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Dining out in Dumpling Inn

To get xiao long bao, you really have to have been there

This Dumpling Inn dining room is made to look like the outdoors.
This Dumpling Inn dining room is made to look like the outdoors.

What I learned this week is that soup dumplings will get me out of the house. For months, I’ve been eating mostly at home, opting for take-out and a little bit of outdoor dining. But, once my parents were fully vaccinated, and my wife and I started getting our shots, returning to restaurant dining started to feel like a good idea again. When a couple of vaccinated friends asked us to meet at an old favorite spot on Convoy, we hopped into the car and drove. Fast, as it turns out.

Place

Dumpling Inn & Shanghai Saloon

4625 Convoy Street, San Diego

Dumpling Inn has been at it since the mid-90s, attracting long lines to a tiny dumpling shop for a while before expanding into a larger space that used to be a small grocery store. It’s large enough that part of the dining room is designed to resemble the courtyard of a Chinese village. And yes, I appreciated the twist of irony that my first indoor dining room in months was made to create the impression of dining outdoors.

Xiao long bao, a.k.a. soup dumplings

The Dumpling Inn space is large enough it even houses a full-service bar with its own name: the Shanghai Saloon. Had it not been lunchtime, I might have started my meal with one of the bar’s craft cocktails, or sampled from its Japanese whiskies. Instead, I settled for a double dry hopped pale ale being poured from one of its 30 taps. I say “settled,” but “Foreign Pale Ale,” a Burgeon Beer and Fall Brewing collaboration using southern hemisphere hops, proved exactly what the occasion called for.

Shanghai Saloon features a full-service bar with craft beer, cocktails, and a huge assortment of whiskies.

And so did the xiao long bao. Also known as soup dumplings, xiao long bao rival street tacos and sushi as the world’s greatest bite size morsels. But even more than these rivals, soup dumplings don’t travel well. You want them fresh out of the steam tray, the pork meatballs within swimming in the hot liquid that give them their name. So hot, you will probably singe your tongue on the first bite because you weren’t patient enough to let it cool.

Dumpling Inn and Shanghai Saloon operate within what used to be a small grocery.

Dumpling Inn made its name hand-wrapping these bundles of pure joy, and at ten for $9, I wasted zero time ordering some for the table. These may be the best dumplings on the menu, but they are not alone. I usually like to pair them with another set of dumplings — potstickers or boiled pork dumplings — and this time I went for deep fried beef curry dumplings. Definitely enjoyable enough to order again.

Lamb chow mein, made with the wide house noodles for two bucks extra

Frankly, I could have eaten dumplings all day, but Dumpling Inn also makes its own noodles. It’s not well advertised on the menu, but if you order one of the restaurant’s $10-13 chow meins, lo meins, or noodle soups, you can get these house noodles for an additional $2. And so, rather than skinny, spaghetti-like egg noodles, my lamb chow mein ($12.25) was made with wide ribbons of chewy goodness.

More to the point, it was lovely to sit around a table to drink beer, slurp noodles, and chat with friends again. To be fair, we could have done so outside — Dumpling Inn maintains outdoor seating under a large tent in the parking lot, and we saw several parties eating there. But we had the confidence of vaccinations to bolster us (even our waiter told us he’s fully vaccinated), so we enjoyed the sense of near-normalcy that come from dining on indoor furniture.

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This Dumpling Inn dining room is made to look like the outdoors.
This Dumpling Inn dining room is made to look like the outdoors.

What I learned this week is that soup dumplings will get me out of the house. For months, I’ve been eating mostly at home, opting for take-out and a little bit of outdoor dining. But, once my parents were fully vaccinated, and my wife and I started getting our shots, returning to restaurant dining started to feel like a good idea again. When a couple of vaccinated friends asked us to meet at an old favorite spot on Convoy, we hopped into the car and drove. Fast, as it turns out.

Place

Dumpling Inn & Shanghai Saloon

4625 Convoy Street, San Diego

Dumpling Inn has been at it since the mid-90s, attracting long lines to a tiny dumpling shop for a while before expanding into a larger space that used to be a small grocery store. It’s large enough that part of the dining room is designed to resemble the courtyard of a Chinese village. And yes, I appreciated the twist of irony that my first indoor dining room in months was made to create the impression of dining outdoors.

