People often ask me what I miss most from living in Taiwan. Aside from the gorgeous views and bustling 24/7 lifestyle, you probably already know the answer…I miss the food. Especially places like Din Tai Fung. DTF was our Monday night ritual in Taipei for several years. Now that I am not in Asia as often, I miss having regular access to quality Asian cuisine. So, when I heard the news that a Din Tai Fung was opening a branch in Torrance, California, I was thrilled! My parents still live in that area, so whenever I am transiting between my home bases in Holland and Belize, I fly through LAX so I can spend some time with them.
Needless to say, we visit Din Tai Fung at least once every few months when I am back in town. The quality at the Torrance location is better than some of the other ones I’ve tried elsewhere outside of Taiwan. There is a full bar and a variety of interesting alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverage options. They even have Taiwan beer available, but it’s not cheap — $8 US a bottle!
Here’s some of the regular menu items we get, most of which are my favorites from the original locations in Taipei.
Not a salad in the traditional sense, the Cucumber Salad ($4.50) is a plate of small pickled cucumbers marinated in chili oil and usually a garlic slice on top. This is a must-eat dish for me as long as they aren’t out of it. The chili oil is not that hot, so no worries if you aren’t into very spicy dishes.
Sweet and Sour Ribs
The appetizer of sweet and sour ribs is my Mom’s favorite, and she doesn’t normally eat ribs at all. They are messy as heck, but I can see why she loves them. This was not a menu item available in Taiwan when I lived there, so I have to assume it’s unique to Torrance or maybe the US locations as a whole. Definitely worth ordering, but they sometimes run out after the lunch rush and don’t make more until dinner time.
Hot and Sour Soup
I’ve never tried the soups at Din Tai Fung in Taiwan, but my Dad loves Hot and Sour Soup, so we order this every visit as well. Unless you have a big group, order the small Hot and Sour Soup ($5.50) as we still get four small bowls out of it. This soup packs a good amount of heat, but it’s not too spicy — my Dad said this is one of his favorite hot and sour soups he’s ever had.
Shrimp and Pork Spicy Wontons
One of my absolute favorite dishes is the Shrimp and Pork Spicy Wontons ($9.50). We’ve been known to order two of these at times! This dish packs some heat, but it’s oh so worth it. Delicate shrimp and pork wontons swimming in a soup of spicy chili sauce with green onions. They are also messy if you slip up with your chopsticks. It’s best to put one on your spoon and then pick it up with your chopsticks, otherwise you might be wearing chili oil. I’ve seen plenty of people struggle with these!
My Mom is not a huge fan of pork, and the Din Tai Fung in Torrance doesn’t have chicken XiaoLongBao like Taiwan and Singapore do (or did at least,) so we get an order of chicken dumplings for her. These are quite good, and I look forward to eating them each trip as well.
Shrimp and Pork Shao Mai
These are similar to the soup dumplings as they have a bit of broth inside, but the dough is thicker and more chewy. The Shrimp and Pork Shao Mai ($7.50) only come 5 to an order, so they aren’t necessarily cheap, but still worth trying in my opinion. Other branches out of the US usually have these in orders of 10, so I am surprised to see Torrance only having 5 to an order. The basic pork and sticky rice Shao Mai are good too, but I really prefer the shrimp and pork combination. You eat these much like you eat the xiaolongbao, so be careful with the piping hot broth inside. Don’t let them sit too long or they aren’t nearly as good.
Din Tai Fung’s Xiaolongbao
The star of the show at Din Tai Fung, and what they are most known for, is the iconic XiaoLongBao. While “bao” means bun, these are often called Shanghai Soup Dumplings. They are filled with a delicious hot broth in addition to pork (or pork and crab). The delicate pleats are literally an art, and workers study for months perfecting the art of the Din Tai Fung XiaoLongBao look.
In Taiwan, the pork and crab XiaoLongBao are a little too strong (they use crab roe), but the ones at the Torrance branch are more mild. However, I still prefer the most classic Pork XiaoLongBao ($10). You get an order of 10, and thankfully my Dad loves these as much as I do, so we sometimes get two orders of these.
