With Chinatown’s dollar dumpling scene as saturated as it is, it seems unlikely that a new family of fryers could permanently etch out its name in one of New York’s most traditional neighborhoods. After all, dumpling kings like Vanessa’s and Prosperity have already expanded to multiple neighborhoods, even multiple boroughs. But Panda Dumpling House, new to Eldridge street this year, has done more than just that.
On first impression, Panda Dumpling House will surprise you for several reasons. First, you’ll fit inside (easily) without touching everyone and everything in the shop, a sobering and occasionally traumatizing experience for those familiar with shops like Prosperity Dumpling. You’ll find plenty of tables and window seating. Second, you’ll find that it’s not only clean… but that it actually looks nice; really nice, in fact. Panda’s gone through a lot of effort to create a comfortable environment for dumpling digestion. Finally, their menu is expansive and easy to maneuver, a welcome change.
Before we get into the exciting stuff, I’d be remiss to avoid Panda’s $1 fried dumplings (5 for $1.00), the true staple of Eldridge street, and perhaps all of Chinatown. Panda’s fried dumplings are entirely homemade, including the wrappers, uncommon in the area. The dumplings, lightly fried, are easily on par with those of Prosperity or Vanessa’s, but the real story here is the dumpling sauce.
While most of the $1 dumpling joints in the area churn out a lazy, watered down concoction of vinegar and soy sauce, Panda goes to great lengths to sweeten up the deal. You’ll find chunks of garlic and onion in theirs, and just enough sugar added to create a deliciously sweet blend that you won’t find anywhere else. Use plenty of it.
If you’re looking for a more unique experience, Panda’s selection of boiled dumplings offers plenty. Try the Pork and Bok Choy (white Chinese cabbage) dumplings (8 for $2.00), boiled to order. Thanks to the addition of Bok Choy, they’re far and away the most flavorful of the bunch. A dash of sriracha and a 3-5 second shower of dumpling sauce should be all you need. If you’re looking to explore the entirety of the restaurant’s meat world, check out the pork, chicken, and shrimp boiled dumplings (also 8 for $2.00).
Up until this week, I’ve generally been very disappointed with the quality of pork buns at dollar dumpling restaurants. They’re often soggy, flavorless, or both. Luckily, Panda Dumpling House has gone through the effort of perfecting theirs early. So, try the fried pork buns (4 for $1.50). Fried perfectly and finished off in boiling water, the buns are packed with superbly flavored pork with a hint of sweet. If laboratory experimentation was your thing in high school (come on, we know it was), poke a hole in the top of the bun and fill it with dumpling sauce and sriracha. The result, while messy and likely to ruin those new chinos, is amazing. If you’re looking for a bigger mountain to ascend, order the gigantic steamed pork bun ($1.00), a heaping mass of dough and pork.
The sleeper hit of the night, however, were not dumplings, pork buns, or even the $2 cans of red bull (oh yes). They were Panda’s tea eggs, a savory snack common in night markets across China, but surprisingly rare in Chinatown (2 for $1.00). Hard boiled eggs, gently cracked to produce marbling, are slow-cooked in a vat of black tea, five spice powder and soy sauce.
The concoction seeps through the cracks of the egg, marinating it until it’s ready to be consumed. The end result is one of the most delicious that I’ve ever encountered in the neighborhood. I really can’t say enough about them, so don’t be put off by their appearance in the slow cooker. Buddha wouldn’t be hanging out in such close proximity if they weren’t this good.
Panda Dumpling House has done exactly what it needs to do to succeed on a street packed with so many dollar dumpling spots (Malvina Reynolds’ Little Boxes comes to mind… though these boxes are made of pork and cabbage, not ticky tacky). With an inviting eating space, expansive and unique menu, and secret dumpling sauce recipe, these guys are primed for long-term success. Oh yeah, and they make the most hilarious jokes: