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China Bistro, "Hunger"ford Drive in Rockville - Rita Lee & Jian Tan's Homemade Dumplings


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From the 9/14 food section.

"Chinese people come here just for the dumplings," says server Katie Zhang. Her mother Rita Lee and stepfather Jian Tan make each dumpling, in eight varieties, by hand, to order.

It's the unique fillings that set these dough bundles, known to regular customers as Mama's Dumplings, apart. For example, Mama's Special Dumplings (12 for $7.50), the best seller, are stuffed with a delicious combination of pork, shrimp, napa cabbage and chives. They may be ordered boiled or pan-fried


Has anyone been? It's 2 minutes from us and we didn't even know about it. I may have to go on a fact-finding mission today.
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Has anyone been?  It's 2 minutes from us and we didn't even know about it.  I may have to go on a fact-finding mission today.

I swung by today after picking up the 8-year-old from football practice.

It's in the shop where the Chinese bakery existed a couple of years ago, in the same shopping plaza as Pho 75. Small place, just four 4-tops.

I placed an order to go - Mama's Dumplings, Beef Dumplings, Sesame Balls, and Chicken Lo Mein for the kids. They said it would take 15-20 minutes for the order, so we ordered a couple of soups to eat while they made the food. They said those would come out quickly. The order took closer to 25 minutes, but strangely enough, it took almost 20 for the soups to arrive! There was only one other table, which already had their food, and 2 other takeout orders in the queue, but there seemed to be quite a few people puttering around in the kitchen. The friendly girl behind the counter said they had been swamped today, because of the Post blurb. In fact, while we were there, 3 other parties came in, all clutching a ripped piece of newspaper...

The boy had Egg Drop, and I had Hot & Sour. The Egg Drop was actually quite good - lots of egg, not too much cornstarch, and a reasonably rich broth. The Hot & Sour was decent - no red pepper flakes to be found, still reasonably spicy, and full of veggies and tofu. I thought it actually could have used a bit more thickener, as it was pretty thin.

Dumplings to go are never at their best, but these survived the 10 minute drive home reasonably well. The outsides weren't too gummy, and the fillings were still piping hot. They were a decent size, and came 12 to an order. The Mama's Dumplings had shrimp, pork, and chive - I expected something like the inside of shu mai, but this was like a pork meatball with tiny shrimp thrown in. Had the shrimp not tasted vaguely of iodine, these would have been better, as the pork meatball was very tasty. The beef and celery were better - minced beef with cilantro and celery. Very good flavor, if a little bit greasy. Note that all of the dumplings (there are about 10 varieties) all have the same potsticker-style wrappers - this is not like dim sum dining where there are many different styles to choose from. They will prepare them steamed (the way we got them), pan fried (which I think never do well for takeout), or will sell them to you uncooked for freezing or cooking at home.

The lo mein was average - clearly this is not the reason to dine here. Kids were thrilled that we could get sesame balls, one of their favorites, and not have to wait for a trip to New Fortune for dim sum. Total was $30, which was for 2 adults, 2 kids, and leftovers.

Bottom line - quite nice addition to the neighborhood, but not worth going out of the way for. Does make me kinda miss Chef Lau's - his most recent home by the FreshGo Giant off Seven Locks was a mile from my house.

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I stopped by today, as did every senior citzen in MoCo, clutching their aticle clipped from the food section yesterday. The kitchen was totally overwhelmed by the response and it took 35 minutes to get my order - calling ahead is recommended but not always a guarantee that your food will be ready when you arrive.

The pork dill dumpling are quite good, juicy and fragrant wrapped in tender dough. The egg drop soup is a bit too eggy for me but the broth is flavorful and it's not too gelatinous - one reason I don't order this very often.

(an aside - for the love of Jebus people please decide what to order, then approach the counter! Don't stand there dithering while the line slowly inches out the door! :lol: )

Edited by Heather
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Indulged in dumplings after practice last night with my teammates. We arrived late at night - no crowd but no Mama's dumplings. We shared fish dumplings, pork and dill (interesting combo but very tasty!), pork and chive, beef and celery hearts and shrimp dumplings.

