Shanghai Cafe Deluxe (25/30, $4.95 for 8)
Rapid service, dumplings are made from real dough from scratch to order. Very fresh and clean tasting.
Skin: (8/10) A little thick, but handmade, nicely chewy, and holds together.
Soup: (9/10) The best. Savory, porky, and viscous, they leave your lips sticky. Not too sweet, with a nice cabbage flavor and only a mild amount of aromatics.
Filling: (8/10) Moist, tender, and springy, it tastes like a good pork meatball.
Shanghai Cafe Deluxe: 100 Mott Street, New York NY 10013 (map); 212-966-3988
Shanghai Asian Manor (24/30, $5.45 for 8)
Again, it's hard to say with conflicting stories from both camps, but I believe Shanghai Asia Manor is an offshoot of Shanghai Asian Cuisine. Both feature the new-ish, clean interiors with large photographs of the same dishes, both have similar dumplings with excellent skins and slightly over-sweet broth.
Skin: (9/10) Great skin with a hint of chewy stretchiness and none of the tough doughiness that plagued other skins.
Soup: (7/10) Very porky and rich, but a bit too sweet with a distinct aroma of toasted sesame.
Filling: (8/10) Better in texture than its cousin at Shanghai Asian Cuisine, but still a tad too sweet.
Shanghai Asian Manor: 21 Mott Street, New York NY 10013 (map); 212-766-6311
Shanghai Asian Cuisine (23/30, $5.45 for 8)
Nicest interior, comfortable and friendly. Dumplings made to order.
Skin: (9/10) Nearly perfect skins with just a bit of delicate chew and stretchiness, they just barely hold it together.
Soup: (7/10) Nice and fresh, but a bit too sweet. The flavor has a strong sesame oil aroma that overpowers the porkiness.
Filling: (7/10) Like the soup, a little too sweet. It's also slightly mushy.
Shanghai Asian Cuisine: 14 Elizabeth Street, New York, NY 10013, 212-964-5640;
456 Shanghai Cuisine (22/30, $5.25 for 8)
Very friendly service, and a recommendation from former New York Times critic Sam Sifton to boot.
Skin: (10/10) Delicate but intact, stretchy, fresh and clean tasting, nicely chewy but not tough, it's exactly what you look for in a skin.
Soup: (6/10) It's a little too gingery and oniony, but is balanced as far as salt and sugar go. It leaves a nice sticky sheen on your lips, but is not quite is porky as it could be.
Filling: (6/10) Ever so slightly bland. Needs more salt and a little more fat to be a real contender for top spot.
456 Shanghai Cuisine: 69 Mott St # A, New York, NY 10013, 212-964-0003
Shanghai Gourmet (19/30, $4.50 for 8)
Where's our cabbage? These dumplings had the cutest appearance—diminutive but perfectly formed with a nice plump shape and none of the sag that some others showed.
Skin: (7/10) The very tips of the nubbins were a little tough, but otherwise nice skins with good pull.
Soup: (6/10) Quite sweet—almost too sweet—but reasonably well balanced.
Filling: (6/10) Slightly gristly meat with a tad too much fat..
Shanghai Gourmet: 23 Pell Street, New York, NY 10013, 212-285-0668
Joe's Ginger (18/30, $5.40 for 8)
When we asked the folks at Joe's Ginger what their involvement with Joe's Shanghai is, they claimed they are the same company, same dumplings. Their website and business cards say as much. Strangely, Joe's Shanghai denies that Joe's Ginger is part of their company, and their business cards don't mention Joe's Ginger. I will never understand Chinatown politics or economics, but I will say that Joe's Ginger produces a superior soup dumpling.
Skin: (6/10) Mostly good—nice and stretchy, but the little nubbin at the top was too thick. It ends up in your mouth as a little ball of dough after the rest of the dumpling is gone.
Soup: (5/10) Very salty with a distinct ginger and soy flavor with not much porkiness to speak of.
Filling: (7/10) Very generous with the meat, though it's not the absolute tastiest pork. A little bit spongy.
Joe's Ginger: 25 Pell Street, New York, NY 10013-5168, 212-285-0999
Old Shang Hai Deluxe (17/30, $4.50 for 8)
Fancy looking place for old school American crew. College professors and the like eating Peking duck and chop suey for lunch.
Skin: (7/10) A little thick and clumsy, but fresh and well-shaped.
Soup: (5/10) Strong sesame and ginger aromas and a little too much sugar in an otherwise very decent soup base. Could use a bit more viscosity.
Filling: (5/10) Slightly mushy but plenty of seasoning and nice pork flavor.
Old Shang Hai Deluxe: 50 Mott St, New York, NY 10013, 212-566-4884
Joe's Shanghai (13/30, $5.40 for 8)
This is the most well-known soup dumpling restaurant in Chinatown, though the dumplings don't merit the popularity. My theory is that the name is simply more memorable than any other. Expect a wait, and expect them to boot you off the table as soon as your last dumpling is gone (if not sooner).
Skin: (4/10) Very thick with a doughy, undercooked tip.
Soup: (4/10) Salty and thin, it tasted of take-out wonton soup broth.
Filling: (5/10) Large and juicy, though it had a somewhat funky porkiness to it and a bit of gristle.
Joe's Shanghai: 9 Pell Street, New York, NY 10013, 212-233-8888
Shanghai Cuisine (11/30, $5.45 for 8)
Old-school restaurant with a tiki bar feel. Completely silent, surly waitstaff, gingham table cloths, ready-made skins used for making the dumplings.
Skin: (3/10) Very thick and not handmade, though they are hand-stuffed. The tops of the batch we had had a strange, rancid oil aroma, like the skins had been sitting around a bit too long before being filled
Soup: (4/10) Sticky and rich, but unconscionably sweet. Pork candy.
Filling: (4/10) Meaty but a bit mushy with an overt sweetness.
Shanghai Cuisine: 89 Bayard St # B, New York, NY 10013, 212-732-8988
Nice Green Bo Restaurant (7/30, $4.95 for 8)
Very fast and rude, they don't take much care with the dumplings. Frozen dumplings steamed then dumped onto a plate. They all broke.
Skin: (2/10) Not a single dumpling made it through the steaming process intact, though at least they stuff these skins themselves. The skins were flaccid, mushy, and full of holes. The dumplings are small and cooked directly from the freezer.
Soup: (3/10) Vinegary and fatty without much viscosity or meatiness.
Filling: (3/10) Gristly, fatty meat with mushy bits of congealed fat squeezing out. Not appetizing.
Nice Green Bo Restaurant: 66 Bayard St, New York, NY 10013, 212-625-2359
XO Taste (7/30, $4.95 for 5)
Like a cafeteria inside. Kind of strange. The dumplings are clearly frozen from a package, not made in-house.
Skin: (2/10) Thick, mushy, and pasty. These are frozen dumpling skins, no doubt about it.
Soup: (3/10) Not much real meat flavor to speak of with too much sweetness. Not to mention that the soup wasn't in the dumplings, but outside it.
Filling: (2/10) Tacky, dry, pasty meat that is overcooked and clearly has been frozen. It sticks to your teeth like wet cardboard.
XO Taste: 96 Walker St, New York, NY 10013, 212-343-8625