The promise of pristine xiao long bao—also known as XLB or Shanghai soup dumplings—draws massive waits at Din Tai Fung, the famous Taiwanese dumpling restaurant in Los Angeles. With intricate folds, a delicate wrapper and vinegar on the side, XLB have something of a cult following for its interior of piping hot, savory pork soup.
Yvonne Nguyen tasted her first XLB as a college student in San Diego, and when she moved back home to Elk Grove, she missed them. A few dim sum spots offer them in the Sacramento area, but they’re never the restaurant’s focus—and considering how time-consuming they are to prepare, they ought to be.
“Everywhere I’ve gone uses frozen dumplings or they’re just not that good,” Nguyen says. “We’d go to San Francisco to try good dumplings.”
By “we,” Nguyen is referring to her business partners, Chris Tan and Justin Yang. They all worked at Elk Grove’s Chason’s Crab Stadium together. There, Nguyen dreamt up a dumpling restaurant, while chef Yang plotted opening a noodle spot one day. Tan linked them together for Journey to the Dumpling (7419 Laguna Boulevard, Suite 180, in Elk Grove), a new Chinese restaurant specializing in XLB, noodles and other dumplings.
Before the Asian-Cajun Chason’s, Yang cooked at a bunch of Los Angeles restaurants. And for Journey to the Dumpling, he draws from all over China. There’s Northern China’s beef roll ($9.50), sliced beef and cucumber wrapped up in a chewy scallion pancake—something previously only available in the area at Yang’s Noodles. There’s roujiamo ($9.50), which roughly translates to “meat burger,” a street snack stuffed with pork belly that originates from the Shaanxi Province. XLB’s cousin sheng jian bao ($9.50) similarly contains hot soup, but instead of a traditional dumpling wrapper, it’s made of a thicker steamed bun that’s also pan-fried. No other restaurant serves either dish in the region.
The selection of noodles will look more familiar, hitting specialties of the Sichuan Province as well as Beijing and Hong Kong.
But the reason Journey to the Dumpling, which softly opened in October 17 and is inching ever closer to operating in full capacity (read: to-go orders), received such an immediate tidal wave of support is not the noodles.
Nguyen’s guess: “There is no other dumpling restaurant here.”
Photos courtesy of Journey to the Dumpling