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The popular Din Tai Fung (DTF) recently opened a location in the renovated Westfield UTC mall of San Diego. Foodies have long been raving about this place but the drive to O.C. and long lines kept me away. That is, until now. A friend invited me to join a mid-week lunch during the first week and I excitedly accepted. Currently, the restaurant is in soft opening mode and only takes online yelp reservations, with most of October already booked! It will return to a first-come first-serve basis after 2 months or so.
The whole party must be present before you can be seated. There's a small patio with 4-5 tables and the rest are inside the main dining hall. Several booths specifically fit parties of two! I walked by a few larger tables as well as noticed a private room in the back.
There's a colorful version of the menu with pictures as well as a black and white ordering sheet, similar to what I'd fill out at dim sum or sushi spots. I did not recognize half of the menu items and was surprised to learn that this was a Taiwanese style dumpling and noodle restaurant. I had previously thought this was a dim sum place like Pearl Chinese Cuisine. I'm such a noob but at least I learn something new every day.
The famous dish of Din Tai Fung is their soup dumplings, also known as xiao long bao (XLB). So far, I've only had XLB at Dumpling Inn/Shanghai Saloon and Tasty Noodle House. It's pretty cool that you can see them making these fresh dumplings or wontons through the kitchen window. I hear that there's a dim sum chef there making sure the quality of food is up to par with the other locations! Their original location is in Taipei, Taiwan with other locations worldwide.
Shown is the crab filled XLB which is identified with the yellow crab in the corner. Each steamed order comes in sets of 10 except for the special truffle one, which comes in a set of 5. Our friends were telling me that the dumpling should be full and upright. If left for too long or leaking soup, it would flatten out at the bottom. These looked beautiful and ready to eat!
Truffle & Pork Xiao Long Bao ($23.75) - set of 5
The first we tasted were the truffle ones, expensive at almost $5 per soup dumpling! When you open it up, you can see all the soup inside! This was our favorite dumpling with a rich truffle flavor in the soup and overall savoriness in the speckled filling. The skins were strong and supple, able to hold in that liquid, and none of our dumplings leaked into the steamer! We were able to bite through to reach the treasures inside. The temperatures were still warm and comforting in the mouth.
Here's the neatly corralled condiments to dress it up, including salt, pepper, soy sauce, vinegar, and chili oil. I ended up not using these but did notice how even the tea cups were logo'ed with Din Tai Fung. There were also small bowls of ginger to eat with the dumplings.
Pork Xiao Long Bao ($11.50) - set of 10
Make sure to use the spoons! Bite near the top of the wrapping so that the soup doesn't spill out everywhere! I bit this one on the lower side and the juices flowed onto the spoon. The pork flavor was simple but tasty plus there was plenty of soup.
Crab & Pork Xiao Long Bao ($14.50) - set of 10
I'm not sure what the ratio of pork to crab is but this set tasted strongly of crab, overpowering for my tastes, but maybe fit for a crab-lover? Soup levels seemed adequate as before.
Vegetable and Pork Wontons with Spicy Sauce ($10.75)
We wanted to try some of the other hand made items such as these wontons. The skins were thinner than the soup dumplings and there was a small amount of filling inside. I think the sauce took the lead in overall taste with its salty with a slight kick flavor.
Sauteed String Beans with Garlic ($10.75)
These are cooked soft crisp with plenty of garlic flavor. Great for sharing but for the price, I'd rather order more XLBs.
Soy Noodle Salad ($5.25)
My friends enjoyed this simple appetizer dish. It was chilled and subtly flavored.
Noodles with Mince Pork Sauce ($10)
This dish had more oomph with the meat juices and sauteed vegetables so I preferred them to the plainer soy noodles. It was still very light in general so don't expect a flavor explosion.
Sticky Rice Wrap with Pork ($5.50)
These came out with the banana wrapper removed. I'm not usually a fan of sticky wraps but was suprised to find myself enjoying the infused rice and slightly salted and tender pork shreds. I'm glad I found a version I like!
Chocolate and Mochi XLB ($7.50)
To end the lunch, a dessert XLB sounded like a solid idea but our party wasn't too enthused... the last dumpling was still waiting for a taker. The chocolate was gooey and melted but it felt a little too sweet combined with the sugary mochi. I've read that others love this but it's just not for me.
After ordering, you received a printed slip of paper and they would mark off the items after bringing it to your table. The lunch closes around 3 so they were already asking us about last call around 2:30. We ordered all items within a span of 20 minutes. Servers were pleasant and promp with food items.
All in all, I'm happy to have finally tried Din Tai Fung. The XLB were soupier than versions I've had in San Diego, and the third day seemed improved (Kirk mentioned very little soup on opening day). The bill was approximately $30 per person for our group of four but we did fancy up with the truffles. I have so much more to explore in the Taiwanese food scene but it'll probably at least another month before I can find an open reservation with Dennis. I noticed there's a parking area down the stairs, though it might be valet or something. I still find UTC mall expansion a little confusing but least I've finally figured out how to get to the food spots around here!
Din Tai Fung (UTC)
4301 La Jolla Village Dr #2000
San Diego CA 92122