Steamed Or Fried?

New restaurant is dumpling lovers’ destination

By Greg Sabin
April 2024

When I heard the Chinese restaurant where I grew up was closing, I was inconsolable.

The Mandarin survived 40 years in Arden-Arcade. It was our family’s go-to restaurant, as much of a culinary tradition as Nana’s Sunday gravy or Auntie Nina’s potato salad.

Never again would I savor the General Tsao’s chicken, the snap and pop of sizzling rice soup or the doughy goodness of Mandarin’s pot stickers.

The good news is, due to an outpouring of support, The Mandarin stayed open. But the initial thought of its loss gave me the freedom to explore other Chinese standouts.

My first quest was to find dumplings. I landed at Midtown’s new sensation, Journey to the Dumpling.

Journey opened at 21st and Q streets last November. The lines out the door never stopped. The restaurant is the second for owners Chris and Yvonne Tan, whose Elk Grove location has been a dumpling lover’s destination since 2017.

Every day at the Midtown Journey, the patio is packed with people waiting for a table in the neon-lit dining room. You’ll hear debates over pan fried vs. steamed, pork vs. veggie.

For many guests, there’s no argument about what sort of dumpling to order. It’s the xiao long bao every time. Known in English as “soup dumplings,” these delicate pillows contain a slurp of soup and bite of pork filling in every ethereal dollop.

The debate is how to eat them. First option is to consume the whole dumpling—scalding soup, savory filling and light dough—in one bite.

For a second option, take a small bite and suck the dumpling dry of soup, then chomp away at the remnants.

There’s a third option, my favorite. Place the dumpling in a soup spoon. Pinch the delicate skin with chopsticks. Let the soup drain from the dumpling and fill the spoon, cooling it. Eat the dumpling off the spoon while slurping the soup in one or two bites.

The surprising thing about Journey isn’t the fantastic dumplings. The surprise is the rest of the menu.

The spicy string beans are very spicy and intensely flavored. The salt and pepper tofu is gorgeously fried, with a crunchy exterior and creamy, luscious interior. Noodle soups, chive pancakes and fried rice are favorites.

If you’re lucky enough to get a dining room seat, you’ll encounter a delightful assault on the senses. Deft marketing is on display with red neon dragons and designs blaring out from the walls. The designs are echoed in the plates and cups, with elegant branding presented everywhere.

Service is fast and happy, noise levels intense, the sense of joy palpable.

I found two other dumplings worth discussing. The pork pot stickers at Dumpling House, 24th and J streets, are among the best I’ve had. The casual, order-at-the-counter restaurant doesn’t look like much, but it contains an exceptionally skilled kitchen crew.

On Freeport Boulevard and Fifth Avenue, Dumpling & Tea House serves more types of dumplings than I can count. The chicken and corn steamed dumplings stand out. A casual restaurant serving mostly to-go orders, this restaurant satisfies Land Park and Curtis Park residents looking for a quick, easy dinner.

For me, the journey continues as I search for dishes like childhood favorites. If you have a favorite general’s chicken or sizzling rice soup, let me know.

Journey to the Dumpling is at 1700 21st St.; (916) 822-4473;

Greg Sabin can be reached at Follow us on Facebook and Instagram: @insidesacramento.

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