Also find my article here on BayArea.com:
Reservations only? Long lines? Check and check. It’s been several months since the opening of the popular Taiwanese/Dim Sum chain restaurant Din Tai Fung, and there’s still a month-long wait for reservations. What gives, right? Well, there must be something special hidden in their famous crab and pork soup dumplings (a.k.a. Xiao Long Bao) or maybe they have secret items on their menu. Whatever it is — it seems like many in Bay Area can’t seem to get enough of this non-traditional dim sum place, so I set out to find out what the fuss was about.
One of the main reasons that Din Tai Fung is so popular is that it’s the only location in the Bay Area,and it might stay that way (although fingers crossed they add more). But when I recently chatted with a worker at the Santa Clara location, she told me that Din Tai Fung would probably never expand to places like San Francisco largely due to their numerous existing base of Taiwanese/Dim Sum restaurants — which makes sense, because we wouldn’t want to see more chains drawing crowds away from our mom-and-pop-owned restaurants, right? Right! However, if you’re traveling elsewhere, there are actually over 100 Din Tai Fung’s around the world and five (yes, five) in Southern California. So, if you can’t get a reservation up here, head down south for some dumpling goodness.
Okay, so they have a Michelin star — and if that doesn’t draw the foodies, then I don’t know what does. People in the Bay love their food, and good food at that. So when the Michelin God bestows his magic star upon a restaurant, the herds will follow. Since 2010, the Din Tai Fung branches in Hong Kong have earned a prestigious Michelin star, which makes it the first Taiwanese restaurant to do so. Hence why they are always busy and also have many others awards and recognition to their name.
You Can Make a Trip Out of It
I’ve already mentioned location, but did I mention that Din Tai Fung is located inside a favorite South Bay mall, Valley Fair? So not only can you grab a meal, you can also go shopping before, after or during — just make your anti-shopping friend hold your place in line. It’s probably that you’ll have to wait in line if you didn’t make a reservation, so you might as well make a day of it. Also, Santana Row is not too far away, so you can get all of your shopping in if you have to make a trip of it. And if you’re not into shopping, you can at least get a hoot out of people-watching at the mall instead. Trust me. It’s worth it.
If you want to eat here, you have to wait. Plain and simple. It’s like gossip — you don’t know why, but you’ve just got to know. As humans, we’re curious — so when someone says that we just have to experience a tasty soup dumpling exploding in our mouths, we just have to. And then, once we’ve had the experience, we have to tell others or write a review on it to show that we’ve been a part of this collective experience. It’s what we do. So, as long as they keep making the food as hard to get as it is, then people are going to flock. They want to try it out even if it’s just once. But remember, if you want to eat here, book a reservation (and you’ll still have to wait about a month), as they only accept walk-ins for the bar seating, and that only seats about 16 people at a time. So, if you’re not walk-in number one through 32, then there might be a chance you won’t be having any dim sum fun at Din Tai Fung today. Womp, womp.
Let’s be honest — at the end of the day, it’s about the food. I’ll have to admit that it’s a bit on the pricey side for dim sum, but what do you expect? You can get a cocktail (hooray!) with your meal, and the restaurant itself is beautiful. And with over 100 restaurants, they know their food is good. The soup dumplings are an amazing stand out. I’d come back and eat a dozen of those suckers all by myself if I could. And at the entrance of the restaurant, you can actually see the Xiao Long Bao being made which makes it that much more special as you see how much love and labor goes into making them. And did I mention truffle? In addition to the crab and pork soup dumpling, they have many other flavors, including black truffle with pork. Yum! The fried rice with pork chop, spicy wontons, and Shanghai rice cakes also seem to be the favorites among other dishes, so you’ll have to ask your waiter or waitress for their suggestions and order away. For a sweet finish at the end, I recommend the black sesame or taro steamed bun. Delicious!