Doughy nuggets of garlicky goodness

Dumpling & Tea House

Pork dumplings with broth at Dumpling & Tea House—but try them pan-fried first.

Pork dumplings with broth at Dumpling & Tea House—but try them pan-fried first.

photo by rebecca huval

Good for: Breakfast with milk tea, a cozy date in a warm cafe
Notable dishes: Veggie pan-fried dumplings, wonton soup and dan dan mien

Dumpling & Tea House

3000 Freeport Blvd.
Sacramento, CA 95818

(916) 917-5862

On a chilly Friday night, the customer wearing an AC/DC shirt struck up a conversation with most of the patrons inside the new Dumpling & Tea House. He gawked at the pan-fried dumplings of a couple on a date.

“Did I screw up my order by getting it with broth?” he asked them. Eventually, he concluded that yes, yes he had, and so did I. The pan-fried dumplings are where it’s at.

After opening late last year, Dumpling & Tea House is one of few Taiwanese dumpling shops in town.

The eponymous and much-discussed hand-wrapped dumplings ($7.35) are filled with pork and chives or vegetables, chicken and corn, kimchi pork or all veggies. The diaphanous dough tastes like it was indeed finely shaped by this kitchen’s hands. For all you vegetarians out there: These are legit. White pepper and ginger swirl together with cabbage, carrot and chunks of tofu. I also tried the pork and vegetables—mostly cabbage accompanying rich meat with the musk of garlic.

For an extra dollar, try them pan-fried or with broth, but you already know whose side I’m on in this fight: The chicken broth is bland, not adding much unless it’s a cold, rainy day, which—welp, you can see the weather forecast for yourself. The pan-fried version, though, takes these doughy nuggets from decent to worth a return visit. The crisped crescents add a fatty note that plays well off of the sour housemade dip: soy sauce, white and brown vinegar, sesame oil and garlic.

The dan dan mien ($6.50) is also more than the sum of its humble parts: Egg noodles, chili and sesame oil and blanketed with cucumbers, carrots, green onions, fried shallots and chopped peanuts. Add meat or tofu (off menu) for a hearty, dank meal that radiates with nuttiness. With legalization upon us, it’s handy to have a nearby dish that so completely quenches the munchies.

But it wasn’t all fried shallots and rainbows. The BBQ pork bao (three for $4) were a disappointment on the day I ordered them, gray and mushy meat without any flavorful gusto. But it looks like I got them on an off day: Yelp and Instagram snaps show BBQ pork with rusty red sauce that was totally lacking from mine. And the white bun was soft as a snowflake and oh so sweet.

Though it was also lacking in flavor, the wonton soup ($7.35) was mostly a positive experience. Traditionally served at breakfast, this dish and its subtle broth were a soothing way to start the morning. The kitchen’s specialty, delicate dumplings, floated alongside green onions and broccoli for just the right dose of guilt-free flavor. Sure, it could have used more seasoning, but you could always have a choose-your-own-condiment adventure.

The other namesake, the teas, were outstanding and came in an array of flavors: rose, passion fruit, lychee, chrysanthemum, taro. The milk teas ($3.75) are made to your exact sweetness and temperature at a reasonable price for such a smoothly mixed, creamy confection.

The Dumpling & Tea House is very upfront about its strengths: They’re emblazoned on the storefront. But be careful about choosing the broth over pan-fried, or you might stare longingly at strangers, too.