Shanghai Dumpling King is an Outer Sunset destination, and not just for dumplings.
No trip to San Francisco feels complete unless it involves Chinese food. That’s been the case since the mid ’90s, when my family would frequent places in Chinatown like House of Nanking. Now our explorations lean west, to neighborhoods like the Sunset and Richmond. The latter is where we enjoyed Shanghai Dumpling King, a cash-only spot with white walls, numbered tables, lazy Susans and not much else in terms of design. Not every dish on their menu proved enticing or linked back to the namesake city. After all, the owners sell dishes befitting staid suburbs like General Tso’s Chicken, Mu Shu Pork and Egg Foo Young. Still, the sprawling menu has more than enough intriguing dishes to fuel a satisfying meal.
We skipped cold APPETIZERS and went straight for the BUN/DUMPLING.
Pot Stickers (8 for $5.25) contained juicy pork fillings. However, they also touted thick, doughy wrappers.
Spicy Wontons (10 for $5.25), thin-skinned steamed pork dumplings, took an orange chile oil bath that wasn’t especially spicy. However, the wontons did work well with the tart minced turnip pickle thatch, sesame seed sprinkling and light peanut sauce.
Shanghai Steamed Dumpling (10 for $5.50), aka Xiao Long Bao, were on the rustic side, with fairly thick skins, and relatively sweet pork. Shanghai Dumpling King wouldn’t be my first choice in the Bay Area for XLB, but they were still solid.
Lion’s Head Meatball Casserole ($9.95) was especially good, with three oversized orbs crafted from rosy, crumbly pork. The meatballs sported savory brown sauce and rested on some welcome greens in more braising liquid.
3 Cups Chicken Clay Pot ($6.95) featured a generous helping of boneless dark meat slicked with ginger, soy sauce, sesame oil, and rice wine sauce. Scallions provided a nice textural contrast, and white rice is a natural pairing.
Stir Fried Rice Cakes ($6.95), another Shanghai classic, featured thin, chewy rice cake tabs tossed with thin-sliced pork, spinach and cabbage. The simple combo would have benefited from a bit more caramelization, but we still liked the dish.
Stir Fried Noodles Shanghai Style ($5.95) with thick noodles, good bite, and a similar complement of pork and vegetables tasted even better.
Our token “green” plate showcased crunchy ong choy sautéed with garlic and oil.
Our server was exceptionally proud of his Sugar Egg Puffs, so of course we had to order a trio ($2.95) when he passed by with plates. I could see how he was such a big proponent, since these hot, sugar-dusted sacks were custardy, beignet-like and seriously addictive.
Shanghai Dumpling King could probably dial in their focus. If a first-timer wandered into the restaurant, picked up the sprawling menu and didn’t know to stick with Shanghai, they could end up with the kind of Americanized plates that we used to eat in the New Jersey suburbs. Still, with some guidance from servers, people should be pleased with their picks.