Seattle, WA – Din Tai Fung (Famous Soup Dumplings)

Restaurant: Din Tai Fung
Cuisine: Chinese/Shanghainese/Dim Sum
Last visited: April 30, 2011
Location: Global locations – Seattle, WA (Bellevue)
Address: 700 Bellevue Way NE Ste 280
Price Range: $10-20

1: Poor 2: OK 3: Good 4: Very good 5: Excellent 6: Tres Excellent!!

Food: 3.5
Service: 3.5
Ambiance: 4
Overall: 3
Additional comments:

  • World famous restaurant
  • 1 Michelin Star restaurant
  • Locations in Asia, US, Australia
  • Famous for “juicy pork dumplings”
  • Started in Taiwan
  • Very long lines/busy
  • Tourist attraction
  • Shanghainese cuisine
  • Made upon order
  • Fresh/home made
  • Modern atmosphere
  • Clean/comfortable
  • Extensive menu, but with limited choices
  • Vegetarian options
  • Bubble tea available
  • Brunch/lunch/dinner

**Recommendations: Go to Vancouver, BC… if not, the Seaweed and Bean Curd in Vinegar Dressing and Shrimp and Pork Wonton with Spicy Sauce are great. I guess you have to try the Juicy Pork Dumplings, but I found them okay compared to others I’ve had.

A 1 Michelin Star restaurant (but not for this location), named “Top 10 wonders of Taiwan” by Reader’s Digest, “One of the top 10 gourmet restaurants in the world” by The New York Times (1993), and ranked by New York Leisure Magazine as “the must-visited tourist destination” – This is the world famous Din Tai Fung. Finally it has arrived and it’s in Bellevue!

At first glance everything may look authentic. Chinese name, Chinese characters, deeply rooted Chinese history, and perhaps the most famous restaurant to introduce and establish Shanghainese cuisine to the popular mass market.

The line up for Din Tai Fung is out the door and it’s not shocking if the wait is over 2 hours as it was when it first opened. I was lucky to only wait about 30 minutes. People travel near and far just to visit Din Tai Fung.

The restaurant welcomes you by featuring a large display window of 20+ staff making these delectable Shanghainese “juicy pork dumplings” we have all grown to know and love by its proper name of xiao long bao.

So far so good as you can witness the xiao long bao, siu mai, and wontons all being hand rolled, stuffed and wrapped. All set, ready to go and made upon order. It sure seems authentic enough, but take a closer look and you’ll realize that there’s nothing quite “authentic” or “Shanghainese” about Din Tai Fung…

From the staff…

Hola Amigos! (Mind you, don’t let this fool you! They were all trained and wrapped a pretty good XLB, but I was assuming it was going to be Shanghainese chefs and cooks)

To the clientele… (and the pretty hostesses and waitresses)

To the fancy take out gift bags…

To the recyclable cardboard boxes… I can’t help but to think there is something very modern/Western/commoditized/commercialized about Din Tai Fung.

If this is America’s idea of authentic and traditional Shanghainese cuisine, then they need to come to Canada! Okay well maybe just to Vancouver, BC! It’s a closer and cheaper trip than to Shanghai and it’s beautiful up here! I have to admit, Vancouverites are extremely spoiled by high quality and traditional Shanghainese cuisine, let alone just Asian cuisine in general.

There’s no other way to say this, but if Cactus Club invented a Shanghainese restaurant it would be Din Tai Fung. Just like Cactus Club I found the food good, atmosphere trendy, and dishes overpriced. Actually the menu is quite limited to a whole bunch of “mix and match items” and it only touches upon the popular Shanghainese dishes. The menu looks extensive, but it really boils down to five things with slight variations of switching the protein or the noodle.

It’s quite overrated if you compare it to lots of other places you can find in Vancouver, BC. I don’t want to say Vancouver is the “best” and “most authentic” for Shanghainese, but it sure gives you a better idea of excellent Shanghainese food. Any of the following: Suhang Restaurant, Beijing Cuisine, Chen’s Shanghai Kitchen, Shanghai River, Shanghai House, Spicy Szechuan Seafood Restaurant, Northern Delicacy, Dinasty Chinese Restaurant would all be better than Din Tai Fung for almost all items. However in the case that there are no other restaurants of this quality and style in Seattle, then yes, Din Tai Fung might be considered a “local favourite” and “must try”.

