Din Tai Fung may be the uncrowned king of soup dumplings in Los Angeles, but in New York, it is Joe’s Shanghai that rules. There are 3 branches of Joe’s Shanghai in New York and the one in Chinatown is supposed to be so popular, that you risk spending a lot of time queuing outside, if you’re not there when they open.
To be honest, I had troubles believing that, as I walked through the lazy streets of Chinatown one morning. Most of the restaurants I passed were either closed or completely empty and seriously, who wants soup dumplings so bad at 11:00 in the morning? Quite a lot of people, I later found out, when I finally reached Pell St. and recognized the green sign with yellow letters from a picture on the restaurant’s website.
Most of the tables were already full and as I was there by myself, I was seated at one of the large common tables. Next to me to the right, was a woman from New York who had brought her friend to Joe’s to try what she described as “the best soup dumplings available in the US”.
She told me that she had also been to Din Tai Fung in LA, but she thought the crab dumplings at Joe’s were much better. To the left I had two local guys, who was also regulars, and dedicated fans of the soup dumplings at Joe’s. “Don’t even bother ordering anything else than soup dumplings” they advised me, “everything else will just fade”. Wise words from what seemed like dumpling experts, so I ordered one portion of soup dumplings with pork and one with crab.
The soup dumplings aren’t called “soup dumplings” in the menu, but “steamed buns”, so I checked with the waiter to make sure that I ordered the right stuff. It didn’t take long before the piping hot dumplings were served and I eased the lid off the bamboo steamer and, yikes! I stared down at what looked like mutant giant dumplings from Mars.
The soup dumplings I’ve had at Din Tai Fung were all small, bite-sized pieces and I didn’t have any trouble finishing 2 bamboo steamers all by myself. Though, at Joe’s, the soup dumplings were at least twice as big.
I must admit that I preferred the size of the soup dumplings at Din Tai Fung, but on the other hand, larger dumplings = more of that delicious broth inside. Soup dumplings are all about the broth, and Joe’s Shanghai has really nailed it. It was like a burst of tastiness exploding in my mouth!
I couldn’t finish half of all those giant dumplings and since soup dumplings must be consumed while they’re hot, asking for a doggie bag wasn’t really an option. Instead I decided to donate my leftovers to the other diners at the table. As I walked out from the restaurant, I noticed that soup dumplings weren’t the only things at Joe’s of extraordinary dimensions: Behind the counter was a huge waving cat.
I had my first encounter with soup dumplings at Din Tai Fung and ever since then, I’ve been chasing these little parcels of happiness all over the world. Joe’s is not Din Tai Fung, but since there’s no Din Tai Fung in New York, Joe’s Shanghai is my best bet, when it comes to soup dumplings in NYC.
As the name suggests, soup dumplings, xiao long bao, are dumplings filled with soup. They taste amazing, and I haven’t met anyone, who didn’t like the soup dumplings from Joe’s. The easiest way to eat a soup dumpling is to place it on the spoon, take a small bite so the soup runs out in the spoon, and then eat it. Be careful, as they are served piping hot. The dumplings come with a soy/vinegar based sauce and some shredded ginger, which you dip the dumplings in, before you eat them.
At Joe’s you can choose between pork or pork and crabmeat. In the menu, they are called “Crab meat steamed buns” ($6.95) and “Pork steamed buns” ($4.95) and they are found under appetizers. If in doubt, just ask for soup dumplings.
Joe’s Shanghai specializes in Shanghai cuisine and in addition to the soup dumplings, there is also a good selection of other dishes. I’ve only had the soup dumplings so far, and I think the 8 big dumplings would be more than enough for most people looking for a light lunch.
Joe’s Shanghai is probably the most popular place for soup dumplings in the city, so arrive when they open, or be prepared to wait for a table (Joe’s Shanghai in Chinatown doesn’t take reservations).
• Joe’s Shanghai doesn’t accept credit cards, but only cash payment.
• In addition to the Chinatown branch, there are also branches of Joe’s Shanghai In Flushing and in Midtown.
• Joe’s Shanghai is best for: Lunch, casual dining, foodie adventures
Joe’s Shanghai, 9 Pell Street (Between Doyers St. and Bowery St.), Chinatown, New York, NY 10013, Tel: +1(212) 233-8888
Hours: Mon-Sun: 11:00-23:00