The Eastside’s Dough Zone Dumpling House chain has finally caught up to its arch competitor, Taiwan-based Din Tai Fung, with its first shop in Seattle proper: across from Uwajimaya in the International District’s new Publix building.
As far as soup dumplings go, I’ve always been on Team Dough Zone, partially because it’s more chill than the upscale Din Tai Fung, and also because it’s a local business. But I admit, it’s mostly because Dough Zone’s dumplings are exactly as good as those at Din Tai Fung, and there’s rarely a wait to eat them.
This reasoning doesn’t exactly ring true at the new Dough Zone location, arguably one of the best dumpling holes in the neighborhood. This Dough Zone is slicker compared to the basic strip-mall interiors of its brethren—it’s got mobiles in geometric shapes hanging from the ceiling, and it seats roughly twice as many people. Good thing too, because they’re doing a brisk business already only two months after opening, with a near-constant mob scene of office workers streaming in from the giant complex across the street. So, it’s less chill, and there’s usually a wait.
The menu is the same idea, touching on “Q-bao” (aka shen jian bao), or soup buns, as well as noodles, pot stickers, and traditionally the star of the DZ menu, xiao long bao, or soup dumplings, which have been so thoroughly covered in the local press, suffice to say that they are very good and you will like them. But I want to talk about another offering on Dough Zone’s menu: the fresh handmade noodles, which knock all of their bao out of the water.
Here is what you do. Order the yi bin (“kindling” in Szechuan) noodles, and then dip everything else you order into their fragrant oil, which comprises peanuts, pickled mustard leaf, sesame oil, green onion, yanno, probably some chili, and preserved vegetables. I could have bathed in this gorgeous, savory oil. The thick, curly noodles have plenty of flavor all on their own, but look, it’s all about the oil, so rich and decadent, it’s hard to believe it’s vegetarian. The dandan noodles have similar ingredients and though the sauce is a little less spectacular, it’s still comparably killer.
Again, please understand that Dough Zone’s xiao long bao are perfectly lovely—both the pork and chicken versions have delicate, thin wrappers, and the flavors burst in your mouth—but the yi bin noodles are the thing to get. Do not miss this thing.
Dough Zone has a huge variety of good non-dumpling options, too. The delicion factor of the beef pancake roll belies its boring name; the size of a small burrito, it’s rolled up like a jianbing and is as flaky and delectable. Get this and dip it in the yi bin noodle oil. The “Q-bao” deserve a shout-out for being juicy and gingery, and it’s fun how they’re fried only on their little butts, adding some texture to the chewy bun. Dip these in the yi bin oil, too. The spicy beef shank appetizer is another standout: super cartilaginous and served cold, like a salad, except the leaves are meat. They’re great on their own, but dip them. Also dip things you don’t like in the noodle-oil, and you will like them, too.
Speaking of not liking things: Avoid the pickled string beans—they’re at once too sweet and too plain. Most of the pot stickers are fine, but the pork and shrimp pack a too-intense seafood punch. My boyfriend dug the “fruit-flavored” seaweed, so maybe you will too? It’s very long and fills your entire sinus cavity with the smell of the ocean, but it’s not as much of a flavor as it is a miasma. I didn’t notice anything fruity about it.
Dessert-wise, the banana naan is overly greasy, in no way resembles naan, and offers only the faintest fumes of banana. The fat little red bean baos, though, are a solid, pleasant rendition of the classic.
The new DZ location is still absolutely worth a visit, especially for those who, like me, do not fuck with the Eastside. You just have to go between its prime-time rushes. Plus, even if you have to wait, service is swift, and even more so if you order food that’s premade in the central Dough Zone kitchen: bao, noodles, pickled stuff. And for what it’s worth, it’s a mere $11.25 for 10 xiao long bao, and for less than that, you can get TWO orders of yi bin noodles (only $5.25 a pop), enabling maximum double-dipping of everything else. I am totally doing this next time. Priorities.