All were very tasty - we got the fish and shrimp ones steamed and the rest pan fried. If you can choose, go pan fried. We had the broccoli root salad, napa cabbage salad and five spiced peanuts as starters. They were decent starters, all homemade.

The quality of their dumplings are far better than Chinatown Express, for sure. My gripe - they should give you small bowls instead of plate for the dumplings. That way you don't loose the yummy juices that squirt out of the dumpling when you bite into it. Their spicy chile oil is housemade - it smells heavenly!

It is definitely worth the trip up from the city if you are able to make it. (It's about a 15 minute walk north from the Rockville Metro station, Red Line) You can also stop by Maxim and Kam Sam, the Chinese grocery stores, when you come up to eat dumplings. And there's always Maria's for dessert!)

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Factors to keep in mind:

1. We were the only customers in the place at the time.

2. We went when it wasn't rush hour for the restaurant so they were able to cook the dumplings without rushing.

3. They were making the dumplings for the next day - we probably got a really fresh batch given the time we came in for food.

4. Minor sidebar: we worked out beforehand and drove about 45 minutes to the restaurant afterwards (ie, the whole "hunger makes a good sauce" thing)

I'm not discounting the goodness of the dumplings or your experience, just pointing out factors that may have made my experience different than yours.

And yes, carry out pan-fried dumplings are never as good as ones consumed on the spot! I would've busted those puppies out in the parking lot if there was no space in the restaurant.

Edited by Gastro888
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And yes, carry out pan-fried dumplings are never as good as ones consumed on the spot!  I would've busted those puppies out in the parking lot if there was no space in the restaurant.

I got em steamed, rather than pan-fried. Steamed lose something in the trip, but pan-fried for take-out are a waste of time.

I would have eaten the entire order right there, but I was bringing dinner home for the family! Far too messy to eat while driving, else I would have had myself a taste sooner...

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Found myself in the area the other day for lunch, so I thought I'd see what a month of settling in has done.

They're still busy, but handling the crowds far, far better. We came in at the tail end of lunch time, and placed our order at the counter. All of the tables were taken, but they've opened up a side room behind the counter. Absolutely no decorations at all in there; looks like it was a storeroom, but now has a few 4-tops in it. The woman apologized, and said that they were about to re-do that room, but they're seating people in there in the meantime so they don't have to mill around waiting for a table.

Unlike last time, when I waited 20+ minutes for food, this time our soup was there in just a couple of minutes, and the rest of the food followed before we even finished our soup.

The quality of the shrimp in "mama's" dumplings was far higher this time around. Also, their winter season eat-in special is a free bowl of pork bone soup with any dumpling order. Both the soup and dumplings were very very tasty. My only complaint - they dumplings were served steamed, when I asked for pan-fried. They offered to replace them, but I was hungry, so I elected to keep them. My son ordered egg drop soup, which vanished in seconds, and teriyaki chicken. This was actually just steamed chicken and broccoli, with a thick, sweet sauce poured on top (something like a slightly thinned hoisin sauce). It was reasonably tasty, if nothing special.

Go for the dumplings. Fabulous, fabulous flavor.

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I haven't posted about this place in a while, so I thought I'd bump the thread back to the top.

Here's my usual Friday. Little League practice from 5-7, we get home, boy takes a shower, and comes running down the stairs yelling "Dad I want Mama's Special Dumplings!!"

How can I say no?

Now that the crowds have settled down a bit, and the kitchen knows how to handle the rush, this place is very worth the trip. Absolutely first-class dumplings. The Mama's Special (shrimp, pork, napa) are great, but I really love the beef with celery. We also tried the pork w/string bean, today's special, and they were also wonderful. I usually get a mix of pan-fried and steamed.

When you go, ignore the rest of the menu, please. It's funny to look around the room - Chinese families have tables full of dumplings, and maybe a couple of cold appetizers from the display case. American families have beef with broccoli, etc. I've had a few things, as the kids have only recently taken to dumplings, and nothing else I've found so far is worth ordering.