I don’t have a problem with who is making or serving the food, and I’m all for recyclable material, pretty boxes and I guess I do enjoy posh atmospheres, but I can’t help to poke at Din Tai Fung a bit. I really don’t want to be too harsh because the food is decent, made in house, and still somewhat traditional with a powerful name and history to back it up. But with all its credentials, I wasn’t that impressed considering I’ve had easily better in Vancouver. Just know that Din Tai Fung is really just a taste of what Shanghainese cuisine is and only an introduction to what it has to offer. I hear Vancouver calling your name (if not already from there/here).

On the table:

Jasmine Tea

  • $2.50
  • Oh yes! I forgot about the tea. The tea can be added to the list of contributing factors that suggests “modern” Shanghainese food.
  • The tea is from Mighty Leaf. Great teas, but at an authentic 1 Michelin Star Shanghainese/Chinese restaurant… someone please… insert your comments below.
  • I was hoping for some imported quality Jasmine tea… and the restaurant also serves bubble tea.

**Seaweed and Bean Curd in Vinegar Dressing – 5/6

  • $4.50
  • I’m not sure if this was an authentic Shanghainese dish I haven’t tried before, or if they were going for the authentic Shanghainese appetizer – Marinated Bean Curd with Special Vegetables also known as “Malantou” by its traditional name.
  • Whatever it was, it seemed quite modern but I did really like it! So for me it didn’t really matter if it was authentic, but it just wasn’t “Malantou” if that’s what it was supposed to be.
  • It was a cold appetizer salad with strands of firm bean curd, clear mung bean noodles, fresh seaweed, and bean sprouts.
  • It had great texture and flavour as it was all marinated and tossed in sesame oil, a malted vinegar and soy dressing with a hint of chili oil.
  • It was crunchy, slippery, refreshing, tangy, savoury and had a nice mild spicy heat to follow. Delicious!

Xiao Long Bao 101: Each person is served a saucer of julienne ginger and self-serve malted vinegar to be eaten with the Juicy Pork Dumplings.

Juicy Pork Dumplings - 2.5/6

  • 10 pieces $9.50
  • I’d recommend these because it’s what they are famous for. But were they good? Yes, if you’ve never tried Juicy Pork Dumplings before, but otherwise there is easily better.
  • They were a bit smaller than I’m used to and slightly more expensive without the flavour to back it up. I just found them overrated.

  • There really wasn’t much soup, which is the point. The soup  or “juice” wasn’t as creamy or rich as I’m used to either.
  • The pork flavour was good, but it wasn’t as melt in your mouth tender and not as fatty so therefore there wasn’t going to be much soup.
  • The skins were great though and paper thin with still a nice chew.
  • For comparisons sake see Juicy Pork Dumplings here at Suhang, here at Beijing Cuisine, or here at one of Vancouver’s most beloved places for them Shanghai River.

Noodle with Sesame Sauce3/6

  • $6.50
  • Tan Tan noodles! Or Dan Dan noodles! Whatever you want to call them, it’s the Shanghainese/Szechuan/Beijing noodle and soup bowl staple.
  • The noodles were long and soft, but I actually question if they’re handmade. Part of me doubts they are because they don’t advertise or show it.
  • There’s not as much soup and I’m used to this being served with julienne cucumbers and minced pork, but this was a vegetarian version.
  • It was a creamy, rich, nutty, medium spicy sesame soup with chili oil and it was quite thick with a bit of a granular texture from the ground sesame seeds.
  • It was topped with toasted ground peanuts and sesame seeds for added flavour and texture.
  • The whole sesame sauce thing is actually an American touch to traditional “tan tan noodles”, but I’ve grown accustomed to it and I like it.
  • This was good, and not bland, but compared to the Tan Tan Noodles at Shanghai River – see here, or Shanghai House – see here, or even Japanese restaurant Ramen Santouka – see here, it would be considered on the mild side.

**Shrimp and Pork Wonton with Spicy Sauce5.5/6

  • $8
  • Okay, I have to give it up to them for this dish! Bravo! If I was to come back, it would be for this rather than their famous juicy pork dumplings.
  • It’s more of a Cantonese Chinese dish with Shanghainese flavours, but they sure mastered it well and it was excellent!
  • I can get solid wontons in Vancouver, but these ones rival the ones I’ve had.
  • There were 8 handmade wontons and I found it a heck of a good deal since it did have the flavours and quality.

  • It was very aromatic in the initial notes and there was a little bit of spicy sauce that was almost like a soup to nicely coat them all.
  • The slippery wonton skins were al dente and had a nice chew to them almost like pasta skins. The skins were a bit thicker and seemed more Shanghainese than Cantonese in style so that didn’t bother me and I actually liked it since the sauce was more bold.
  • Each wonton was filled with fresh crunchy pieces of juicy prawn and there was more prawn than pork.
  • The sauce had a delicious roasted nutty chili aroma and spice, yet it was sweet in the beginning with a heat lingering afterward.
  • The dish had a little bit of sweet pickled Chinese cabbage to give the sauce some depth and tang and overall the flavours were strong and well rounded.

1/2 Red Bean Dumplings & 1/2 Sweet Taro Dumplings - 4/6

  • 10 pieces $6.50 (You can order half of each flavour)
  • Considering I don’t like many Chinese desserts and especially red bean, I actually could tolerate these and somewhat saw there appeal!
  • For my personal tastes it would be 2/6, but I would give it a solid 4/6 if I liked these desserts. It was very well executed.
  • Both flavours were actually very good, but it just depends on what you like. It’s like chocolate versus vanilla.
  • They were steamed and piping hot dumplings and the skins were paper thin, but a bit dry.

  • You pop these mini pockets in your mouth and it’s a rich, creamy, puree of a 2:1 ratio of red bean or taro root filling to dumpling skin.
  • It just oozes out of the wrapper like a thick paste.
  • It’s quite chewy from the skin and paste combination, but the puree fillings were very nicely done and moist.
  • The taro root is a bit starchier and drier and the red bean had more flavour, yet both were nicely sweetened.

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Din Tai Fung on Urbanspoon

25 Comments

  • Bow says:

    Conde Nast says Vancouver has the best Chinese food in the world and I concur. Mijune , you’ve travelled far and wide, sampling food in Asia, in America,etc…we have GREAT food in Vancouver!!! Chinese from Seattle tell me that Vancouver’s better in every respect…still can’t find great chinese charcuterie there. This is the 2nd 1 star Michelin Chinese restaurant you reviewed and they’re underwhelming given the prestige of a Michelin star. perhaps the star is weighted on ambiance, style, inventiveness and chic. Michelin doesn’t give stars to rustic bistros. Plus these places are overpriced, and just think how much the travel costs just to eat there vs staying in Vancouver/Richmond…all that to eat a Michelin rated place ? No thanks.
    Ps. that Chinese restaurant with the fresh seafood and insane lineups you reviewed previously was worth waiting for…here 2 hrs. ?

  • Gahz says:

    mmmmmmmmmmmmm I love DTF. Although, I’ve had good DTF and bad DTF, depending on which location I’m eating it in. I’ve tried 5 in Shanghai, HK, and KL. And it’s still my favourite go-to restaurant in SHANGHAI! My most favourite dish there is one of the cold appys which I can never remember the name of .. but it’s finely diced hard bean curd and a green veggie all mixed up. IT IS SO GOOD.

  • Gahz says:

    Oh and I also really liked the steamed bun with the black sesame paste stuffing.

  • Just to be clear, a Michelin star goes to an individual restaurant, not to a chain, and so while one of the DTFs in Asia may have one, the one in Seattle certainly doesn’t, if for no other reason that there is no Michelin guide to Seattle.

    Other than that, I don’t think anyone’s fooled in to thinking that DTF is anything but a chain. While the original, like so many chains, was wonderful (that’s how they expand–don’t even get me started on the romance of the original Red Robin), I’m sure, I’ve been to the DTF in Seoul and the one in Seattle, and hell, I’d take soup dumplings from just about anywhere over either of those.

    That said, I’m excited to have DTF in Seattle in the hopes that it brings with it opportunities for more authentic foods coming to Seattle. And hopefully, to Seattle, as oppose to Bellevue, where DTF is.

  • Joyce Lo says:

    Dear Mijune,

    Have you tried Lin’s on Broadway? What do you think of them? I like Chen’s but The Place on Granville and Lin’s are my favourites.

  • Mijune says:

    @Bow – Yes I am really glad to be in Vancouver because we get spoiled sometimes and forget how lucky we are to have delicious Chinese food. Ohh do you mean the one in Shen Zhen? The really busy one? Yes line ups bother me, but when I’m so far then I might as well wait to check out the hype.

