Paradise Dynasty vs. Din Tai Fung: Battle of the Xiao Long Bao
Updated: Jan 8
3333 Bristol St Suite A
Costa Mesa, CA 92626
Phone: (714) 617-4630
Average cost: $$
Parking: ample parking at South Coast Plaza (located near Bloomingdale's, formerly Holstein's and Charlie Palmer's)
Notes: fun flavors and spices to surprise your palate
Recommended: whenever you want to switch up your Orange County soup dumpling options!
Soft opening hours: Lunch from 11:00am -2:30pm (2:00pm last call), and dinner from 5:30pm -9pm (8:30pm last call). Paradise Dynasty is offering a special 20% discount for soft opening visits! Looks like their grand opening is slated for August 16, 2021, so visit soon if you want the discount.
As a Taiwanese American who loves xiao long bao 小籠包 soup dumplings (as championed by Din Tai Fung), I took a special interest in following the news related to Paradise Dynasty’s decision to open up at South Coast Plaza, the longtime home of Din Tai Fung, our reigning soup dumpling king. Unlike the In-N-Out x Chick-Fil-A strategy of opening up in close proximity and having complementary products, the owner of Paradise Dynasty is in it to win it, specifically claiming that the xiao long bao at Paradise Dynasty is better. Their restaurant tagline is even “The Legend of Xiao Long Bao.” Paradise Dynasty hails from Singapore, which has a similar food culture to Taiwan in that both populations tend to be passionate about specific dishes and cuisines. So, I read these claims not as Paradise Dynasty throwing down the gauntlet, but more like a gauntlet slapped across (Din Tai Fung’s) face. Naturally, I was itching to try the soup dumplings at Paradise Dynasty and compare them to our beloved Din Tai Fung.
TL;DR version: Din Tai Fung is the "pure" version, a classic that withstands the test of time and which has played a significant role in popularizing Chinese soup dumplings, while Paradise Dynasty is the creative and wild version that takes risks on differentiating a classic (with mixed success). Read on for more deets on what we tried!
Dinner service during Paradise Dynasty's soft opening is limited capacity, starting at 5:30 pm, so we entered the line at 5:00 pm to give ourselves a fighting chance to be included in the first seating. At 5:00 pm, there were 6-10 parties ahead of us, but we had effectively secured our spot!
From our table, we could see more folks waiting and lined up in the corridor:
Paradise Dynasty is generously offering 20% during their soft opening, so we over-ordered in an attempt to sample enough dishes to be able to formulate a comparison.
Let's start with the reason why we were all lined up: Paradise Dynasty's Specialty Xiao Long Bao 小籠包 皇朝 with Kurobuta Pork (Item A1 on the menu), which includes 8 different flavors for you to sample. The Paradise Dynasty version of a soup dumpling has a thinner wrapper and more soup in the filling (as compared to Din Tai Fung's version), which means you'll need to be more careful when picking this up so that you don’t lose any of that juicy goodness. In terms of flavor, this was a fun culinary journey encompassing a whole range of creative and unexpected flavors. Paradise Dynasty includes a thoughtful card explaining the order you should enjoy these, from mildest flavor to boldest.
Original 原味: super juicy and savory. While thin, the wrapper still had a slightly chewy texture. I was an eager beaver and ate this one while it was little too hot, so I didn’t get the full flavor profile, but it was delicious from what I could tell. Bursting!
Luffa Gourd 糟溜絲瓜: this one had the recognizable flavor of luffa gourd, but I’m not sure why you would make this into a soup dumpling TBH.
Foie Gras 鵝肝: too rich for me but maybe some foie gras lovers would get a kick out of this.
Black Truffle 黑松露: super truffle-y. Might want to try this with the ginger/vinegar combo typically enjoyed with xiao long bao to balance out the richness of the truffle.
Cheese 起司: East meets West with unexpected cheesy goodness.
Crab Roe 蟹粉: strong crab flavor + saltiness of roe = not as well balanced as I would expect. I'd enjoy this again but wouldn’t be able to eat very many.
Garlic 蒜香: delicious, but also a strong flavor profile that I wouldn't be able to indulge in repeatedly.
Szechuan 川味: not super spicy and one of the more successful creative twists on a soup dumpling. I was worried the Szechuan spices would be too overpowering, but it was really tasty.
If this Specialty Xiao Long Bao sampler rotates seasonal flavors, this would be a great concept. We enjoyed being able to sample all these different flavors, but because not all of them were super successful, we felt like one (at a time) was enough, as we wouldn’t want an entire basket of the same thing. Not that any of them were bad per se, but it just felt like if you had more than a couple, you'd run the risk of getting tired of the same strong flavor. On my next visit, I'll likely try the sampler one more time to see if anything else grows on me; otherwise, I'll stick to ordering baskets of the standout ones like the Original and Szechuan.
Hot chili pork and prawn dumplings 紅油抄手 (Item B10 on the menu)
The sauce was pretty loud and much spicier than expected. Tasty, but this dish made me miss the Din Tai Fung version: the sauce (a little less loud, which encourages you to eat more), texture of the dumpling/wonton wrap (a bit more of a satisfying bite), and the filling (more noticeable pieces of shrimp) are all more pleasant at Din Tai Fung.
Pork + veggie wonton noodle (la mian or ramen) soup 菜肉餛飩 豬骨湯拉麵 (Item G1 on the menu)
The pork bone broth was cloudy and rich, but still the lightest dish we tried. The dumplings and noodles were not memorable in this dish, as the broth was the star. Very comforting and a nice choice especially when the weather cools down.
Hot chili pork and prawn dumplings + la mian 鮮蝦 豬肉 炒手拌麵 (Item G11 on the menu, with a different sauce from Item B10 on the menu)
I love that Paradise Dynasty combined two carb-alicious options into one dish: savory, slightly spicy noodles with a hint of sweetness, with yummy dumplings. The hand-pulled noodle texture was really good (al dente), and this sauce was a little sweeter and less spicy than the standalone version. If you’re debating between the standalone dumpling dish (B10 pictured earlier in this post), I would recommend this one so that you get the best of both worlds. Bonus: this also reheated really well the following day.
Australian lettuce (Item E10 on the menu)
Nothing to rave about as we simply wanted some greens to go with this carb feast, but this was well executed and complemented the spicier dishes well. No direct comparison to Din Tai Fung from what I can remember, although next time maybe we'll get the fried green beans to see how that dish compares.
Pork chop fried rice 香酥豬趴炒飯 (Item F8 on the menu)
Ok, this was a standout win by Paradise Dynasty, and the one dish that we couldn't stop eating even though we were full. The pork chop itself is coated in a deliciously savory and balanced spice combo that makes up the sauce/glaze, and the little bits of pork fat were fried to perfection, which added a light and delightful crispness to its edges. The fried rice was also well done with great texture and simple ingredients that let the pork shine, and particularly delicious in the spots where the pork once rested.
Black sesame rice balls 擂沙湯圓 (Item H2 on the menu)
We didn't ask for specific timing on our orders, so we actually enjoyed this dessert first. This was a lovely dessert with chewy mochi rice exterior and pleasant black sesame filling, and just the right amount of peanut powder coating. I was excited to order the red bean pancake but this wasn’t available during our soft opening visit, so we'll have to try again next time!
I'll be sure to update here if we try additional items on our next visit. If you're interested in visiting Paradise Dynasty during its soft opening, I wish you the best of luck with the lines and recommend showing up at least a half hour before the opening. Otherwise, we hear that there are plans to allow for reservations via Yelp once the restaurant is fully open.