The time is ripe for a dumpling tour of the Upper West Side. The recent influx of Chinese and Chinese-inspired restaurants has introduced a roster of diverse and delicious dumplings to the neighborhood. Between 74th and 82nd Streets alone, you can now find everything from traditional dim sum and $6 plates of eight pan-fried potstickers to dumplings perfumed with black truffle or chicken-fried in a spicy breading. Locals have embraced these spots, a mixture of transplants from other parts of New York City and new ventures exclusive to the Upper West Side.
Among those outside the neighborhood, however, the Upper West Side remains better known for bagels than for dumplings. A hub of Jewish cuisine, the Upper West Side is home to spots such as Zabar’s. The current owners of the specialty foods emporium prepare lox and rugelach according to their grandparents’ recipes. Further north, Barney Greengrass has earned fame for its buttery smoked fish. The restaurant has also served as the setting for scenes from iconic shows including Seinfeld and 30 Rock. The Upper West Side also caters to a cosmopolitan crowd with French and Italian fare near Columbia University.
All of this attention to European cuisine has led many to overlook the Upper West Side’s developing dumpling culture. Often overshadowed by Manhattan Chinatown and Flushing, the Upper West Side deserves its moment in the dumpling spotlight. Here are seven of the best spots in the neighborhood for shumai, soup dumplings and more.
1. La Salle Dumpling Room
Tucked in the shadow of the 125th Street subway platform, La Salle Dumpling Room offers an unassuming start to a dumpling tour of the Upper West Side. Do not let the drab exterior fool you. Inside, plucky pop tracks play and pendant lights hang from the high ceilings. Most of your fellow patrons will likely be college students drawn to La Salle’s casual fare. Chinese-American staples such as General Tso’s chicken and fried rice make up the bulk of takeout orders. Dine-in patrons, meanwhile, often opt for the chewy dan dan noodles slicked with chili oil and laden with crispy, salty bits of ground pork. For more La Salle further south, you can visit their second location on West End Ave. just north of 61st Street.
At La Salle, soup dumplings, or xiao long bao, get top billing. Their pork and kimchi variety proves particularly noteworthy for the spicy, tangy punch they pack. A Shanghai staple, soup dumplings get their name from the savory broth trapped inside their thin skins. Chefs achieve this magical outcome by stuffing the dumplings with rich, porky gelatin that liquefies when heated, surrounding the pork or seafood filling. Start by nibbling a small hole in the dumpling and slurp up the broth that seeps into your spoon. After that, bite down on the tender dough and meaty center.
3141 Broadway Manhattan, NY 10027
2. Yu Kitchen
A dozen blocks from Columbia University, Yu Kitchen may be the Upper West Side’s most exciting dining hall. The pint-sized spot caters to student budgets, with prices hovering around $10-$20. Here, diners of all ages can stave off homesickness with chicken noodle soups even better than mom’s, abounding with juicy thigh meat. Or they can try any number of hard-to-find dishes, including jet-black fern noodles and a towering pyramid of sticky rice studded with pork belly. Yu Kitchen’s menu delivers complex flavors that our server proudly attributed to the restaurant’s emphasis on “real Chinese food. Not that American stuff.”
Yu Kitchen specializes in the cuisine of Xi’an, the most populous city in Northwestern China. The city’s dumplings are larger and heartier than those made in other regions, thick-skinned and ballooning with filling. Although Xi’an Famous Foods bears most of the responsibility for popularizing the style among New Yorkers, Yu Kitchen does them just as well. One version gets stuffed with chicken and steamed, while another is filled with beef and submerged in spicy and sour broth. Chong’s pork dumplings with spicy sauce, among the most popular varieties, wade in chili oil. If you do not adhere to the “no double-dipping” rule, give your dumplings additional dunks in the zippy sauce. Yu Kitchen is located at 2656 Broadway Manhattan, NY 10025
3. Tri Dim West
Of the spots on our Upper West Side dumpling tour, Tri Dim West is the glitziest. Around the corner from the American Museum of Natural History, the restaurant opened in 2018 as an outpost of the Upper East Side’s Tri Dim Shanghai. Patrons sit in high-backed black leather chairs and the glow of blue accent lighting. The menu, featuring braised short ribs and whole Chilean bass, easily accommodates special occasions. Eaters of more modest means, however, can still enjoy a satisfying meal and attentive service at Tri Dim West. The staff dotes equally on customers who spend less than $20 on dumplings and those who splurge on the $52 whole Peking duck.
Given that Tri Dim West specializes in Shanghainese cuisine, the dumplings to try here are the ones for which the city is famous. That means that soup dumplings should make another appearance on your table. This time, order the crab and pork variety and prepare yourself for a robust dumpling bursting with an intensely flavored broth that leans on sugar and vinegar more than most. Get the succulent Shanghai shumai as well. A breakfast favorite in the coastal city, the conical dumplings are filled with creamy sticky rice laced with ground pork, ginger and soy.