    @Gahz – being that you’ve tried so many Shangahinese restaurants in Vancouver… how do you think it compared to Din Tai Fung? I wonder if the ones in Shanghai are better? I think the menus may be different as well.. they didn’t offer too many cold appetizers here. Did I not order the one you liked?

    @The GastroGnome – Welcome! Thank you for clarifying those things for me. I will correct them appropriately in the post. They advertise the 1 Michelin Star at the Seattle location so I found it a bit confusing. I’ll just list it as part of their credentials. I think there are definitely people who don’t know Din Tai Fung is a chain… I just had someone e-mail me with “Din Tai Fung is a chain?” So you like it because it introduces ppl to authentic foods, but you don’t actually like their soup dumplings?

  • MizzJ says:

    Great review and photos! Those dessert dumplings sound good, but frankly it does seem pretty disappointing overall. I’m sure the one in Taiwan is excellent! haha I have yet to have Chinese food outside that is better than Vancouver’s!

  • vivian says:

    Tea bags at an ‘authentic’ chinese resto??? Well, at least they used a good brand!lol I agree with you, we are spoiled with good asian cuisine here in vancouver. US has a long way to catch up to the quality here. A lot of people still think PF Chang’s is authentic chinese food….hmmm..,

  • Bon Gateau says:

    Joony, the Tan Tan Noodle, from what I know, is always like that. The one with the julienne cucumbers and sweet meat paste is actually Jia Jang Mien. Shanghainese version. Don’t be confused with the Cantonese version though. There’s only 4 wontons in the Hong Yau Cao Shau? I think the ones in Vancouver tend to have 6 smaller wontons instead. But yah, tea bags??? Hmmmm…….

    But maybe next time we’re in the neighbourhood, we will check out this place.

  • Bow says:

    Yes, Mijune, that’s the one, the one in Shen Zhen,,,waiting in the hallways, in the stairways, the one you had to fight your way through to the bathrooms. The tan tan noodles look just like the ones at the Chonqin, on Robson…still the best, with the spicy salt ‘n’ pepper fried pork chops. Tan tan mein w. Jew Yim Pai Gwhat.

  • Hi Mijune!
    Yes, basically, I like that the cuisines available in Seattle are diversifying, and if having a worldwide ‘sanitized’ chain here is what does it, then I think it’s an improvement. Personally, faced with the choice of driving across the water and braving an upscale mall or driving north across the border to Long’s, I’m going for the latter.

    Seattle is certainly never going to be able to compete with Vancouver for Chinese cuisine bragging rights, I’d say the only places in the US that gives Vancouver a run for it’s money (or dumplings) are the San Gabriel Valley (interestingly enough, site of the other North American branch of DTF and maybe Flushing, in NYC.

  • Kevin says:

    Wow Mijune, eating from the future? May 30th, 2011. ;)

  • Mijune says:

    @MizzJ – I know!! The one in Taiwan is supposed to be fab!

    @vivan – I can’t even get myself to try PF Chang’s lol!!

    @Bon Gateau – But the tan tan noodles at Shanghai River have the cucumber and pork too.. mm I love Jia Jang Mien!! But regardless, I found the one good here, but not amazing. I really want to try the Din Tai Fung in Shanghai! See, it still makes you curious to check it out despite my post huh? lol xo

    @Bow – you have a great memory!! Ok I need to try Chong Quing! That’s another one I haven’t tried yet!

    @The GastroGnome – What more can I say? You know what you’re talking about :)

    @Kevin – lol oops!! Thanks Kevin! Fixed.

  • Linda says:

    i JUST came back from seattle a couple of weeks ago and now i’m so sad that i missed out on going to din tai fung! :( i will need to make another trip back out there PRONTO!

    i’m a bit surprised that the XLB here was just blah but i’m glad the shrimp and pork wonton was a hit! they look great smothered in that sauce too… totally drool worthy :P i always thought that dan dan noodles had spicy minced meat with it too?

    OMG, i was so shocked that you liked the red bean dumplings!!! maybe in a few years you’ll grow to love it! haha i won’t hold my breath but this is definitely a step towards a good direction! :)

    ps – i love the packaging! gorgeous!

