Last week my friend and neighbor Suzanne Parker, TimesLedger food critic and author of “Eating Like Queens: A Guide to Ethnic Dining in America’s Melting Pot, Queens, New York,” called me to rave about Kung Fu Xiao Long Bao’s pork and crab soup dumplings.
“Seriously,” I said, “their soup dumplings aren’t all that, they’re good, but certainly not the best.” The best I’ve had in Queens, I pointed out, can be found at Diverse Dim Sum in the Flushing Mall. This got us to wondering whether either of us really knew where to find the best xiao long bao in Flushing. So we decided to find out. I should point out that we are both certified Kansas City Barbecue Society judges and certified food enthusiasts (Suzanne, it should be noted flies the foodie flag, while I abhor the word).
We very roughly modeled our judging criteria—filling, broth, wrapper, texture, and taste—on the KCBS categories and set out to evaluate four xiao long bao joints. The plan was to savor just one dumpling at each restaurant so as not skew our judgment by becoming overly full. The remaining dumplings would be taken back to Suzanne’s house to reheat and reassess. I had the brilliant idea to eat two dumplings at each stop, one with vinegar and one without. I did this not because it enabled me to judge the dumplings better, but because I am a glutton. So without further ado C+M presents the Xiao Long Bao Battle Royale.
The first stop on our soup dumpling survey was Nan Xiang Dumpling House where an order of pork and crab soup dumplings is $6.50 for 6 pieces. At one time I could say with confidence—and home borough pride—that Nan Xiang had the best soup dumplings not only in Queens, but in all of New York City. Sadly, that time has passed. The first thing we noticed about the xiao long bao here was that they were huge. The second thing we noticed is that they were abysmal. The broth was completely devoid of crab flavor, and mine even had a bit of gristle in it. What was once a great soup dumpling joint has clearly been spoiled by its own success. It was all I could do to not remove Nan Xiang’s Michelin sign on the way out. Nan Xiang Dumpling House, 38-12 Prince St., Flushing, 718-321-3838
Next up was Diverse Dim Sum in the Flushing Mall, which Suzanne thought had been torn down. Thankfully it still stands along with DDS where an order of XLB runs $7.50 for six pieces. As usual they were freshly made and the thin wrappers contained a nice bit of tasty soup. While they were quite good, they were not quite as exquisitely crabby as they have been in the past. Still they were light years ahead of the nearby Nan Xiang. Diverse Dim Sum, Flushing Mall Food Court, 133-31 39th Ave., Flushing, 718-395-8188
Our last two stops took us to the far southern end of Main Street near the Horace Harding Expressway. First up Shanghai Cuisine 33, where an order of six soup dumplings goes for $6.95. These xiao long bao scored high in every category, but were especially notable for the soup itself. It had such an intense crab flavor, that I would not be surprised if crab shells were used to make the broth. We both agreed that these were the best we’d had all day. Shanghai Cuisine 33, 57-33 Main St., Flushing, 718-353-5791
The final stop in this unscientific soup dumpling survey was Kung Fu Xiao Long Bao. An order of pork and crab soup dumplings is $6.50 for six pieces. They were much, much better than I remember them. The broth was crabby, but not quite as much as at Shanghai Cuisine 33. And Suzanne detected a chicken flavor in it. One thing we both agreed on was that the translucent wrappers were delicate, perhaps too much so. The filling also had a nice kick of ginger and good seafood flavor. Kung Fu Xiao Long Bao, 59-16 Main St., Flushing, 718-661-2882
The winner by a mere dumpling fold is Shanghai Cuisine 33 and its über-crabby xiao long bao. Kung Fu Xiao Long Bao got demerits only because of the texture of its wrapper. In case you are wondering the take-home portion of the survey proved useless. The soup had absorbed into the filling of each dumpling. Actually it did prove revealing in one regard. Suzanne’s husband, Andy preferred the terrible Nan Xiang dumplings over all the others. Which proves there’s no accounting for taste, especially among the British.