During this jovial time of year full of friends, family, and food, I find myself reaching for the edge of the pool. I need a little breather. Besieged by stuffing, pumpkin pie, and turkey stock, I yearn for a break from the confines of the dining room. I crave deep, rich flavors and I want to eat with my hands. With Halloween and Thanksgivingwrapped up and Christmas not far off, a little intermission between the two acts is necessary. This year’s holiday interim calls for one thing: dumplings.
Clement Street in the outer Richmond is home to many dumpling havens. Vapors of steamed pork, onion, and cabbage waft down the block as people buzz about. The energy on Clement Street can be addictive, especially when you have an appetite. My favorite haunt lately is Xiao Long Bao Restaurant. The joy of walking into the store and being greeted by glass steamers loaded with potstickers, sesame balls, and beef pancakes evokes a childish glee rarely conjured. Almost instantaneously I incarnate Charlie Bucket as I frolic in a world of Chinese donuts, Shanghai sticky rice rolls, and turnip cakes. My eyes gleam at mountains of shumai, sweet egg baos, and fluffy shrimp puffs. With almost everything on the menu costing $1-$5 it can be hard to make a decision, so usually I don’t and just order everything that catches my eye.
My favorite treat at XLB are their pan-fried baos. Prepared with beef or pork with bok choy, the perfectly plump buns are steamed and lightly fried, beautifully browned on both the top and bottom surfaces. The dumplings are packed with juicy meat and the doughy shell’s crispness adds a level of texture and succulence. These bao are another perfect example of how something so simple, and done many times over, can still astonish your mouth as if it’s eating it for the first time.
The other must is the restaurant’s namesake, their xiao long bao. These petite soup dumplings are crudely crimped and steamed in little aluminum trays. Trust me, once the little explosion of pork and broth coats the inside of your mouth, you’ll need another at once.
After ordering my favorites, I like to mix it up with some variety. The har gow (shrimp dumplings) are clean and springy. Pink and translucent in color, these pouch-shaped dumplings are clean and sweet. The scallion pancakes are crispy, oily, and savory. These decadent disks are so luxurious and cheap, they take the whole experience over the top.
Here’s a little Christmas pro tip: Bring a big bag of XLB’s food to a party and you will promptly become everyone’s favorite guest. I don’t know what it is, there is just something about this time of year that screams quick service dim sum to me. Maybe it’s the complete shift from the seasonal flavors, it could be the loud hectic dining room coupled with an excuse to stuff my face. I don’t care what it is, tis the season to be jolly, I don’t need an excuse. Need a holiday reprieve? Go get some dim sum.
Xiao Long Bao Restaurant
625 Clement St., San Francisco, CA 94118