Portlanders have long frequented Chinese restaurants, sitting down to bowls of noodle soups or piling stir-fries onto beds of steamed rice. But in recent years, the city has been having a dumpling renaissance of sorts. The international chain Din Tai Fung first landed in Oregon with its lauded xiao long bao, or soup dumplings, in 2018; the Taiwanese-born restaurant is preparing to open its first Portland proper location in Pioneer Place this summer. In 2022, Seattle-based Dough Zone landed on the South Waterfront and has plans to expand to Beaverton and Happy Valley. And beyond the chains, restaurants like XLB, Bao Bao, Duck House, and Master Kong have all opened with strong dumpling and bun options.
This week, a new local dumpling-focused restaurant will enter the fray, specializing in hand-made xiao long bao. Xin Ding Dumpling House will open Friday, May 12, in Old Town-Chinatown, within the former Thirsty Lion space.
While working in the kitchens of other Chinese restaurants around Portland, owner and chef Leon Liu honed a talent for making dumplings and noodles. Liu hails from Shenyang in Northern China, where wheat-based dishes are prevalent in the region’s cuisine, and at Xin Ding, diners will be able to watch him roll out dough for dumplings and noodles in the restaurant’s open kitchen.
“[In Northern China] for whatever festival, Chinese New Year or Mooncake Festival, they serve dumplings,” says manager Mindy Chong. “Because the dumplings look like money pouches, and you want good fortune for the year.”
At Xin Ding, Liu will steam, fry, or boil dumplings with both savory and sweet fillings. Xiao long bao, small steamed buns with pleated delicate dough, will come in pork, shrimp, or crab varieties, but also with fillings like black sesame and lotus seed for dessert. Fluffy baozi will also come in several varieties, as yeast-leavened doughs encase fillings like spicy minced tofu, pork and string bean, red bean, and custard. Liu will also stuff dumplings with ingredients harder to find in Portland restaurants, like lamb or egg and black fungus.
While Liu focuses on the dumpling section of the menu, his mentor, chef Keli Jiang, will bring around 40 years of experience cooking in China to the kitchen. Outside of dumplings, Jiang will handle dishes from a breadth of Chinese cuisines, like Peking duck accompanied by green onion pancakes and duck soup. Another specialty dish, dry pot, will have a mess of proteins (like lamb, spare ribs, or tofu) and vegetables tossed in spicy sauce, served in a mini wok on top of a candlelit stand to keep it hot at the table.
“We have a wide variety [of dishes] because chef Jiang has cooked in different types of restaurants,” Chong says. “We also do some American Chinese, so people can come get orange chicken but try other things out.”
Xin Ding Dumpling House will open at 71 SW 2nd Avenue.