Think of it as the dumpling version of a Rorschach blot.
Wherever you eat xiao long bao in Las Vegas (a high-style Strip spot or humble neighborhood joint); however the dumpling skins are fashioned (lavishly thin or of sturdier stuff); in whatever way they’re filled (classic pork or pork and seafood or ingredients that depart from the expected), one thing remains constant: the condensation pattern — dribbles, puddles, pools — left behind by the steamer.
It’s comforting, really, this common quality. No matter how grand the restaurant, no matter how deftly you dress the dumplings with soy sauce or black vinegar, no matter how neatly you slurp the hot soup inside, without mess — no easy feat! — the steamer still leaves traces on the table. A reminder of the passing pleasures xiao long bao bring.
We recently searched the city for the pleasures of these soup dumplings, so called because steaming the meat gelatin in the filling liquefies the gelatin, producing a savory soup. Here are six places worth a stop for xiao long bao. (And blots.)
Din Tai Fung
The show begins up front at Din Tai Fung, as people waiting for their tables watch, through glass walls, the cooks preparing the xiao long bao for which the restaurant chain is famous.
The cooks work deftly. Xiao long bao at Din Tai Fung are a numbers game: 8,000 pieces a day, each skin shaped on a circular template about 3 inches in diameter, each dumpling stuffed with about 5 grams of filling, each parcel gathered up in 18 swirled pleats before steaming.
Din Tai Fung, with its gleaming silver rails and sweep of pale-jade marble and soaring slanted casement windows, feels like a sleek garden room. Kurobuta pork xiao long bao, six to a steamer, touch down, then kurobuta pork with crab. These dumplings — more delicately flavored than some — sharpen the slurp with a splash of black vinegar, a dab of chili paste.
Aria, 702-590-8654, aria.mgmresorts.com
Xiao Long Dumplings
Chairman Bao, a smiling winking anthropomorphic dumpling with a twirled topknot, greets customers to this restaurant that opened last fall in Chinatown Plaza. Next to the Chairman lies a curving bar where, during a recent visit, the televisions play cooking demonstrations of very elaborate European pastries.
Similar skill is at work in the kitchen of Xiao Long Dumplings, as the house special soup dumplings amply show. The skins are especially delicate, and xiao long bao tyros should let the dumplings settle briefly before lifting them onto a soup spoon to relieve them of their scalding broth.
Chili and pork dumplings deliver a rush of spiciness, then a hum of heat in the background. Shrimp and pork xiao long bao have good seafood flavor. And a pork and cream cheese version will irk purists, but they’re a savvy twist on tradition, one popular with younger customers.
4275 W. Spring Mountain Road, 725-204-6916, xiaolongdumplings.com
ShangHai Taste occupies a small storefront in Shanghai Plaza, across the road from Chinatown Plaza and Xiao Long Dumplings. The restaurant features a small counter and a smattering of tables in the dining room. You’ll want to arrive first-thing or check the wait times online.
Xiao long bao here come eight to a steamer (many restaurants serve only six for roughly the same price). Traditional Shanghai xiao long bao and shrimp and cucumber xiao long bao offer the requisite slurping pleasure, with plenty of hot stock. Too bad the truffle pouches are crossed off the menu — they seem worth a try.
Noodles with scallion oil and Shanghai noodles with chili soybean paste nicely complement the xiao long bao. Shanghai noodle leftovers were meant for an evening snack, but they don’t make it through the afternoon.
4266 W. Spring Mountain Road, 702-570-6363, facebook.com/ShanghaiTasteLV
The name Mott 32 pays homage to 32 Mott St., the longest continuously operated business in New York City’s Chinatown when the business closed in 2003 after 112 years (and several incarnations). In 2020, chef Alan Ji of Mott 32 received a semifinalist nod in the annual James Beard Awards.
Ji sends out his menu into a moody dining room with sinuous banquettes and skyscraping ceilings, with fixtures on pulleys above the front bar and a wrought iron fence partitioning the room from the casino floor.
Iberico pork soup dumplings reflect the signature Mott twist on Chinese standards; the hot and sour dumplings are good and spicy. The surprise winner? A vegetarian parcel filled with minced tofu “pork” and flashes of ginger. All skins strike the right balance between thinness and containment. So, poor chopstick skills? Pick up the xiao long bao with you fingers.
Palazzo, 702-607-3232, venetianlasvegas.com
On the menu, xiao long bao are called “Steamed Juicy Pork Buns,” another way of describing the dumplings that might confuse some folks. A thumbnail food shot (right between potstickers and Mama’s special pan-fried pork buns) clearly shows they’re xiao long bao.
The dumplings are fashioned here not with sealed tops, but with fluted openings that make slurping the broth a cinch (and far less messy than usual). Like ShangHai Taste, they’re also eight to a basket, and the stock is properly hot.
A steamer of dumplings and an order of noodles with black bean sauce (a Beijing- style dish) makes a fine lunch. On the way out, stop to watch dumplings being made in the glass-fronted kitchen.
3420 S. Jones Blvd., 702-873-1977, chinamamalv.com
Yum Cha specializes in dim sum, and the term “yum cha” (taking tea) often is used instead of dim sum. The front kitchen opens to the dining room, with cooks busy steaming, baking and frying items.
Xiao long bao here are just one choice among dozens of dim sum dishes, and they’re not as soupy or thin-skinned as the dumplings at some other restaurants. That said, a steamer holds only three (for about $5), an ideal (and affordable) way to have your xiao long bao and sample other dim sum, too.
4945 W. Tropicana Ave., 702-778-3018, lasvegasyumcha.com
Contact Johnathan L. Wright at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @ItsJLW on Twitter.