Los Angeles

15 Essential Dumplings You Must Try in the San Gabriel Valley

Happy Lunar New Year!

Photo courtesy of Dan Modern Chinese
Photo courtesy of Dan Modern Chinese
Photo courtesy of Dan Modern Chinese

Although every culture has its own take on the beloved dumpling (hello, gyoza, pierogi, mandu, ravioli, and empanadas!), they’ve always been a distinctive hallmark of Chinese fare. Eaten year round and on most special occasions, dumplings take on even more significance for Lunar New Year. Their shape, which resembles an ancient form of money, is a symbol of wealth and prosperity in China. The Chinese word for dumplings, jiaozi, even sounds similar to a phrase that means you’re bidding farewell to the old and welcoming the new. So eating these delicious savory pockets is far more than just a feast for your stomach-it’s symbolic of a fresh start and good fortune in the year to come.

While jiaozi covers a broad range of dumplings in the Chinese repertoire, within that category lies a dizzying array of doughy delicacies: classic Cantonese hargow, fluffy shengjianbao hailing from Shanghai, slippery Sichuan chaoshou. They’re steamed, boiled, fried, or occasionally a combination of the above. Sometimes they’re referred to by a name in Mandarin, Cantonese, or another dialect, or identified by romanized spelling that can vary depending on who you ask! But no matter how they’re served (or spelled), these delectable meat- and veggie-filled pockets have delighted us for thousands of years-and will continue to do so. 

To help you navigate the universe of dumplings just in time for Lunar New Year, we’re taking you on a guided tour through the San Gabriel Valley-a mecca for Chinese cuisine thanks to a significant (and steadily growing) Asian and Asian-American population Read on for 15 must-try renditions:

Guotie at Mama Lu’s Dumpling House

Monterey Park
Ask any SGV native for a stellar dumpling spot and Mama Lu’s inevitably pops up on their list. This acclaimed restaurant specializes in Chinese comfort food-so naturally, dumplings have a starring role on the menu. While the soup-filled XLB are popular, we also love the simplicity of the guotie, basically dumplings with pan-fried bottoms that add crunchy texture to the otherwise soft, steamed dough. To get your Mama Lu’s fix without driving to the SGV, you can order from Cali Dumpling Delivery-which sells dumplings made in partnership with the restaurant using the same recipe. Launched at the start of COVID-19, the service now delivers 10,000 flash-frozen dumplings a day throughout California-and whether you boil, steam, or pan-fry ‘em, they taste just as good at home as they do at Mama Lu’s.
How to order: Call 626-307-5700 for takeout or pickup via their website; pickup or delivery via Postmates, DoorDash, and Grubhub.

Photo courtesy of Din Tai Fung
Photo courtesy of Din Tai Fung
Photo courtesy of Din Tai Fung

Xiao Long Bao at Din Tai Fung 

Arcadia
If you haven’t heard of Din Tai Fung by now, you’re either living under a rock, or you just really don’t like dumplings. Either way, it’s not too late to get acquainted with this revered soup dumpling empire, which has roots in Taiwan and makes broth-filled bao known the world over. Even if you’re a dumpling snob, it’s hard not to appreciate the DTF kitchen’s consistency and near-surgical precision. Every angle of their exquisite XLB has been examined, analyzed, and refined to give you the ideal bite; each parcel is weighed at 21 grams with a golden ratio of five grams of pork to 16 grams of dough, before it’s beautifully folded 18 times.
How to order: Call 626-446-8588 for takeout or pickup via their website; pickup or delivery via Postmates, UberEats, DoorDash, and Grubhub.  

MIAN 滋味小面
MIAN 滋味小面
MIAN 滋味小面

Chili Oil Chaoshou at MIAN

San Gabriel
The brainchild of Chef Tony Xu, owner of the wildly popular Chengdu Taste chain, MIAN is no stranger to accolades. In 2019, it earned a well-deserved spot on the list of Michelin Bib Gourmand restaurants in Los Angeles for slinging some of the city’s most superlative noodles-which is what MIAN means in Chinese. But here’s a not-so-secret secret: MIAN also makes some of SGV’s juiciest chaoshou (iconic Sichuan dumplings made with square skins and folded into two points). These pork-bloated parcels arrive bathed in a generous pool of slightly sweet Sichuan chili sauce, customized to your desired spice level and designed to titillate your taste buds.
How to order: Walk-ins welcome; pickup or delivery via their website, DoorDash, Grubhub, and UberEats

Photo courtesy of Dan Modern Chinese
Photo courtesy of Dan Modern Chinese
Photo courtesy of Dan Modern Chinese

Xiaolongbao at Dan Modern Chinese

Pasadena
Dan Modern has a well-curated menu of Chinese classics made, well, with modern sensibilities. But xiao long bao is their signature dish that’s said to rival Din Tai Fung’s. Crafted using a high-quality dough, these mouthwatering marvels come in all sorts of tasty combos (pork and dungeness crab, chicken and shrimp, and coming soon, miso pork). Each element hits all the right notes-from a savory, soul-warming broth that’s a revelation on its own to a perfect proportion of some palate-pleasing protein. After the holiday from February 16-18, customers who buy any dumpling or noodle dish, will get two dishes for free at any location (they’re also in Santa Monica, Playa Vista, and Sawtelle) when you mention Thrillist and show that you’re following @danmodernchinese on Instagram!
How to order: Walk-ins welcome; pickup or delivery via ChowNow, Postmates, UberEats, DoorDash, and Grubhub.

Photo by Christina Tia
Photo by Christina Tia
Photo by Christina Tia

Shuijiao at One One Dumplings

San Gabriel
This dumpling house is sometimes referred to by its previous moniker, Luscious Dumplings, which was a neighborhood favorite. But when one of the restaurant’s partners expanded to a location in Monrovia and changed a few things, the original owners broke off to start anew. With that came a new name-but the dumplings remain luscious indeed. These freshly made, savory wonders are delectable boiled or fried, although we recommend the former, called shuijiao (which translates literally to “water dumpling” in Mandarin). While boiled potstickers may not have the pizzazz of their fried counterparts, One One’s are wonderfully tender and never under or overdone. Pro-tip: The earlier in the day you order, the better, as they often run out!
How to order: Call 626-282-8695 for takeout.

Photo by Ariel lp
Photo by Ariel lp
Photo by Ariel lp

Huitou at Hui Tou Xiang 

San Gabriel
This unassuming strip mall restaurant specializes in a variety of delicious dumplings and noodles, but it’s most renowned for its signature dish and namesake: huitou, which look nothing like your run-of-the-mill, half-moon-styled potstickers. And that’s precisely what makes these pillow-shaped bites, filled with either pork or beef, so heavenly. Thanks to a flat, rectangular silhouette (and the fact that both sides are pan-fried), these potstickers offer up more fried surface area than the average dumpling-resulting in a crisp shell that’s the perfect foil to its unbelievably juicy interior.
How to order: Call 626-281-9888 for takeout; pickup via their website.

Photo courtesy of Beijing Pie House
Photo courtesy of Beijing Pie House
Photo courtesy of Beijing Pie House

Jiaozi at Beijing Pie House

Alhambra 
At Beijing Pie House, you can order jiaozi boiled or fried, but you’ll want the latter. The fried version includes a crisp “skirt” that forms at the bottom of the pan, which connects all the dumplings and adds a delightful crunch. While you can order any of the usual suspects (pork, cabbage, and the like), we’d be remiss not to encourage the more unexpected, intriguing renditions-from pumpkin and pork to lamb and squash. Of course, this restaurant’s also known for its Beijing-style savory pies called xianbing-which are sort of like dumplings on steroids. A Northern Chinese specialty, these hearty, hand-sized pockets are stuffed with the same meat and veggies that go into the dumplings, then lightly pan-fried to golden-brown perfection. 
How to order: ​​Call 626-288-3818 for takeout; pickup or delivery via Grubhub and DoorDash

Shuijiao at Apt. Li-Xiang  

Arcadia
It’s hard to order the wrong dumpling at Apt. Li-Xiang-they’ve got everything from pork with chili peppers (or corn cheese!) to black pepper beef and prawn and leek. Their potstickers may look simple and straightforward, but a closer look reveals more: they’re made with paper-thin skins that, when boiled, turn translucent enough to see the filling underneath. It’s a sign of a great dumpling (because the last thing you want is a thick-skinned potsticker that tastes like a ball of dough)-in addition to a moist, flavor-packed mixture of shrimp and veggies.
How to order: Call 626-348-8335 or pickup via their website.

