Din Tai Fung Brings a Taste of Taiwan to San Diego

Arts and Culture

Arlene Banuelos / The Triton

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When I heard that Din Tai Fung opened its Westfield UTC location on October 1 for a reservation-only soft opening, I was skeptical about trying it. The Taiwanese restaurant, known for its xiaolongbao (soup dumplings), gained international recognition in 2010 when its Hong Kong branch earned a Michelin star. Their rapid expansion to multiple countries introduced xiaolongbao to a wider audience, where it gained popularity.

I grew up with xiaolongbao and my family’s Taiwanese recipes; I have also been to Taiwan and the original Din Tai Fung on Xinyi Road. As such, I have high standards. Having tried the Din Tai Fung in San Jose and left unimpressed with the dumplings and noodles, I was doubtful about the culinary quality of another U.S. location. However, with a new location so close to campus, I was open to giving Din Tai Fung another chance.

After being lucky enough to land a lunch reservation 10 days beforehand, I made my way to UTC with a couple of friends. Upon entering, I was greeted by two friendly receptionists who sat my party down promptly. Looking through the restaurant chain’s signature glass display wall, I noticed multiple chefs inside a culinary showroom, meticulously and patiently assembling xiaolongbao, pleat by pleat (18 pleats each, to be exact). The sleek bar with dark wooden chairs and the gorgeous outdoor area added to the overall bright, spacious, and modern feel of the restaurant.

Of course, I had to try the pork xiaolongbao. Examining each piece, I was amazed by how each filling was encased in a paper-thin skin that surprisingly managed to sustain the meat’s weight. Each bite yielded a satisfying explosion of rich, flavorful broth that flooded my mouth with delicious salt and grease. While delicious at a lukewarm temperature, the dumplings would have been even better served steaming hot.

Next, I tried their specialty shrimp fried rice, and it was just as good as my mom’s Taiwanese fried rice—a recipe passed down in our family for generations.

The winning dish for me, though, was the shrimp-and-pork wontons in spicy sauce. The sauce had a subtle kick that crept up on me, while the wontons’ meat filling was juicy yet chewy. Sipping a creamy, sweet black milk tea in between bites served as the perfect palate cleanser for the wontons.

Also on my list were the beef noodle soup, string beans, and sesame sauce noodles. However, I found these flavors to be one-dimensional. Overall, though, I found this location to be more appetizing than their San Jose branch, with the food more reminiscent of Taiwan’s.

The beautiful interior and hospitality only enhanced my experience. The high-quality Taiwanese food also set Din Tai Fung apart from cheaper competitors in the Convoy area of San Diego, known for its variety of Asian fare. If you have never had xiaolongbao or been to Din Tai Fung, it is definitely a dining experience worth having.

Reservations are fully booked for the rest of October, but walk-in service will begin after the official grand opening, expected to be sometime during the next few months.

Anthony Tseng is a Staff Writer for The Triton.