I’m a bit surprised they don’t have the card that shows you how to properly eat a XiaoLongBao like they do on the tables in Taiwan. The magic of eating XiaoLongBao comes from the right mixture of soy sauce and black vinegar with bits of ginger. Dip your dumpling in this mix, pierce the dumpling skin in your spoon, and then enjoy. Some people sip the broth then add more vinegar and ginger on top of the dumpling and eat. Others poke the dumpling skin and let the broth settle in the spoon and eat as one bite.
Like the Shao Mai, these need to be eaten quickly before the broth cools down. Be careful as they will burn your mouth, so puncturing the dumpling is one way to help avoid burning yourself.
The Torrance location has the black truffle version, but I have not eaten them here. We used to order them in Taiwan when they first debuted. They were not cheap — about $30 for a full order, but oh so tasty. Then it seemed like they went from using truffle slices to more of a truffle paste and we didn’t like them as much. Hong Kong has the best black truffle XiaoLongBao in my opinion. In the US, the pork and black truffle ones run $22.50 for an order of 5, so that is why I haven’t tried them yet, since we could get two orders of the pork for the same price and have 20 XiaoLongBao rather than 5.
Other Dishes to Try at Din Tai Fung in Torrance
There are other dishes I recommend trying, although I don’t necessarily get them here on my normal visits. These are some of my favorite dishes from Taiwan, but items my parents aren’t really interested in, or can’t eat (they have some dietary restrictions due to health problems).
- Noodles with Spicy Sauce (this is the same sauce as the wontons – love!)
- Noodles with Sesame Sauce
- Pork Chop Fried Rice
- Sauteed Spinach with Garlic
- String Beans with Garlic
- Potstickers (if they are available still)
- Red Bean and Taro buns (dessert)
Beverages at Din Tai Fung
I’m a purist and always order Jasmine tea and a Taiwan beer, since it makes me feel like I’m back in Taiwan. My Dad loves their honey lemonade and Mom always orders the peach green iced tea.
I recently tried their Taipei 101 ($13) cocktail, which was good, but definitely on the strong side. It was made with Sailor Jerry’s Rum, Malibu Rum, Coke, and a sea salt cream top. I was surprised to see it served in a short fat glass – would’ve expected something tall and skinny to symbolize Taipei 101 itself! Definitely a tasty cocktail though.
There is also a selection of various slushies/smoothies, milk tea, and you can even add boba. They also have a sea-salt-cream-topped green or black tea, which I have to assume is somewhat like my favorite sea-salt coffee from Taiwan.
Din Tai Fung Merchandise
While there is a small amount of merchandise sold here, there’s far less than what I am used to in the Asian branches. I have so many souvenirs, including luggage tags, special teas, Christmas figurines, and more. What’s most noticeably absent is the food products. I love their Chili Oil, and they don’t sell it at the Torrance location. I need to get back to Taiwan soon as the jar I got the last time I visited is nearly empty!
Tips for Din Tai Fung in Torrance
I’ve seen photos and heard stories that the lines can get pretty long at the Torrance Din Tai Fung during peak lunch and dinner times. I’m used to an hour plus wait at any given location in Taiwan any time of the day, so it doesn’t bother me, but my parents aren’t fans of long wait times. We typically beat the rush by going around 4pm on a weekday, and we can always walk right in. By the time we leave, there is definitely a line building up for the dinner rush.
Also, don’t order everything at one time. Place an appetizer and small order to start, unless you’re in a big group. All the food arrives quick, and you’ll find yourself overwhelmed trying to finish everything while it’s hot and fresh. We usually start with the cucumbers, soup, ribs, and an order of dumplings. From there, we order shao mai, wontons, and maybe another round of xiaolongbao.
And, rather than order one of the fancy frozen drink concoctions with the food, we have been getting them for dessert and taking them to go. That way we don’t waste precious stomach space needed for dumplings either!
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