Manhattan's Chinatown has its share of dumplings: potstickers aplenty, Shanghainese xiao long bao, some wontons here and there. But if you want real dumpling diversity, and an overall upgrade in quality, you have to hop the 7 train to Flushing, the dumpling lover's mecca.
That's not to say that all the dumplings there are good. As I undertook research for this project, I realized just how true that was. But many of them are. Some are great. And a few are so great that I'd call them essential to the edible Flushing experience.
Very few dumplings are what I'd call destination food—no one's waiting for two hours for plate of them like we do at Di Fara for pizza—but a few on this list would qualify. Others are simply excellent dumplings: ones with perfect chewy doughs, or fillings that erupt with juice, or flavors that are far more complex than such a small package would suggest.
You'll find them, for the most part, at small dumpling shops, not restaurants. Some are tucked away in shopping mall food courts; others lurk in the backs of bakeries. A few hide in plain sight at hole in the wall shops. Regular customers own the tables there, slurping hurriedly. Ask them where to get the best dumplings in the neighborhood and they'll likely point to the counter—like all of us, Flushing eaters have their favorites and stick to them.
Given how much we all love dumplings, you'd think there would be more resources on where to find the good ones. But good documentation is surprisingly spare. The best article I know of comes from our buddy Joe DiStefano, a list of his top seven dumplings in Queens, six of which are in Flushing. Our very own Robyn Lee and Kathy YL Chan have touched on the subject, too. And the New York Times has its own well researched piece, a Flushing itinerary that includes dumplings here and there (complete with a handy interactive map).
This list pulls from those sources and more as well as new research. We've tried plenty more dumplings than appear here, and many that were once great are now either gone or weary with age. That said, these are probably not all the great dumplings in Flushing, and we welcome suggestions for more.
In the slideshow and list below you'll find everything from crisp fried guo tie to whispy small wontons in broth to sturdy boiled shui jiao. The list is not a ranking; each of these dumplings is special in its own way, and we're here to celebrate them all.
Click on any of the dumplings for photos and more details about them. Since many dumpling shops obscure their names or lie within labyrinthine malls, you'll also find photos of identifying signs or stalls to help you find your way.
Boiled Dumplings (Shui Jiao)
- Pork and Leek Dumplings at Yoz Shanghai: Fillings that are equal parts pork and vegetable, so bright and green you could call them refreshing.
- Lamb and Green Squash Dumplings at Tianjin Dumpling House: Beyond tender lamb falls apart within delicate skins, while mild summer squash adds subtle sweetness.
- Pork and Leek Dumplings at My Sweet Home Dumpling: Dumplings here are made to order, and taste clean and light. The skins are taut with a fresh chewiness, and the innards are juicy but not heavy. [Update 11/22/2013: Now closed]
- Pork and Fennel Dumplings at Best North Dumpling: Soft, thick skins contain a highly seasoned fatty pork filling made fragrant by dill, mistranslated as fennel.
- Spicy & Sour Lamb Dumplings at Biang!: Incredibly juicy lamb with chewy skins and the trademark Xi'an Famous Foods sauce of black vinegar, chili oil, cumin, and cilantro.
- "Three Kinds Dumplings" at Chinese-Korean Noodles and Dumpling: Pork, shrimp, and chives come together in a thick chewy skin. The pork is bold, the shrimp is sweet, and the chives are crisp, Don't miss the chili dipping sauce to pour on top.
Pan-Fried Dumplings (Guo Tie)
- Pork and Leek Pan-Fried Dumplings at Sliced Noodles: Superbly juicy potstickers steamed and fried into a unique asterisk shape, eight joined together in a sheet of crisp starch.
- Wontons in Hot Oil at White Bear: Perhaps the best dumplings in the neighborhood, verdant greens and delicate pork come in whispy skins and a dressing of chili oil, roasted chilies, and pickled vegetables.
- Small Wontons at Lao Wang Ji: Paper-thin folds of dough hold tiny nubbins of pork, all floating in chicken soup.
- Wonton Noodle Soup at Sifu Chio: A sturdy and reliable bowl of shrimp and pork wontons with bouncy noodles in a chicken broth darkened with rice wine.
What About Soup Dumplings?
You may be asking, "where are the soup dumplings?" After all, one of the city's most celebrated soup dumpling destinations, Nan Xiang, is right in Flushing. We've tried them, as well as other acclaimed ones, and keep coming into consistency problems. One day the dumplings are great; another just okay; and another totally awful. So the jury is still out on consistently delicious soup dumplings in Flushing—we'll let you know if we find anything special.