Photo by Sydney Yorkshire
Photo by Sydney Yorkshire
Photo by Sydney Yorkshire

Shengjianbao at Kang Kang Food Court

Alhambra & Temple City
Shengjianbao are the more substantial carb-loaded cousin to delicate xiao long bao. Where XLB are enveloped in thin-skinned wrappers and steamed, these are pan-fried with crisp bottoms and thicker exteriors-which are great at containing a gelatinous paste that turns to liquid as it cooks. Kang Kang Food Court is known for its splendid take on these Shanghainese buns, studded with black sesame seeds and exploding with scalding-hot soup (you’ve been warned!). The filling is rich and flavorful, so it helps to dip the bao in the proffered vinegar sauce; its acid tang cuts through the oozing pork fat and lends an extra dimension of flavor.
How to order: Walk-ins welcome; call 626-308-3898 for takeout or order via their website.

Photo by @chinese_carnivore
Photo by @chinese_carnivore
Photo by @chinese_carnivore

Baozi at Tasty Noodle House

San Gabriel
Baozi are traditionally fluffy wheat buns filled with meat and veggies-and Tasty Noodle House’s take is legendary. Made with a thicker dough similar to shengjianbao (a variation of baozi), these round buns are soft and puffy on top, and lightly pan-fried so that their golden-brown bottoms are crunchy. The mix of contrasting textures-as well as the flavor of the seasoned pork within-is a game-changer. And despite the fact that the meat’s practically oozing with aromatic juices inside, the bao never gets soggy, even if you eat it the next day.
How to order: Call 626-284-8898 for takeout; pickup via their website.

Lunasia Dimsum House
Lunasia Dimsum House
Lunasia Dimsum House

Hargow at Lunasia Chinese Cuisine

Alhambra & Pasadena
The steamed, crescent-shaped dumplings known in Cantonese as hargow-a classic dim sum dish-are wrapped in translucent skins that are stretchy, largely thanks to tapioca starch, and stuffed with shrimp. The shrimp, which should be firm, plump, and still crisp, is often folded inside with some kind of pork fat to keep this nugget juicy. Lunasia hits on all of the above and more: each one made with one whole jumbo shrimp, their hargow is supersized compared to the ones served at other restaurants. 
How to order: Pickup via their website or app

Guotie at JTYH Restaurant

Rosemead
JTYH is so deft at executing one thing well (knife-cut noodles from Shanxi province) that you forget they’re also skilled at other dishes (dumplings). But of course, it all makes sense: if you’re good at working the dough for hand-shaven, slippery noods, you’re probably good at turning out plump, porky parcels too. While we’ve sung the praises of thin-skinned wrappers, JTYH is actually known for its thicker, chewier exterior-which no one seems to mind because they manage to remain springy and elastic. Paired with beautifully seared bottoms, these hearty dumplings are filling-so come hungry!
How to order: Call 626-442-8999 for takeout; pickup or delivery via DoorDash.

Wonton at Sam Woo Barbeque

Alhambra
There’s much debate about who serves the best hargow or makes the juiciest potstickers, but nearly everyone agrees that Sam Woo’s wonton soup is a rite of passage. The hallmark of wontons is their yellow, egg-based dough. Rolled out to a fragile thinness, the wrappers are what make wontons perfect for boiling in broth (instead of subjecting them to aggressive pan-frying). Sam Woo sticks to tradition here, tossing their pork- and shrimp-loaded dumplings into a broth with a clump of al dente egg noodles and scallions. Another rite of passage? Adding a few droplets of Chinese red vinegar for a touch of bright acidity.
How to order: Call 626-281-0038 for takeout; pickup or delivery via Postmates, DoorDash, and Grubhub.

