Home Kitchen

Soup dumpling giant Paradise Dynasty is expanding to Los Angeles

There aren’t a ton of truly great soup dumpling places in this country, as it’s a dish generally best left to a handful of specialists. Soup dumplings are one of those particular foods, like bagels, that you don’t just wake up one day and decide to put on the menu. Sure, they’re a simple concept, in theory, but then again, so is operating a table saw. If you don’t know what you’re doing, it can turn into a real disaster.

Din Tai Fung is currently this country’s foremost xiao long bao restaurant (I will use “soup dumpling” interchangeably with “xiao long bao” and “XLB” in this review), but now there’s a relative newcomer, Paradise Dynasty, ready to challenge for the title.

The Singaporean chain will expand in 2024 from Orange County to the Americana at Brand in Glendale, setting up a soup dumpling showdown for the ages with the newly opened Din Tai Fung location across the way at the Glendale Galleria.

South Coast Plaza in Costa Mesa is the current home of Paradise Dynasty. (Yasara Gunawardena / For The Times)

A spoon holds one red soup dumpling.

Among its specialty xiao long bao is red-hued spicy Sichuan flavor. (Yasara Gunawardena / For The Times)

And I, for one, welcome our new dumpling overlords. The more options, the merrier. The fact that we will be treated to a heavyweight-title bout — a xiao long bout, if you will — between two of the world’s premier dumpling specialists is just icing on the mooncake.

But can Paradise Dynasty, which has numerous locations in Asia but lacks the name recognition of Din Tai Fung in the U.S., take on the undisputed XLB king? Will Rudy get a chance to suit up for the big game? Can Ali beat Foreman?

South Coast Plaza in Costa Mesa is the current home of Paradise Dynasty (there’s also a Din Tai Fung branch there). Wind your way south through the upscale mall (“It’s not a mall, it’s a plaza,” a colleague joked) traversing the Bloomingdale’s and you’ll find yourself greeted by the restaurant’s name in enormous letters, subtitled with the cinematic-sounding “Legend of Xiao Long Bao.” After a slightly bewildering process of getting a table that may involve two separate check-in lines, you’re led into a spacious, modern dining room.

If it’s not clear what to order, the xiao long bao are front and center. There’s a big graphic explaining the weight (25 grams per dumpling), characteristics (thin dumpling skin) and architecture (each one has 18 folds) of the XLB and while it’s mostly showmanship, it’s fun to read, like you’re looking at features of a new car. In addition to its regular xiao long bao, Paradise Dynasty features colored soup dumplings that come in various flavors — red is Sichuan spicy, green is kimchi, gray is garlic, etc. — and this is where I’d like to begin.

A rainbow of soup dumplings in a steamer basket with small dishes of sauces

The specialty here is the rainbow-colored dumplings with flavors such as cheese, truffle and luffa gourd. It’s a gimmick but a good one.

(Yasara Gunawardena / For The Times)

I’ll admit to coming in with a natural aversion to the idea of a multicolored, multiflavored basket of soup dumplings. Gray dumplings — as in, truly gray, the color of a dolphin or a rock — usually aren’t on my to-eat list. The whole thing can seem like a bad gimmick, like butter boards or bacon-flavored everything.

I am now convinced it’s quite a good gimmick, like Doritos Locos tacos or Cronuts. The flavored dumplings, of which there are eight, including regular pork flavor, not only taste distinct from one another but are occasionally delightful to eat in their own right. The kimchi XLB was my favorite of the bunch, with a distinctive, pleasing sourness. The aforementioned gray garlic-flavored dumpling lived up to its billing, providing a strong allium kick. Cheese, the flavor I was maybe most skeptical of, was creamy and indulgent.

Any discussion of the regular pork xiao long bao will necessitate a comparison to Din Tai Fung. The dumplings at Paradise Dynasty, when firing on all cylinders, can hold their own against the Taiwanese chain. Bigger doesn’t mean better, but at 25 grams, they’re a bit heftier than the 21-gram dumplings at Din Tai Fung. (Apparently a Din Tai Fung soup dumpling leaves your body after you die?) Both have similar ingredients and light, bright broths — so ultimately, it comes down to construction.

That’s where Din Tai Fung has the edge. The dumplings at Paradise Dynasty, while good, were a bit inconsistent — a kink that I imagine will work itself out over time. In one batch I received, the top of one dumpling wasn’t sealed and a couple of other dumplings were touching — big no-nos when you’re trying to keep structural integrity so soup doesn’t spill out. The exterior dough was also a bit dry on some of the Paradise Dynasty XLB: That could have to do with refrigeration or steaming technique, or perhaps just putting a bit too much flour on the board when rolling out the dough.

