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Beloved Chinatown dumpling spot expands to south Vegas — and far east

Updated January 15, 2024 - 6:17 pm

ShangHai Taste, the snug Chinatown storefront famed for its xiao long bao, is expanding south in Las Vegas. And east. Way, way east.

Beginning in March, the restaurant is setting up steamer in Plano, Texas, a northern suburb of Dallas. Beginning in May, the handmade xiao long bao — fill, pleat, pinch, twist, repeat — will issue from the new ShangHai Taste on South Rainbow Boulevard, near Windmill Lane in the southwest.

First, why Texas? Since it opened in 2019, the restaurant has been widely praised for its xiao long bao (often called Shanghai soup dumplings), much of that praise initially coming from locals, then later from visitors to Vegas, who spread the word on social media.

The word reached Texas, investors approached co-owner Joe Muscaglione, he liked what he found in Plano (which is more than 20 percent Asian), and a dumpling deal was done.

In Vegas, the reasons for the expansion stem from the tight quarters in Chinatown (38 seats), an even tighter kitchen and the fact the dumplings are best hot and slurpable right from the steamer.

“They don’t travel well. You need to eat them right away,” said Muscaglione, who owns ShangHai taste in Vegas with chef Jimmy Li, a 2023 James Beard Award semifinalist. “People have been coming asking us to open in that area.” And even for folks willing to trade a trip to Chinatown for takeout convenience, “a lot of the delivery apps don’t reach down there.”

Teaching them the way

Chef Li and his longtime dumpling makers craft the xiao long bao, ensuring consistency and quality. But you can’t clone the chef or the makers or their collective experience (never mind the chef’s mother, Adi Zheng, who also contributes her knowledge and skills to the restaurant). How will dumpling consistency and quality travel — to Texas and the southwest valley?

“That’s the thing: We’re mostly known for our xiao long bao,” Muscaglione acknowledged.

The answer to the challenge, he said, was instruction, practice and repetition. The Texas crew begins training in Chinatown this week. After that, chef Li will spend a month in Texas before the opening, and then five days there every three months as the restaurant establishes its xiao long bao bona fides.

More space, more dumplings

The dining rooms in Plano and the southwest will each seat 50, about a one-third increase from Chinatown. But the kitchens will be significantly larger to allow for significantly increased dumpling production, the size of which was significantly underestimated when ShangHai Taste opened in 2019.

“We designed this for 2,000 a day,” Muscaglione said. “Now, we do 12,000 a day to 14,000 a day. During the holidays, we did 15,000 a day for three days. It was a record.”

A special dish for Vegas

The menu in Texas will be the same as in Chinatown. Xiao long bao (traditional and modern) will anchor it, seconded by appetizers such as sheng jian bao (pan-fried soup dumplings) or scallion chicken salad, soups (including fish wonton or Shanghai beef), noodle dishes (including house fat noodles or noodles with scallion oil), and versions of fried rice with egg, Chinese sausage or choice of protein.

The menu in the southwest also will be the same as the original ShangHai taste, with a special added dish yet to be announced.

The new restaurant in Plano is at 109 Legacy Drive, Suite 120. The expansion in the southwest (buildout by local Platinum Construction Group) is at 8060 S. Rainbow Blvd., Suite 200F. Both locations, Muscaglione said, will have much more parking than the mother dumpling in Chinatown.

Contact Johnathan L. Wright at jwright@reviewjournal.com. Follow @JLWTaste on Instagram and @ItsJLW on X.

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