Tri Dim West is located at 467 Columbus Ave. Manhattan, NY 10024
4. Vanessa’s Dumpling House
Vanessa’s Dumpling House is the place on our dumpling tour to turn to when your cravings just cannot wait. The kitchen turns out orders in a matter of minutes. Vanessa got her start selling dumplings using her grandparents’ recipes out of a tiny storefront in Manhattan Chinatown. The Upper West Side location of Vanessa’s Dumpling House, a few doors down from the New York Public Library, is Vanessa’s third, the result of recent expansion by the Eldridge Street standby. Here you can find twenty-somethings tearing into softball-sized steamed buns, and kids fresh from soccer practice wolfing down wontons.
Vanessa’s Dumpling House excels at straightforward steamed or fried dumplings. Formed with almost industrial precision, the half-moon-shaped potstickers have assertively chewy skins and juicy fillings. Although none of the dumpling plates at Vanessa’s Dumpling House are priced to break the bank, the cheapest and most beloved is the pan-fried pork and chive variety. The dumplings’ lacy, crisp bottoms and herbaceous, meaty middles make it clear that their popularity owes to more than just their low cost.
Vanessa’s is located at 452 Amsterdam Ave. Manhattan, NY 10024
5. Jing Fong
When you have a hankering for classic dim sum on the Upper West Side, head to Jing Fong. For 28 years, Jing Fong’s palatial flagship in Manhattan Chinatown provided a haven for not only dumpling devotees but also recent immigrants in need of employment. In March 2021, citing the financial toll of the pandemic, Jing Fong’s owners decided to close the original venue and move to a smaller spot. This leaves the Upper West Side restaurant, spanning a shady corner of Amsterdam Avenue, the temporarily sole source of Jing Fong’s well-executed dim sum favorites. The popularity of Jing Fong’s fluffy pork buns, filled with meat slow-cooked in sweet soy, has translated to the Upper West Side. The buns appear on the tables of young families and empty-nesters alike, often alongside pan-fried turnip cakes studded with Chinese sausage.
Jing Fong is the place to fill in the gaps left by the more specialized spots on our dumpling tour. A good way to begin is with the pearly har gow, or shrimp dumplings, filled with plump seafood and bound in a soft rice flour wrapper. Double down on crustaceans and order the siu mai. Sharing the same shape as Tri Dim West’s shumai, this version comes stuffed with ground pork and shrimp and crowned with roe. For a more unique offering, try the Peking duck and asparagus dumpling, dyed purple using fresh beet juice.
Jing Fong is located at 380 Amsterdam Ave. Manhattan, NY 10024
When you need a dumpling place to satisfy grandparents and kids alike, RedFarm has you covered. Even a grandma more familiar with chicken and dumplings than Chinese-style dumplings will feel right at home in one of the red-checkered booths. And any elementary schooler will delight in the brightly-colored Pacman dumplings complete with tiny edible eyes. If a cross-country trip takes you far from RedFarm’s Upper West Side and West Village locations (and from London, where the newest RedFarm abuts Covent Garden), the restaurant also ships nationwide through Goldbelly.
A decidedly Asian fusion restaurant, RedFarm serves some of the most outlandish dumplings on the Upper West Side. And you should know before you go that you will pay a premium for them. With that in mind, you should splurge on dumplings that you cannot get anywhere else. These include nutty shrimp and truffle shumai, drizzled in a velvety cream sauce. To counterbalance the steamed dumplings you have had on this dumpling tour, try the crispy braised oxtail dumplings. Deep-fried and filled with tender beef stew, they seem tailor-made for comforting diners through New York winters.
RedFarm is located at 2170 Broadway Manhattan NY, 10024
7. Mimi Cheng’s
Among the stops on our Upper West Side dumpling tour, Mimi Cheng’s is the social media darling. The monthly specials, often created in collaboration with the chefs of other New York City hotspots including Emmy Squared Pizza and Contra, send online foodies abuzz. The sunny yellow-and-white color palette of Mimi Cheng’s Upper West Side location, across from the Beacon Theatre, also seems primed for an Instagram post. You might mistake the restaurant for a boutique cafe upon first glance. Rest assured that beneath the hype there is also heart. During slow hours, you can catch the chefs meticulously folding dumplings, carefully dusting each one with flour.
If you only order one thing at Mimi Cheng’s, opt for the dumpling of the month. Noteworthy past offerings have included a taco-inspired pork carnitas variety as well as a take on cacio e pepe filled with mac and cheese. On a recent visit, Mimi Cheng’s was serving a dumpling riffing on the flavors and textures of Nashville hot chicken. The crunchy exterior put many empanadas to shame and the chili-laden chicken filling captured the taste of Tennessee while also giving a nod to Buffalo wings. If you want to top off your dumpling tour, try the signature chicken and zucchini dumplings, enlivened with fresh ginger and scallions. Mimi Cheng’s is located at 309 Amsterdam Ave. Manhattan, NY 10023