Soup dumplings in a steamer basket, seen in closeup

So who makes the better soup dumpling? These are the expertly folded xiao long bao from Din Tai Fung. (Yasara Gunawardena / For The Times)

A person uses chopsticks to pick up a soup dumpling from a steamer basket.

Paradise Dynasty’s dumplings are good but a bit inconsistent — a kink that might get worked out with time. (Yasara Gunawardena / For The Times)

But it’s other items on Paradise Dynasty’s menu that really excel and can ultimately, I think, determine its success in its expansion. Having arrived too late one afternoon to order the radish pastries or pan-fried Shanghai kurobuta pork buns (you may know them as sheng jian bao), I made a point to arrive extra early on a follow-up visit. I was very happy that I did. Radish pastries look like fat caterpillars, finely segmented and impossibly flaky. The delicate layers of dough almost disappear upon meeting the tongue, and the remaining blank slate of soft, savory radish pairs perfectly with the fruity, deeply brown-hued table vinegar.

The sheng jian bao are fried brown and crispy on their lower halves and left soft, white and pliant on top, with a delineation of color as sharp as an end-of-summer tan line. The dumpling exterior has a wonderful contrast of texture and the insides are brimming with meat and juice. I’m hard pressed to think of a better sheng jian bao I’ve had recently.

Cold dishes like a cucumber salad and sliced tofu with crispy onion are also good bets at Paradise Dynasty. I may even like its cucumber salad, pieces that are covered in what tastes like a thin, garlicky paste, better than the version at Din Tai Fung, where girthy slices of cucumber are stacked into a pyramid.

Radish pastry at Paradise Dynasty.
Diced crab meat in vegetable and tofu soup.
Stir-fried Rice Cake with Lobster in chili crab sauce and a steamer basket of multicolored soup dumplings

Paradise Dynasty’s radish pastries are finely segmented and impossibly flaky, with delicate layers of dough that almost disappear upon meeting the tongue. (Yasara Gunawardena / For The Times) Paradise Dynasty’s soup with tofu, chopped vegetables and diced crab was fresh, verdant and stick-to-your-ribs satisfying. (Yasara Gunawardena / For The Times) Stir-fried rice cake with lobster in Singapore-style chile crab sauce is spicy, chewy, sweet, savory and meaty. At $88.88, it’s a fun splurge. (Yasara Gunawardena / For The Times)

Chefs make dumplings, seen through a viewing window in the dining lounge at Paradise Dynasty.

Chefs make xiao long bao at Paradise Dynasty. Each dumpling weighs 25 grams and has 18 folds in its skin.

(Yasara Gunawardena / For The Times)

Noodle dishes are generally stronger at Din Tai Fung — I had a somewhat mushy bowl of noodle soup at Paradise Dynasty and an under-seasoned stir-fried vermicelli. But some other chef’s specials at Paradise yielded great finds. The stir-fried rice cake with lobster in Singapore-style chile crab sauce was an exemplary mess of sensory overload — spicy, chewy, sweet, savory and meaty. Auspiciously priced at $88.88, it’s not cheap, but it’s a fun splurge. A thick soup with tofu, chopped vegetables and diced crab was fresh, verdant and stick-to-your-ribs satisfying.

Din Tai Fung does great soups and veggies too, by the way. I stopped by the new Galleria location a day or two after it opened and snagged an open seat at the bar. (Always check the bar. It was nearly an hour wait for a table.) Two standout dishes were a tofu puff and glass noodle soup, with a gentle, balanced broth and long, chewy fingers of spongy tofu, and a plate of crunchy Taiwanese cabbage, stir-fried to perfection and dotted with slivers of garlic sliced so thin you’d swear Paul Sorvino was working in the back.

I can barely wait for summer — when Paradise Dynasty is currently scheduled to open in Glendale. Back in my theater camp days, the people in charge had a saying to assuage those who were unhappy with the size of their roles: “There are no small parts, only small actors.” I would like to workshop this witticism beyond the stage and into the kitchen, specifically regarding dumplings: There are no bad dumplings, only … bad steamer baskets? Splintery chopsticks? Hopefully, you understand my point: Sure, it’s a competition of sorts, but one where there are no losers. Rising soup lifts all dumplings.

Paradise Dynasty

3333 Bristol St., BLM, 1 Bloomingdale’s, Costa Mesa, (714) 617-4630, paradisegp.com/USA

Prices: Dumplings $7-$19, most entrees $14-$29; 50% discount on some items during happy hour Monday-Thursday.

Details: 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday, 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday, 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday

Recommended dishes: Xiao long bao, pan-fried Shanghai kurobuta pork buns, radish pastries, diced crab meat in vegetable and tofu thick broth, stir-fried rice cake with lobster in Singapore-style chile crab sauce

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *