When I look broadly at the dining landscape in Tacoma, we’re missing a few things I wish we had.
Ethiopian, Afghani and Moroccan cuisine. A place with only Carolina barbecue.
And, of course, a dumpling place.
That last one is tough. With our myriad restaurants serving Asian cuisine, shouldn’t at least one restaurant micro-focus on a broad menu of dumplings? I wish.
Until we get our own dumpling spot, I’ve been designing my own dumpling tour. It’s true the field is narrow here, but did you know we have shumai, mandoo and xiao long bao? And Szechuan dumplings?
There are pockets — so to speak — of dumplings from Tacoma to Lakewood to Puyallup at Chinese, Korean and Southeast Asian restaurants. You just have to know where to look. Here are four places I visit and the dozen dumplings I think you ought to try.
STOP 1: INDO ASIAN STREET EATERY
Where: 110 N. Tacoma Ave., Tacoma; 253-503-3527; indostreeteatery.com.
Indo Asian Street Eatery owners Vathunyu “Yu” Nanakornphanom and Buoy Ngov call their style of cooking Asian comfort food, so it’s no surprise that the upscale Stadium neighborhood restaurant featuring a broad menu of Asian favorites usually has a few styles of dumplings on the menu. Right now, there are three, but the menu changes frequently, as does the dumpling selection.
Shumai: These fluted, flower-shaped dumplings were filled with a bouncy pork filling speckled with shiitake mushrooms, shrimp and a whiff of ginger, in a springy yellow wonton wrapper loosely formed around the steamed filling. They’re served with a dollop of bright orange fish roe in a bamboo basket hot off the steamer and vinegar-soy sauce with a slice of jalapeno for dipping ($10 for 5 dumplings).
Shrimp and chive dumplings: Hand-crimped crescents in chewy wrappers filled with baby shrimp and grassy chives splashed with sesame oil. Served pan-fried with a lightly crisped edge and a dipping sauce of chile oil flavored with hoisin, chile-garlic sauce and fried onions ($9 for 4).
Edamame and kale: These vegetarian dumplings combined two trendy vegetables, edamame and kale, into a vivid green and earthy filling with a toothsome texture. The dumplings were hand-formed into a rounded wonton shape and lightly pan fried and served with a salty-sweet peanut sauce ($8 for 6).
STOP 2: PAL-DO WORLD INTERNATIONAL MARKET
Where: 9701 South Tacoma Way, Lakewood.
This Korean shopping center is a bastion of versatile dining, with a bakery and food court inside the shopping center and the area’s best Chinese restaurant, Tacoma Szechuan, outside the building. Three locations feature dumplings I like.
Wonton with hot sauce: Tacoma Szechuan, with a menu of spice-punched Szechuan favorites, features several dumplings, but my favorite is the wonton in hot sauce. Wispy wonton wrappers twisted into round orbs were filled with a dense ground pork. More than a dozen wontons were sunk deep into a bowl brimming with a tongue-numbing spicy chile sauce ($6.99 for a big bowl). (Tacoma Szechuan, 253-581-0102; tacomaszechuanchinese.com).
Dumpling with Szechuan Sauce: Like the wonton in hot sauce, these dumplings from Tacoma Szechuan were doused in a fiery sauce, but this version is slightly less assertive and more salty. These dumplings were built on thicker, chewier wrappers, but filled with a similar ground pork mixture ($6.99 for 12).
Steamed dumpling: These pleated dumplings at Tacoma Szechuan were steamed in thick, chewy wrappers and filled with a relaxed ground pork filling and scallions. Served with a salty dipping sauce ($7.99 for 12).
Kimchi pork mandoo: If you get annoyed when your dumpling disappears in two bites, have I got a giant, oversized dumpling for you. Steamed mandoo is the Korean cousin of Chinese bao. At the House of Mandoo, a walk-up stand inside the Pal-Do World shopping center, mandoo arrived as softball-sized bao hearty enough to be lunch.
The pork version came filled with loose ground pork with slippery glass noodles and a peppery bite. Another version served with lightly sweetened beans. My favorite was the steamed ground pork and kimchi with glass noodles, wrapped in a squat bun with a pleasing chewy texture and slight springy resistance, hot off the steamer. With a vinegar splashed soy dipping sauce ($2 each). (House of Mandoo, 253-267-0609).
Jjhin Mahn Doo: Nak Won Korean Cuisine in the food court serves a compact, steamed version of Korean mandoo. The small dumplings arrived atop a steamed cabbage leaf, with soft, wispy wrappers loosely hugging pork and slippery noodles with a mild seasoning. They also came with a side of vinegar and soy sauce ($7.95 for 10). (Nak Won Korean Cuisine, 253-682-2880).
STOP 3: MY LIL’ CUBE RAMEN AND ASIAN CUISINE
Where: 402 N. Meridian, Puyallup; 253-840-2158.
My Lil’ Cube is the best destination for Japanese-style ramen in Pierce County — with three kinds each of miso and shoyu ramen and four varieties of tonkotsu ($9-$9.50) — but it’s also a stellar destination for Chinese dumplings and the only place I know of with soup dumplings.
Steamed juicy pork buns: Xiao long bao, also known as soup dumplings or Shanghai dumplings, are an engineering marvel. Each bite of the squat dumplings released a steamy splash of pork broth. Take care to pry the wispy wrappers from the serving dish to preserve the juice within, or it’ll spill everywhere (use the spoons provided). Those velvety soft wrappers, pinched into a pretty flower pattern, broke to ground pork rolled into compact meatballs. Served with a soy sauce ($5 for 6).
Boiled dumplings: Hand-crimped squat crescents held ground pork and scallions ($7 for 10).
STOP 4: MING PALACE CHINESE SEAFOOD RESTAURANT
Where: 8736 S. Hosmer St., Tacoma; 253-548-2419.
Tacoma’s only dim sum restaurant opened in December in the former home of Ginger Palace II, which used to serve dim sum. The Cantonese restaurant from new owner Wei Quan Pan offers dim sum daily 11 a.m.-3 p.m, but cart service only offered Fridays-Sundays (lunch and dinner of Chinese favorites also served daily). I offer this recommendation with the caveat that I found service inconsistent, and the quality of dim sum see-sawed on two visits. That said, here are two dumplings that wowed on both visits.
Cilantro dumpling: A feathery, translucent wrapper slipped away to reveal steamed shrimp and whole leaves of cilantro ($3.95 for 4).
Shrimp, corn, veggies dumpling: Wrapped in a chewy yellow wrapper, these substantially textured dumplings held sweet bursts of snappy corn, minced shrimp and thin slices of Chinese broccoli ($3.95 for 4).