Kid Hit Menu Items: Thankfully, just about everything. Especially since during the drive over to Din Tai Fung in Arcadia, the toddler’s demands for French fries were getting tiresome. And a little bit worrisome, given that we were already “pot committed” — as one would say in poker parlance — to the DTF plan. Well, nary a peep about FFs was uttered once the steamers arrived containing the famous Juicy Pork Dumplings that weep with deliciousness. Eggy fluffy fried rice with slabs of chicken was also excitedly devoured, along with sweet, nutty string beans. Bowls of sesame noodles, which contain endless, messy slurping fun, are a good hearty counterpoint to the delicate dumplings — that’s if nut allergies aren’t an issue since they have peanuts.
Adult Perks: DTF is an alcohol free zone. But we never give any thought to this prohibition, at all. We’re too busy ordering as much as we can possibly eat to notice or care.
Pros: Incredible Shanghai style soup dumplings that attract massive crowds. Service is fast and efficient once you’ve been seated. It’s a well-oiled machine, that Din Tai Fung. They’ll give you a nice kid/baby place setting with a paper cup and plastic utensils; the baby used them as toys rather than eating implements.
Cons: See above. The quality + popularity = long waits. If you’re chronically behind schedule like we are, then plan peak dinner times VERY carefully. Arriving at say, 6:30 on a Sunday isn’t ideal, unless you want to spend a total of three hours for a meal during which sitting and eating inside the restaurant accounts for maybe 45 minutes. There’s also a second location nearby, but we stick to the O.G.
High Chairs: YesAt least there are some ridiculously entertaining ways to pass those long wait times.
Parking and Access: Busy strip mall, but there are always spaces. Chances are someone in your party will have to hop out to grab your number and get on the list anyway, so that gives you time to circle around. Def not easy stroller navigation territory once inside.
Other Tidbits: My first visit to DTF was when I was super preggo with #1. The wait was tough, but man, just talk to anyone who’s been, and you’ll hear endless praise about the transcendent soup dumpling experience. Now the waiting is still the hardest part, especially with kids. But if you get it together early it’s do-able. Or as we discovered this week, the strip mall has plenty of diversions to pass the waiting time (an hour this past Sunday). The random shop next door has a bunch of those hook-your-prize arcade machine thingies, including one with a Louis Vuitton tote, proof of authenticity certificate and receipt included. Adjacent bakeries and other food businesses can help out in a pinch, too.
In addition to the test of our patience, we were concerned about the main attraction. After all, even adults can burn their mouths while eating soup dumplings. But we were proven very, deeply wrong. Once we gave the kid a little coaching, he couldn’t get enough of the dumplings, along with the black vinegar condiment. (Fresh shredded ginger, not so much.)
So when I heard these words, my heart leapt and I felt a crazy parenting high: “I want the last soup dumpling!” The lapse in manners notwithstanding, we could not have been more thrilled. Next time we’ll get an extra order, and arrive by 5.
Actually, skip the original Arcadia location and go to the relatively newer one next door instead.
Extra suggestion: Alternately, dumplings can be ordered FROZEN six hours in advance, and steamed at home. Our friends have organized groups of us — many of whom have kids — to pitch in on a massive to-go order from DTF. Henry and I once brought a case of sodas and beer from the beloved Galco’s to go with. Behold the spread (at right). The steaming requires a little work, but so worth it to enjoy the wonders that are Shanghai soup dumplings in the comfort of your own home.
1108 S. Baldwin Avenue, Arcadia
Hours: Monday – Friday, 11 a.m. – 3 p.m., 5 p.m. – 9:30 p.m.; Saturday, 10 a.m. – 9:30 p.m.; Sunday, 10 a.m. – 9 p.m.