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Does anyone know anything (good, bad, or indifferent) about China Bistro/Mama's Dumplings? It was positively reviewed in the Post city guide last year here

I've had the Mama's Special Dumplings, and they were good, iirc, but then again I wouldn't've remembered if you hadn't asked. <shrug> For whatever that's worth. If you're nearby, try 'em, but don't make a special trip unless someone more knowledgable says otherwise.

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I go almost every week - I love this place!

The dumplings are first rate, steamed or fried, and all of the cold dishes in the front case are fabulous. Soups are also good, but ignore the rest of the menu. My kids absolutely love it. The family that runs it is very friendly.

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I go almost every week - I love this place!

The dumplings are first rate, steamed or fried, and all of the cold dishes in the front case are fabulous. Soups are also good, but ignore the rest of the menu. My kids absolutely love it. The family that runs it is very friendly.

Thanks! I think I'll try it out this weekend. I've been looking for steamed seafood dumplings for quite a while (and even resorted, on a couple of ill-fated occasions, to trying to make them myself - a sure sign of desperation).

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I live a 5 minute drive from this place and really like it. I've pretty much stuck with the veggie dumplings (I think there are two varieties, I prefer one to the other, although I don't remember which I like better-sorry). The+1 has had the Mama special and really likes them. Truthfully, I don't think we've ever been disappointed with a single dumpling from there. I agree with danielk, the dumplings and the stuff in the refrigerated case are really the only things to bother with (and they're well worth it). Don't even consider the Chinese American food menu.

Now I just wish i could convince my son that the dumplings are good (sigh).

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Now I just wish i could convince my son that the dumplings are good (sigh).

My 6 and 9 year olds BEG me to take them to China Bistro.

FWIW, while there are about 6 or 8 regular fillings in the dumplings, there are also rotating specials on the whiteboard by the register. Don't forget to check there before you order.

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We ended up going for an early dinner on Saturday, and shared Mama's special soup (which was just cut up veggies in a light broth, but perfectly fine) and shrimp/chive dumplings, and my fiance also ordered Mama's special dumplings (in which I did not partake, due to their porkiness). Everything was pretty good - I liked the filling of the shrimp/chive, but thought the dumpling skins were a little too thick. My fiance thought the shrimp tasted a bit tired (which, I gather from reading up-thread, has been an occasional issue here). All in all, a fun excursion, although I doubt we'll be making the drive from Capitol Hill to Rockville on a regular basis.

Afterwards, we got frozen custard from the place next door - for better or worse, it was eggy in the extreme (we were amazed that even after our 45-minute drive back home, the uneaten portion was still in its original shape).

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How big are the dumplings here? Maybe it's just me, but 12 dumplings for $7.50 seems a tad expensive. There are places in Manhattan that sell 5 dumplings for a buck. Granted, the "Special Dumplings" contain much more in the filling than the pork/chive ones at Tasty Dumpling, but the price disparity is still pretty huge IMO. Same goes for the ginormous pot-stickers at A&J that appear to be a much better deal.

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How big are the dumplings here? Maybe it's just me, but 12 dumplings for $7.50 seems a tad expensive. There are places in Manhattan that sell 5 dumplings for a buck. Granted, the "Special Dumplings" contain much more in the filling than the pork/chive ones at Tasty Dumpling, but the price disparity is still pretty huge IMO. Same goes for the ginormous pot-stickers at A&J that appear to be a much better deal.

I went today for the first time nad I though the dumplings were decent sized. I managed to finish 6-7 and brought home the rest. Pretty tasty. Will take Mr. BLB next time so I can order more variety.

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How big are the dumplings here? Maybe it's just me, but 12 dumplings for $7.50 seems a tad expensive. There are places in Manhattan that sell 5 dumplings for a buck. Granted, the "Special Dumplings" contain much more in the filling than the pork/chive ones at Tasty Dumpling, but the price disparity is still pretty huge IMO. Same goes for the ginormous pot-stickers at A&J that appear to be a much better deal.

Like BLB, I ate about half an order (maybe a little more) at one sitting, and Mr. Gus (who was very hungry) had closer to a whole order. I thought the price was more or less comparable to my favorite dumpling place in NYC (but I wouldn't swear to it).