Shumai at NBC Seafood Restaurant

Monterey Park
Although there are dozens of variations on shumai, the one that’s most recognized stateside is the Cantonese staple served at dim sum restaurants. This steamed, open-faced snack (unlike other dumplings, their yellow, egg-based wrappers aren’t sealed) is usually gorged with a base of ground pork and shrimp and enhanced with any number of additional ingredients and aromatics: mushrooms, scallions, ginger, water chestnuts, bamboo shoots. The top is typically garnished with crab roe or diced carrot, but at NBC-a long-established dim sum mainstay that was perpetually busy on pre-pandemic weekends-they use a goji berry.
How to order: Pickup or delivery via UberEats.

Tangbao at Long Xing Ji

San Gabriel
Think of tangbao as the XL-sized rendition of xiao long bao. A giant dumpling bursting with soup, it’s served with a straw (the better to slurp up that delicious broth before digging into the rest) in an individual bamboo steamer. In recent years, this supersized bao has enjoyed a lot of attention thanks to its Instagram-worthy appearance, but Long Xi Ji’s has substance instead of just being a social media draw. Chock-full of freshly ground pork and crab, it’s the perfect precursor to the rest of your meal at this spot specializing in cuisine from China’s Jiangsu province. Plus, it’s proof that bigger can be better!
How to order: Pickup via their website; pickup or delivery via Postmates, UberEats, DoorDash, Grubhub

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Los Angeles

How to Spend a Weekend in Topanga Canyon

Nature and the arts collide in this beloved canyon community.

Hanan Isachar/Corbis Documentary/Getty Images
Hanan Isachar/Corbis Documentary/Getty Images
Hanan Isachar/Corbis Documentary/Getty Images

Situated in the Santa Monica Mountains and known for its vibrant creative community, Topanga is one of Los Angeles’s most prized destinations for art and outdoor enthusiasts alike. And while LA boasts its own sprawling landscape of fun to tap into, you’d be remiss to miss a chance to explore this tucked-away collection of state parks, and cafes, and restaurants-especially when it all rests just 20 minutes away from the city. From a quaint cafĂ© with dazzling canyon views to a world-renowned, open-air theatre, here are the best ways to pass some time in Topanga now.

Photo courtesy of Inn of the Seventh Ray
Photo courtesy of Inn of the Seventh Ray
Photo courtesy of Inn of the Seventh Ray

Friday

Book dinner at Inn of the Seventh Ray
Owner Lucille Yaney opened this iconic restaurant in 1975 after spotting the property on a drive through the canyon with her late husband Ralph, and it’s safe to say she had a good eye. The land perfectly fits into Yaney’s vision of a romantic, alfresco dining space with tables tucked into cozy nooks and gazebos, all beneath canapes and fairy lights. Today, Yaney co-owns the venue with executive chef consultant Brad Miller. Together, they continue to fulfil the restaurant’s original mission to serve pure, natural foods reflective of the season’s best. That approach appears in dishes like 8-Hour Black Vinegar Braised Short Rib with creamy rosemary polenta, duck bacon Brussels sprouts, and caramelized onion and fig jam; Roasted Mushroom Toast with oyster mushrooms and sherry tarragon cream; and Beets & Whipped Black Pepper Creme Fraiche. Consider the carbs here. Pastas and sauces are made in-house and from scratch, as is the bread (available regular or gluten-free), an order of which you won’t want to miss. Check out the wine list, too, which offers a robust organic and biodynamic selection that has helped the restaurant garner some impressive accolades in recent years.

Check into Topanga Canyon Inn
In addition to plenty of excellent Airbnbs available to rent in the Canyon, there’s Topanga Canyon Inn, a charming bed and breakfast comprised of two Mediterranean-style buildings-Casa Blanca and Casa Rosa-both built by the owners. Guests can enjoy bespoke design details in each room, along with gorgeous mountain views from their own private balcony. Come morning, join other travellers for breakfast, served daily at Casa Rosa.