Xiao long bao, a.k.a. soup dumplings

The Dumpling Inn space is large enough it even houses a full-service bar with its own name: the Shanghai Saloon. Had it not been lunchtime, I might have started my meal with one of the bar’s craft cocktails, or sampled from its Japanese whiskies. Instead, I settled for a double dry hopped pale ale being poured from one of its 30 taps. I say “settled,” but “Foreign Pale Ale,” a Burgeon Beer and Fall Brewing collaboration using southern hemisphere hops, proved exactly what the occasion called for.

Shanghai Saloon features a full-service bar with craft beer, cocktails, and a huge assortment of whiskies.

And so did the xiao long bao. Also known as soup dumplings, xiao long bao rival street tacos and sushi as the world’s greatest bite size morsels. But even more than these rivals, soup dumplings don’t travel well. You want them fresh out of the steam tray, the pork meatballs within swimming in the hot liquid that give them their name. So hot, you will probably singe your tongue on the first bite because you weren’t patient enough to let it cool.

Dumpling Inn and Shanghai Saloon operate within what used to be a small grocery.

Dumpling Inn made its name hand-wrapping these bundles of pure joy, and at ten for $9, I wasted zero time ordering some for the table. These may be the best dumplings on the menu, but they are not alone. I usually like to pair them with another set of dumplings — potstickers or boiled pork dumplings — and this time I went for deep fried beef curry dumplings. Definitely enjoyable enough to order again.

Lamb chow mein, made with the wide house noodles for two bucks extra

Frankly, I could have eaten dumplings all day, but Dumpling Inn also makes its own noodles. It’s not well advertised on the menu, but if you order one of the restaurant’s $10-13 chow meins, lo meins, or noodle soups, you can get these house noodles for an additional $2. And so, rather than skinny, spaghetti-like egg noodles, my lamb chow mein ($12.25) was made with wide ribbons of chewy goodness.

More to the point, it was lovely to sit around a table to drink beer, slurp noodles, and chat with friends again. To be fair, we could have done so outside — Dumpling Inn maintains outdoor seating under a large tent in the parking lot, and we saw several parties eating there. But we had the confidence of vaccinations to bolster us (even our waiter told us he’s fully vaccinated), so we enjoyed the sense of near-normalcy that come from dining on indoor furniture.

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4S Ranch Allied Gardens Alpine Baja Balboa Park Bankers Hill Barrio Logan Bay Ho Bay Park Black Mountain Ranch Blossom Valley Bonita Bonsall Borrego Springs Boulevard Campo Cardiff-by-the-Sea Carlsbad Carmel Mountain Carmel Valley Chollas View Chula Vista City College City Heights Clairemont College Area Coronado CSU San Marcos Cuyamaca College Del Cerro Del Mar Descanso Downtown San Diego Eastlake East Village El Cajon Emerald Hills Encanto Encinitas Escondido Fallbrook Fletcher Hills Golden Hill Grant Hill Grantville Grossmont College Guatay Harbor Island Hillcrest Imperial Beach Imperial Valley Jacumba Jamacha-Lomita Jamul Julian Kearny Mesa Kensington La Jolla Lakeside La Mesa Lemon Grove Leucadia Liberty Station Lincoln Acres Lincoln Park Linda Vista Little Italy Logan Heights Mesa College Midway District MiraCosta College Miramar Miramar College Mira Mesa Mission Beach Mission Hills Mission Valley Mountain View Mount Hope Mount Laguna National City Nestor Normal Heights North Park Oak Park Ocean Beach Oceanside Old Town Otay Mesa Pacific Beach Pala Palomar College Palomar Mountain Paradise Hills Pauma Valley Pine Valley Point Loma Point Loma Nazarene Potrero Poway Rainbow Ramona Rancho Bernardo Rancho Penasquitos Rancho San Diego Rancho Santa Fe Rolando San Carlos San Marcos San Onofre Santa Ysabel Santee San Ysidro Scripps Ranch SDSU Serra Mesa Shelltown Shelter Island Sherman Heights Skyline Solana Beach Sorrento Valley Southcrest South Park Southwestern College Spring Valley Stockton Talmadge Temecula Tierrasanta Tijuana UCSD University City University Heights USD Valencia Park Valley Center Vista Warner Springs
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