However, I'll probably stick to the (excellent, but more expensive) shrimp shumai at Kotobuki.

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Needed comfort food today, so decided to check this out with an order of Mama's dumplings. They're OK, nothing special, and as I ate them I kept thinking my mother-in-law's jiaozi are better. Then called home to say so, only to find out Ma is making her dumplings for dinner. :)

So much for the diet.

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I had a great experience here last night - after a long evening. These are the best dumpling's I've had in this area. I thought Mama's dumplings were fresh and delicious. Just right on the wrapping thickness and tenderness, held in the meat and didn't fall apart after a bite if I didn't put the whole thing in my mouth, and the filling was so tasty, loved the shrimp bits with the pork and the chive. And, I thought it's a good deal to get 12 for $7.50. I had that and a hot and sour soup (which was forgetable), and brought 4 dumplings home. And even after the 25 minute drive home, the roomies also fell for these dumplings. Also bought some of the uncooked beef and celery to bring home and try on my own - after examining them, you can tell the TLC that goes into the making of these beauties.

AND, I LOVED the bubble tea! I got a mango bubble tea that tasted like mango puree mixed with tea, and a perfect amount of boba - I finished both the liquid and the boba at the same time. The boba were mushy on the outside and a bit firm and chewy on the inside, just how I like them. Man those are addictive. I am probably going to be making this a weekly, if I can, place. Anyone know any other bubble tea places around DC that are as good as this?

I highly recommend this place to any serious dumpling afficionado, but only for the die-hard if you trek it from DC during rush hour. Otherwise, at other times, it's a must.

If these aren't the best dumplings around, would someone please let me know where I might find better ones? Hopefully closer to DC! But, regardless, I'll be going back to this place.

It's for foodie treks like last night that I'm so grateful for DonRockwell.com :)

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I froze my leftover steamed pork and string bean dumplings. I threw a few in the microwave, and they reheated pretty well for a quick snack. I had thought about buying uncooked ones, but when I went, there was a sign near the register that said something to the effect of it's difficult to cook frozen raw dumplings so they recommended buying them cooked.

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I froze my leftover steamed pork and string bean dumplings. I threw a few in the microwave, and they reheated pretty well for a quick snack. I had thought about buying uncooked ones, but when I went, there was a sign near the register that said something to the effect of it's difficult to cook frozen raw dumplings so they recommended buying them cooked.

ahha. thats what that sign meant :) yeah, i figured it might be tough, but i'll try it. i just gotta make sure that meat gets cooked through. the woman behind the counter said just to boil them thoroughly. we'll see!

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If these aren't the best dumplings around, would someone please let me know where I might find better ones? Hopefully closer to DC! But, regardless, I'll be going back to this place.

I haven't had guo tie (pot stickers) here, but the ones at A&J just down the Pike are the only ones that rival my Chinese mother-in-law's ....

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How big are the dumplings here? Maybe it's just me, but 12 dumplings for $7.50 seems a tad expensive. There are places in Manhattan that sell 5 dumplings for a buck. Granted, the "Special Dumplings" contain much more in the filling than the pork/chive ones at Tasty Dumpling, but the price disparity is still pretty huge IMO. Same goes for the ginormous pot-stickers at A&J that appear to be a much better deal.

I take back what I said about A&J, where the pot-stickers (while still great) are now 8 for $5.95, so China Bistro doesn't seem like such a bad deal anymore.

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I take back what I said about A&J, where the pot-stickers (while still great) are now 8 for $5.95, so China Bistro doesn't seem like such a bad deal anymore.

China Bistro is also not always $7.50/dozen. That's for the Mama's Special Dumplings. Most of the rest of the fillings are $5.95/dozen.

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Plus, China Bistro's prices are reasonable when you consider that it's not unusual for Chinese restaurants to charge around $4 to $5 for the dumplings appetizer which often comes with 6 dumplings. As an example, I'm looking at the Joe's Noodle House menu, and an order of 6 steamed pork dumplings costs $4.50.

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$7.50 for dinner is pretty good.

