I remember my first visit to Vanessa's Dumpling House a few years ago when it was simply named Dumpling House: it was dingy, low on sitting (and breathing) space, and mosh pit-crowded—not exactly a place you'd want to hang out in. After its renovation at the end of last year it reopened as a larger, more welcoming, nicely decorated space, although still crowded. The cheapest dumpling order is now four for a dollar instead of the previous five, but it remains one of the best deals in the city.
I split an order of basil and chicken boiled dumplings (4/$1) and the classic fried chive and pork dumplings (8/$3.75) with a friend. While the basil and chicken were perfectly fine (can't beat homemade dumpling skins), chive and pork was my favorite of the two. Few things taste as good as thin, crispy bottomed dumpling skins filled with juicy pork infused with the flavor of garlicky chive bits, especially when an order costs less than what I stick in the washing machine each week. To get more for your money, you can buy bags of frozen dumplings—50 pieces of chive and pork is $9.
I couldn't leave without trying a sesame pancake sandwich—a sandwich made with a slice cleavered out from the most awesomely massive round of sesame-studded, fried flatbread—in this case one filled with Peking duck. Should you expect Peking Duck House-quality duck in your $2.25 sandwich? Hell no—if you want heavenly, fatty, crispy skin and juicy meat, you'll have to go elsewhere. But you get more than your money's worth: a hefty sandwich of fluffy and crispy-crusted bread stuffed with thin slices of tender duck, julienned cucumber, shredded carrot, green onion, and cilantro. I wouldn't get the Peking duck again—the roast pork is probably a better bet—but the bread is my favorite part anyway, a chunk of which is only $0.75.
Vanessa's Dumpling House
118 Eldridge Street, New York NY 10002 (b/n Grand Street and Broome Street; map)