Xiao long bao are the dainty darlings of the dumpling world. They rebuff manhandling and reward a delicate approach. Pluck one from a bamboo steamer, place it on a soup spoon, and nibble with care. A well-made dumpling will promptly yield a savory broth, perfect for slurping. These Shanghai-style delicacies are the undisputed stars at a new Allston eatery.
Dumpling Kingdom is the third in a trio of restaurants owned by Zenqi Liu, Peter Wang, and Rich Chen. Dumpling Cafe was established first, in Boston’s Chinatown, followed by Dumpling Palace in the Back Bay. The latest is a 65-seat location, open since July on Harvard Avenue, just south of Brighton Avenue. Executive chef Guangli Li, the longtime chef at the Chinatown branch, now heads up the Allston kitchen, and his experience shows.
The come-hither good looks of xiao long bao — called “mini juicy buns” here — signal deliciousness. A version with pork and crabmeat ($8.95) arrives as six expertly crafted bundles, each topped with a garnish of orange-hued crabmeat. The pleated, pliant wrappers glisten, and that first spurt of steaming broth is indeed delectable, as is the gingery ground pork inside. Mini juicy buns with pork ($7.95) are more robust, sporting thicker wrappers, meatier filling, and soup speckled with marrow. Both are so flavorful that tablemates forgo the optional black vinegar-ginger condiment that’s served on the side.
With more than a dozen kinds on offer — from chive pies to wontons — dumplings alone can make up a meal. But don’t miss the roast duck buns ($7.95) stuffed with shreds of saucy barbecued meat. These bready bundles sit for a spell in a hot pan and develop appetizingly seared crusts. Roast beef with scallion pancake ($7.95) is also pan-fried to achieve a crisp exterior. Thin slices of the roast are brushed with hoisin, then rolled inside a flaky, substantial crepe.
Oyster pancake ($7.95) is a Taiwanese favorite. Just a scattering of shucked bivalves come tucked beneath a fluffy, eggy blanket, slathered with “gravy” that resembles sweet-funky ketchup. The version here is more omelet-like than the stretchy, potato starch-heavy variety offered at other eateries.
Something gets lost in translation with “dry wok spareribs” ($14.95). There is no lack of moistness in this saucy dish. Bone-in chunks of pork, sliced garlic, and dried chiles arrive in a metal vessel set over a Sterno flame. The earthy flavors of five-spice powder (with star anise and cloves in the mix) saturate the tender meat. Request this satisfying specialty with Taiwan-style wonton soup ($3.95, $6.50), a platter of emerald green pea pod stems with garlic ($16.95), and plenty of steamed rice for an ideal meal.
If there’s an Achilles’ heel here, it’s the shrimp. One night, we leave a platter of salt-and-pepper shrimp ($13.95, shell and head intact) largely untouched. Crustaceans are flaccid and waterlogged beneath their crispy coating. The manager on duty graciously takes it off the bill. Fingers crossed that this dish will be better the second time around.
While the crew works out the kinks, know that you can always count on the dumplings. Manager Stella Liu can’t tell you how many she sells in a day, but she guesses the number reaches into the hundreds. “We have four people working on the dumplings, every day and every hour,” she says. Given that this spot is open daily until 2 a.m., xiao long bao enthusiasts must be thrilled. It’s a guarantee of dumplings around the clock.
137 Harvard Ave., Allston, 617-562-8888.
Visa, Mastercard, and Discover credit cards accepted. Wheelchair accessible.
Prices Appetizers and soup $3.95-$16.95. Dumplings and buns $4.95-$7.95. Noodles and rice $4.95-$11.95. Meat and seafood $11.95-$25.95 (most dishes under $18).
Hours Daily 11 a.m.-2 a.m.
What to order Mini juicy buns with pork and crabmeat, roast duck buns, roast beef with scallion pancake, dry wok spareribs.
Ellen Bhang can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.