Put Tianjin Dumpling House at the Top of Your Flushing Itinerary

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A plate of lamb and green squash dumplings. [Photographs: Max Falkowitz]

There many dumplings worth seeking out in Flushing, but only one that I get every time I visit. It doesn't matter what else I've come for—breakfast, tea shopping, a 12-course meal somewhere else—the dumplings are non-negotiable.

I've planned my wardrobe accordingly. No white ever. No light colors at all, actually; these dumplings are spurters and I want to hide the stains.

These are the Lamb and Green Squash dumplings from Tianjin Dumpling House, a princely $5 for a plate of 12, and they are, bar-none, my favorite dumplings in the city.

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Tianjin Dumpling is a dinky little stall in the basement of the Golden Shopping Mall, a food court on Main Street that may be home to Flushing's highest concentration of good eating. It's cramped down there, a little noisy, and the air is redolent of chili oil and starchy steam, the vapors of dozens of noodle and dumpling pots boiling away.

The stall occupies prime corner real estate in the middle of the basement food court's corridors, though you'll miss the red sign if you're not looking for it. Instead, keep an eye out for the counter of plump dumplings wrapped in taut doughs, ready to be boiled to order (they don't steam or fry here). There's the lamb and squash. Alongside it are beef and turnip, chicken and broccoli, seabass. Wait, what? "I make up my own dumplings based on my customer's needs," says Lily, the friendly woman at the stall who, by my experience, is your best bet for any English conversation. Tianjin Dumpling does conventional fillings too, but it's these specialties that set the stall apart.

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The lamb filling.

I've enjoyed every one I've tried, but those lamb dumplings are in a class by themselves. The skins are thin and delicate, chewier than wontons but only slightly. The filling is self-saucing: a lipsmackingly rich mix of finely ground lamb, ever so slightly gamey, tempered by the sweetness of summer squash and scallion. They finish clean, not greasy, though if you want to oil them up, a tub of housemade chili oil is ready to help, not that they need any fiddling.

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Vegetable filling.

There's also the best vegetable dumplings I've ever had, the same soft, supple skins enclosing bunches of vermicelli noodles, scrambled egg, and funky garlic chive ($3 for 12). They're rich and satisfying in a way that so few vegetarian dumplings are; if you like them, you can find a similar filling in the larger griddled pancakes at Tianjin's sister stall upstairs.

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The dumpling counter.

The other flavors are worth your time, like a pork, shrimp, and chive that beats the pants off any dollar dumpling joint in Manhattan, or beef and turnip, a subtler but resoundingly hearty combination. But I can't say I've strayed too far from my lamb order. I haven't had to.

Dumplings are only half this stall's business; around the corner there's a cold appetizer display with everything from smashed cucumbers and shredded potatoes to animal heads, hearts, trotters, and fatty, smoky northern Chinese sausages. Customers frequently order these to go; the chili-slicked potatoes, cucumbers, and marinated tofu have all treated me well, and if you stir them up together at home with some black vinegar, you have the makings of a fine salad.

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Cold appetizers.

You can also order dumplings to go, frozen in packs of 25 or 50. Those lamb dumplings cost a mere $14 for 50, and my freezer is rarely without them. Boil them for 10 minutes, or better yet, steam them to bring out the full delicacy of the skins; Lily points out they'd steam them if they could.

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Marinated tofu, sliced and slicked with chili oil.

But I'll warn you, buying frozen dumplings is habit forming. Take the customer from Port Washington I met on my first visit, as she was ordering a round 100 for a party that evening. "How often do you come here?" I asked.

"Well, when I got here, they said, 'Wow, we didn't see you last weekend! We were worried.'"

More Good Eating in Downtown Flushing

About the author: Max Falkowitz is the editor of Serious Eats: New York. You can follow him on Twitter at @maxfalkowitz.

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