu says. “A lot of people don’t understand that it’s very labor-intensive to make these dumplings.”
Each morning around 6am, Zhu and his team pick up their daily produce and head to the butcher shop to watch meat grind down into dumpling-friendly form—ensuring the highest quality meat, and not trimmings, are what you’ll be eating. The staff mixes the fillings, then kneads and rolls out the dough, and then hand folds hundreds of dumplings from Luscious Dumplings’ Monrovia kitchen. From there, a portion gets driven to Highland Park to supply Mason’s for the rest of the day.
The pan-fried pork dumplings tend to go quickly, as do the soup dumplings. On weekends, a small line forms out the door of the fast-casual 26-seat spot, with large to-go orders chipping away at the day’s availability—so much so that one recent Sunday, Mason’s had barely opened its doors when two separate calls came in for $100 worth of pick-up orders.
While the strip-mall restaurant will ideally remain open until 9pm each night, product availability determines when Mason’s closes, which consistently, since its mid-January opening, averages around 2pm. The obvious solution would be “cart more dumplings from Monrovia to Highland Park,” but Zhu has reached a balancing act; taking too many from one restaurant will result in the early closure of another. “I’m thinking about getting a [prep] kitchen,” Zhu says, adding that it’s important to first determine how much of the rush is due to new-business hype, and how much of the crowd is here to stay.
Luscious Dumplings—a full-service Monrovia mainstay for roughly five years—helps offset its dumpling demand with a range of noodle soups and noodle-and-dumpling combos. At Mason’s, the dumplings take center stage. Later this year Zhu plans on opening a 3,000-square-foot dumpling shop, but unfortunately for Angelenos, it’s slated for Denver.
“I think dumplings are pretty adoptable, you know? I think it’s easy, people get it,” Zhu says of the appeal. “There’s a lot of Chinese food you put on a plate and people don’t know what it is, but this, we put it in the dumpling and we tell you exactly what it is. Everything’s scratch-made and handmade daily. We really stand behind our product and I think people like it.”
Perhaps they like it a little too much. So, how to get your chopsticks around those dumplings before they’re gone? Zhu recommends calling in orders for pick-up, or planning to arrive as early as possible if you’re dining in. Check Mason’s Instagram account regularly, as the team updates when it sells out for the day.
Mason’s Dumpling Shop is located at 5803 North Figueroa Street, and is now open Wednesday through Monday from 11am until dumplings sell out, or until 9pm.