Taiwanese dumpling chain Din Tai Fung recently opened a new location at Washington Mall in Portland. Okay fine, Tigard isn’t quite Portland and is somewhat out of the way, but I’ll take it! Seattle has four Din Tai Fung locations and California has so many that I’ve lost count, so it’s about time we got our own Din Tai Fung here. Growing up, my family moved a lot, but Taiwan was where we spent the most time — 5 years in Taipei, 3 years in Hsinchu — so you can imagine that Din Tai Fung has a special place in my dumpling lovin’ heart.
Since the mid-December grand opening, Portland foodies have been rushing to Din Tai Fung, but I waited until my friend Jenny was available as we went to high school in Taiwan together. She and her husband Pat treated me to a belated birthday lunch (thanks guys!), where we ordered about three tables worth of food and each went home with multiple tupperwares of leftovers. Props to our waitress for not even batting an eye when she reviewed our order.
If you plan to visit Din Tai Fung, I recommend that you try to make a reservation. They do not offer reservations in Taiwan, and it makes your visit much more enjoyable, especially if you have a large group visiting during prime lunch/dinner hours.
Since Din Tai Fung is from Taiwan, where there is a huge Buddhist population, the menu naturally offers plenty of vegan dishes. I was pleasantly surprised to see that everything was clearly labeled: vegan, vegetarian, gluten-free. In some of the vegetarian noodle dishes, you can ask them to use glass noodles to make the dish vegan. You place your order on a paper slip, but there is a menu with colorful photos of everything, although I’m not sure if the photos makes it easier or harder to make a decision. ;)
It’s gonna take me several visits to try all the vegan dishes at Din Tai Fung, but I covered a solid portion of the vegan dishes of the menu on this first visit. The last time I was in Taiwan was years ago, but I’d say the Portland location lives up to the Din Tai Fung name. Here are some vegan dishes at Din Tai Fung:
The cucumber salad is simple and refreshing with a teensy bit of heat. A word of warning though: the cucumber rounds are extremely slippery so your chopsticks skills will be put to the test.
I picked the seaweed and beancurd salad in vinegar dressing over the soy noodle salad, and that was the right call. They’re similar, but the former packs much more flavor and texture. This is a favorite of mine.
An unofficial rule to Taiwanese cuisine is that you must always order some greens. There are seven different vegetable dishes to choose from at Din Tai Fung. I wish the broccoli was Chinese broccoli instead of the western variety, and as much as I love kale, it has no business being on this menu. We opted for the Taiwanese cabbage and spinach, which were both sauteed with garlic.
No visit to Din Tai Fung is complete without dumplings. Xiao long bao (steamed soup dumplings) is their specialty, so it’s a real shame they don’t have any veggie XLB. Or veggie wontons because those would be so damn tasty. However, Din Tai Fung’s vegetable and mushroom dumplings are incredibly tasty. These were the best dumplings I’ve had in a while, and my omnivore friends enjoyed them too. On my next visit, I’m ordering an entire steamer for myself. I know that Din Tai Fung’s XLB are meticulously folded with 18 folds, and I wonder if that golden rule applies to the dumplings as well.
I ordered the vegetarian noodle soup with glass noodles as the regular noodles contain egg. The veggies were fresh, but the broth was pretty bland. The glass noodles were clumped together, and I spent a while separating them with my chopsticks. I initially thought this noodle soup was a snooze fest, but it ended up being a nice change of pace compared to the other richer dishes, but I will most likely pass on this next time. (Yes, that’s a Manhattan in the background. The Portland location has a full bar… of course. You won’t see that in Taiwan.)
I will definitely be ordering the Shanghai rice cakes again. I’ve had some bad rice cakes before, but these were addictively chewy. There are some greens mixed in with the rice cakes, and if you wanna take this dish up another notch, I recommend adding chili oil. Ooh la la.
There are no savory vegan xiao long bao at Din Tai Fung, but there are a couple sweet XLB on the desserts menu. In fact, almost all of the desserts are vegan. If you’re going to order just one dessert, I recommend the red bean XLB. The wrapper is very delicate, so you’ll have a delicious mouthful of tasty red bean.