The original plan was to get some soup dumplings at Nan Xiang but a table for 6 was definitely not to be had at 1pm without a substantial wait. Instead, we vowed to return later that afternoon...With stomaches grumbling, we searched for other dumpling sustenance.
1. Best North Dumpling - Pork and fennel dumplings were wonderful. Fennel was a very interesting ingredient - definitely not your usual steamed dumpling. Nicely juicy and satisfying. The "aquatic food" and leek were also excellent but didn't take all that "aquatic" to my group. Too bad I didn't bring a cooler to bring some of the frozen ones home. Note that they've gotten rid of a lot of the seating. There is a 3 seat counter, and three small tables, and that is it.
2. White Bear Dumplings - wontons in hot oil. Surprisingly wonderful due to the pickled ginger and scallions scattered on top. Beautiful wontons, served piping hot, with a generous helping of hot oil. Tender, crumbly filling. Not actually that spicy. But really flavorful and more complex than your usual rendition. Thumbs up. I could probably have eaten the entire thing myself.
3. Xian Famous Foods - crowded and for good reason! We ate two plates of cold noodles (liang pi) which were nicely spicy, a sensation that slowly intensifies over time. The noodles have such a wonderful texture, and I liked balancing them out with the juicy bean sprouts, cilantro, and red onion. We also tried the "lamb face salad." Interesting, but a little odd, and there was a piece in there we tried but failed to identify. Eye? Nose? Quite spicy, and we were all starting to sweat after a few bitefuls (it was also pretty warm down there). But the savory lamb burgers, too hot to touch at first, stole the show, with the flavorful cumin lingering on the tongue. The friendly proprietor proudly told us Anthony Bourdain had been in a few weeks ago!
4. Then we were off to the Flushing Mall for some Taiwanese eats at House of Yun Ho. Folks around us seemed to be getting a lot of beef noodle soup and hot soy milk with fried crullers... I went for it and ordered some starch. We ate a fried cruller wrapped in shao bing, dipped in hot soy milk, alongside a piece of fluffy sesame seed and scallion bread. Greasy but worth it. It reminded me of the ones I used to get in southern California. I also spotted a photo of a "beef patty" sandwich and ordered one - thin pieces of beef stuffed into a shao bing, with some sweet "BBQ" on top. Tasty. And then we stuffed ourselves with red bean ice cream, green tea ice cream, and mango shaved ice topped with condensed milk and mango ice cream. Yum. (There are currently two empty stalls in this food court, hopefully the home of Temple Snacks in a few weeks?)
5. Finally, it looked like the wait at Nan Xiang had died down a little. It was 4pm. One order of soup dumplings was had. They come six to a steamer, steaming hot, filled with broth (definitely larger than some of the places in Manhattan that serve them 8 to a bamboo steamer). They look as if they are about to burst when you pick them up because you can watch it sag with the weight of the meat and broth. I'm not a soup dumping expert but I would say that the broth was very good, not oily, but on the salty side. I really enjoyed the filling - porky and intense. But I can see how some people think the skins are just a tad bit too thick. In comparison to other places, it seems as if the meat and broth have a lot of room to move around inside the dumpling. But it sure was tasty.
6. The Sun May bakery just off of Main Street turns out to be awesome. They make pineapple cake fresh, in house (kind of like a Chinese fig newton). The selection had a lot of different buns and cakes you don't see anywhere else: creamy peanut buns, dry pork and egg white cake, flaky melon cakes, fried glutinous rice balls with savory pork filling (like those fried sesame buns you get at dim sum without the sesame part), whole wheat pork buns, a walnut and date tiny tea cake, maybe 40-50 different cakes and buns! I'm surprised more people haven't written about this place. I was with 5 other people, and none of us had seen some of their selections before. I was stuffed, took some things to go. Mmmmm, egg tart. One of the better specimens in the city with a very flaky crust (they shatter a little when you bit in) and creamy custard. Thumbs up, and I can't wait to go back and try some of the other items they have.