  • Gahz says:

    Ok i realize this is going to sound stupid, but the reason why the Xintiandi DTF location in Shanghai (the other 2 locations are ok) is my fav go-to restaurant there is because it’s actually kinda hard to find good, cliche, Shanghainese food that suits my “canadian” palette and also good customer service. DTF (relatively speaking) had both these things. There is a LOT of oil used in Shanghainese cooking and almost everywhere I went, the XLB had thick skins and barely any soup. There was no care or heart in preparing them at all. Ironic, given I’m in the home of XLB!!! Even when I went to the place that’s supposed to be world-famous and renown for their XLB with daily hour long lineups and all they sell is XLB, i thought they were crap. Finally, a local recommended me to go to DTF for XLB. And all 3 locations in Shanghai (there could be more now as I lived there 2.5 yrs ago) ALWAYS have long lineups and mostly with locals, so even they think the food is good there.

    The excessive use of oil in cooking in Shanghai (as explained to me by a local) is because back in the day, oil was very expensive and only the rich could afford it, so if you’re able to use a lot of oil in your cooking, supposedly it was a sign of wealth. Now this was many years ago, but it still is apparent today because the oil was such a turnoff everywhere I went, unless I went to DTF, basically. I do still think the food there is good, maybe not the best, but sometimes the best is hard to find or nowhere to be found within a reasonable distance.

    Oh and the diced tofu veggie dish you didn’t order .. but it’s not on all the DTF menus either, because sometimes i can’t find it. and it sells out quick as sometimes when i’d go for dinner they were out already. and it’s a dish you see on most people’s tables there.

  • WS says:

    GastroGnome, the other Din Tai Fung North American location is in the Toronto-area. I’ve been to the Toronto location. They’re tons of Chinese restaurants in Toronto-area(just as concentrated as in Vancouver). I’ve heard some people say, the Chinese restaurants in Toronto, are the best in North America. I don’t know, since I have never visited Vancouver, San Francisco or San Gabriel Valley(Los Angeles).

    Mijune, so you wouldn’t consider Kirin 5 restaurant locations in Vancouver-area a franchise? Curious, what’s your definition of a franchise operation?

  • Mijune says:

    @Linda – I won’t be surprised either!! Something just take a little time… hopefully the same will happen with bitter melon :)

    @Gahz – oh that’s the dish I put the link too in the description of my appetizer I did order! That tofu vegetable dish! Love that!! Thank for giving me some extra knowledge!! love that! you sound like commenter Bow! So we’re super lucky to be in Vancouver if our XLB get better than Din Tai Fung! However the ones in Shanghai/Taiwan/HK (as it seems) have better XLB than this Bellevue location.

    @WS – Vancouver definitely has more nominations than TO for “Best Chinese food” ;) I think I’d consider Kirin a chain more than a franchise.

  • WS says:

    I meant if you considered Kirin a chain(like DTF). The Chinese food in Toronto is much lesser known. Just like San Gabriel Valley/Los Angeles is much less known than San Francisco for Chinese food(while I have also heard the Chinese food in Los Angeles is better than San Fran) .

  • Mijune says:

    @WS – i guess I consider Kirin a local chain since it only exists in Metro Vancouver, unlike DTF which is more or less international or global

  • Rachelle says:

    Wow this place is so foreign it’s actually amusing! The DTFs here in Hong Kong are more Asian….do they bow to you there when you leave too, like the original DTFs? And they have BUBBLE TEA?? WHAT? I guess they decided to throw everything “Asian” in there for a full experience. Their XLBs are terribly addictive though…

  • Mijune says:

    @Rachelle – REALLY?!?! They bow to you at the ones in Asia!? Definitely didn’t do that here… but it would have added to the novelty I think. Yup the ones in Asian must be a lot better b/c these ones were good, but really… just good.

  • Sandi says:

    Slightly off topic, but I just got back from Chicago where I ate at two 1 Michelin star restaurants, and one 3 Michelin star (L2O). I had such high expectations and was sorely disappointed! The whole “Michelin” status thing is crazy – I know the restaurant gets a lot of press, but unless they deliver it’s an even bigger disappointment with the customer. Plus, they seem to charge “Michelin” prices along with those meals. I would have been much happier eating a huge bowl of noodles at Peaceful than the dreadful meal we at Sixteen at The Trump Tower……

  • Mijune says:

    @sandi – awww Sandi! I’m sorry! Did you at least have stellar service? I’ve only been to a few Michelin Stars myself, but I heard from friend that go to A LOT of them that the 1 Michelin starts are better then the 3.. i don’t get it either. Can you tell me which ones you went to? I really want to do a Chicago trip soon!

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