Cheap eats in New York: Soup dumplings with a twist at Shanghai Cafe
Call me boring, but my standard for xiaolongbao, or soup dumplings, is the ones from Joe’s Shanghai in New York. I’ve had excellent xiaolongbao in Vancouver, too, and of course, the best ones were probably those from Din Tai Fung in Taipei, but Joe Shanghai makes the most consistently tasty ones out of those I’ve had stateside.
So when I had friends rave about the soup dumplings at Shanghai Cafe, I had to give them a try. We stopped in mid-afternoon on a Friday and were seated immediately. The place is lit by overhead fluorescent lights, the unadorned tables plastic, the booth seats serving their purpose but not the most inviting, and the service quick but not necessarily friendly. Ah, yes, the typical efficient, no-frills Chinese restaurant, where table turnover is fast, and food is cheap and solid.
We tried both the classic soup dumplings with crab and fried bao soup dumplings, the latter of which was novel to me. Imagine a soup dumpling encased in the sweet, plush dough like that of a steamed bun and then fried to golden perfection.
The classic soup dumplings were good, but I recall enjoying Joe’s Shanghai’s more. I felt Shanghai Cafe’s xiaolongbao were a bit clumsy, although at those dirt-cheap prices ($6 for eight!), I can’t really complain.
The fried bao dumplings, however, were much more interesting. What’s there not to like about fried sweet dough? The hubs, though, preferred the classic xiaolongbao.
My take is that you should try both kinds at Shanghai Cafe, and then go over to Joe Shanghai and try their xiaolongbao, too. And then tell me what you think. Either way, get ready to consume a lot of starchy dumplings.
A lot of people go to Joe’s Shanghai, so if you’re looking for something tucked away with perhaps less wait, go around the corner to Shanghai Cafe. You’ll still get your xiaolongbao fix at a very good price.
100 Mott St. (Between Canal and Hester St.)
New York, NY 10013
Phone: +1 212 966-3988