Saturday

Get coffee at Café on 27
Ready your camera for a coffee date at this AM eatery and cafĂ©, where ample (and busy) outdoor seating offers some of the Canyon’s best views. A full breakfast and lunch menu is available (complete with hearty orders like eggs Benedicts, soups, and club sandwiches), but for lighter morning fare, spring for a pastry and any of their specialty drinks, such as the turmeric latte or Moroccan mocha.

Bradley Allen Murrell/Shutterstock
Bradley Allen Murrell/Shutterstock
Bradley Allen Murrell/Shutterstock

Hike Topanga State Park
Spanning 11,000 acres and 36 miles of trails, Topanga State Park is the largest state park within the Santa Monica Mountains and one of the world’s largest parks within city limits. Visitors can access the grounds via more than 60 entrances. Once on the trails, enjoy sweeping vistas while exploring the region’s range of plants, habitats, and wildlife, including several resident bird species.

Grab lunch at Topanga Living Café
Guided by their Topanga upbringing and need for a community gathering spot with great eats, sibling team Agustina Ferguson and Bayu Suryawan opened this daytime eatery in 2016. Ever since, locals and visitors have found refuge in the cafĂ©’s warm, airy space and nourishing, hyper-fresh fare-all California-inspired with global influences. Check it out in plates like the Island Style, a breakfast salad with Balinese corn fritters, a poached egg, and house-made chilli jam, or the tacos (Baja Fish or Baja Shrimp, Carne Asada, or Kabocha Squash), made-to-order and served on handmade tortillas. If you’re seeking something shareable, try the Farmers Market Crudite, a seemingly humble order whose bright beet hummus reminds us that eating your vegetables is, indeed, very cool. And take a drink to-go. The team here takes great pride in their coffee (organic espresso, courtesy of their iconic pink La Marzocco machine) and a lineup of made-to-order smoothies, juices, and teas. Shop your way through town
Visitors can stroll through the town centre’s most popular shops for various fun finds, including Moona Star, Pebbles, and Topanga Homegrown. Be sure to stock up on specialty, local snacks at Canyon Gourmet and satiate your sweet tooth while you’re at it. The organic soft-serve there is a must. Pro tip: Top it with any of their artisanal syrups for a winning combo, namely, the vanilla with cardamom.

Photo courtesy of Will Geer Theatricum Botanicum
Photo courtesy of Will Geer Theatricum Botanicum
Photo courtesy of Will Geer Theatricum Botanicum

Catch a show at The Will Geer Theatricum Botanicum
This beloved open-air theatre has hosted productions for decades and is recognized worldwide for its Shakespeare interpretations. In addition to its annual summer season, which includes works like Macbeth and A Midsummer Night’s Dream, the venue hosts concerts, rehearsals, and classes throughout the year for budding actors and playwrights of all ages.

Snag a slice at Endless Colour
This family-run pizza joint specializes in from-scratch pies with clever topping combinations (think purple potatoes, fontina, and truffle oil in the Purple Molly Potato or spinach, leeks, and goat cheese in the Super Greens). Bring some friends, order a pie or two, and check out the drinks list, which includes offbeat options like orange wines and hard kombucha.

Photo courtesy of The Canyon Bakery
Photo courtesy of The Canyon Bakery
Photo courtesy of The Canyon Bakery

Sunday

Check out The Canyon Bakery’s “Sunday Funday”
Situated on the grounds of the aforementioned Will Geer Theatricum Botanicum, this bakery specializes in naturally leavened breads, pastries, cakes, and cookies using locally sourced, whole grain flours. There’s a takeout window on Sundays, from 9:30 am until the bakery sells out. A strong following lines up for favourites, such as whole grain croissants and gluten-free pizza, so be sure to arrive early to get your fill.

Try tacos to-go at La Chingona
On your way out of town, grab some tacos at La Chingona, where a team puts forth fresh, organic, gluten- and dairy-free tacos. Orders range to include options like grass-fed beef (carne asada), shrimp (wild-caught), and soy chorizo and can be fashioned into plates beyond tacos, too (think tostadas, salads, and bowls). Open only on Tuesdays, Fridays, and Sundays; this taco stand sees good demand. Plan accordingly, pending your travels, especially to savour an order or two of the churros.

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Nicole Schnitzler is a contributor for Thrillist.

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