We all have extremely specific ideas of comfort food. Some people want a hot bowl of creamy New England Clam Cowder with a thick slice of sourdough bread to go with it. Others are want a perfect off-the-grill burger slathered I ketchup or your mother’s prized gumbo. I am partial to a soft fried chicken sandwich on a biscuit but, hey, we’re all different. For many these comforting foods are tied to their upbringing or a deeply personal event that changed how they interact with food. Many do not stray from their own culture since it is what they’re most used to. Din Tai Fung in Arcadia is a dumpling house that redefines which food makes you comfortable. Din Tai Fung serves exactly what you need when you want a cozy cold night feast or post break-up gorge or celebratory snack: Din Tai Fung is one of Los Angeles best culinary antidepressants.
We went on a very cold night around 8:30PM a few weeks ago. This was the perfect type of night to visit because you are mad at how cold it is outside and the only thing that will make you forget about that is a slew of dumplings and hot plates. The only problem here is that coming any time after 8PM is a pretty safe bet that you will miss a lot of DTF’s best dishes like pork buns and seaweed salads because they go very fast.
The menu is large and can be modified to most dietary restrictions. You are handed a sheet of paper and a pen and are supposed to get to ordering. If this is your first time, your server will likely suggest the picture menu to you. Swallow your pride, say yes, and use the picture menu to help you figure out what is what because you’ll want to order a little bit of everything. Sip the preset pot of Green Tea as you suss out the details.
Once you have placed your order, the server will return with a printed receipt which he or she will use to cross off what has arrived to the table and what has not. A mixup would be devastating. We ordered a ton of stuff but kicked off our meal with the Vegetable and Pork Wonton Soup and Chicken Fried Noodles. The soup has a very porky and brothy base with fast, luscious wontons that are so rich in pork. Wait for them to cool off to eat as so many squirt! The Fried Noodles are very thick in that they are fat savory bites that shockingly are not that easy to wrangle with your chopsticks. They are your standard, comfortable Chicken Lo Mein varietal.
For dumpling time, we went with the Juicy Pork Dumplings because we assumed these little pouches are the calling card. We also ordered the Chicken Dumplings because we wanted something a little further down the spectrum. (I’m also a chicken freak.) We did not get to try a single Pork Bun since they were all sold out. This was a major bummer.
Your dumplings arrive in little bamboo cases whose lids are removed with mild theatrics by your server. They’re stackable, too. The Juicy Pork is a moist pork explosion in a very tight, soft doughy sack. The broth that fills the dumpling is extremely hot and will squirt but, boy, is it so salty porky oniony great. They make you feel like the inside of your mouth is getting massaged. The Chicken Dumplings are good but much more subdued in taste and presentation. They come in little crescents and represent a more traditional pot sticker or light yaki-mandu. They’re good and doughier–but the Juicy Pork is just unrivaled.
We almost did not get dessert but we figured we would try the Sweet Taro Dumplings since I had never tried taro. These are not bad and taro lovers will rejoice but, ugh, I absolutely hated these because taro taste like refried bean paste sweetened with Splenda. Everyone else at the table loved them but I was so mad I tried them and smothered the delicious savory, chickeny, porky mouth taste I had going on post dumplings. The taro was like an annoy mouth bomb of fake sweet. This is just a personal problem, I am aware.
The meal was not too expensive and we were out by 9:15PM. DTF closes at 9:30PM so it is quite a specific place to go to timewise and placewise. They are very strict about their 9:30PM cut off so don’t be surprised if they boot you out by 9:20PM. Everything about it (but the taro) is good and feels incredibly homey even though this dumpling house may not be what you are used to. It’s almost fitting that Din Tai Fung is so removed in Arcadia because, if they were any closer to the city proper, many of us would become stuffed juicy pork sacks ourselves. Din Tai Fung is a delight you have to trek to but, boy, is it a marvelous eating experience. You’ll want to take a nap in your car afterwards. We can guarantee that.