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.
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.