I don't think the mere fact that the meal is under $10 inherently makes it a good deal. Maybe it's because I'm not used to paying a lot for dumplings (unless they're Anita Lo's foie gras soup dumplings at Annisa, mmmm).

Let's say In-N-Out raised the price of a double-double to $8. Would I pay that much to have one? Hell yeah, because it's that damn good. But would it still be a great deal just because it's under $10? I don't know about that, especially when you can get something almost as tasty at Elevation Burger.

That's how I feel about dumplings.

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I don't think the mere fact that the meal is under $10 inherently makes it a good deal. Maybe it's because I'm not used to paying a lot for dumplings (unless they're Anita Lo's foie gras soup dumplings at Annisa, mmmm).

Let's say In-N-Out raised the price of a double-double to $8. Would I pay that much to have one? Hell yeah, because it's that damn good. But would it still be a great deal just because it's under $10? I don't know about that, especially when you can get something almost as tasty at Elevation Burger.

That's how I feel about dumplings.

For me, what makes a good deal is excellent quality/taste that I *have* to keep going back for, at a price point that I can afford, without wincing too much. China Bistro fits that bill for me.

It's more the fact that the dumplings are soo good, there are soo many of them so I don't have to order anything else, and the price isn't steep enough to keep me from coming back often.

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Relatively new to the China Bistro menu: homemade noodles!

Don't just order any noodle dish, because not all of the noodles are homemade. Just tell the woman behind the counter you want some homemade noodles, and she'll help you pick something. Like Chinatown Express downtown, you can get them fried or in soup, but there are more variations than that - a number of different soup choices, for example.

The one I got tonight was a thick soup base, reminiscent of hot & sour, but neither hot nor sour - just homey. A large pile of noodles, an even larger pile of shrimp, beef, chicken, mushrooms and other veggies, and barely dusted with the soup base. $5 for the bowl. That an an order of scallion pancakes fed me AND my starving, bottomless-pit-stomached 9 year old son fresh from baseball practice. We had dinner for two for $10 AFTER tax and 20% tip. Ridiculous.

My only complaint - they should cut the noodles shorter. Getting them from the serving bowl to our bowls was a comedy of errors - I think there were only 5 noodles in the bowl, but each was 3 feet long. :P

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My only complaint - they should cut the noodles shorter. Getting them from the serving bowl to our bowls was a comedy of errors - I think there were only 5 noodles in the bowl, but each was 3 feet long. :P

No no no! They'll never do that. It would shorten your life!

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Ignore most of my foolish ramblings upthread. The dumplings are still a bit pricier than I would like, but they've made me a convert. Especially the "Mama's Special" which is borderline-crack addictive. I like pan-fried much better than steamed for the regular pork dumplings. The veggie ones are somewhat bland, probably not worth ordering again.

The service is super-friendly to boot.

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Tried it for the first time yesterday with Daniel, Scott and Amit. Quite good. I actually preferred the small plates to those at Joe's. The fried dumplings were better than the steamed as the dough is a little thick for steaming. I really liked the shrimp and chice best for filling. The homemade noodles jajamein style were good but I prefer noodles in soup. Lots of food for $12.00 but if in the area, I prefer Bob's 88 SS and would give another try to Joes before coming back here. But if I have a jones for pan fried dumplings, then this is the spot.

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Last night's $20 Tuesday meal at China Bistro could only be described as a total success. Many thanks to Scott and DanielK for organizing it!!

Seeing as how the dumplings come in plates of 12, the fact that we had 12 people worked out perfectly. We had two orders of pretty much everything (and a second round of the amazing shrimp and chive dumplings). Some were pan fried and others steamed. The aforementioned shrimp and chive dumplings were the clear favorite. The only ones I was kinda "meh" about were the vegetable triple dumplings. Something about the egg inside didn't really excite me. It's not that they were bad, but they paled in comparison to the others. The fried pork dumplings seemed to run a close second to the shrimp dumplings. Dipped in a little hot sauce and vingear, these little pockets of porcine scrumptiousness were impossible to pass up.

I have definitely developed a preference for the steamed ones. The steam usually condenses inside the dumpling to create a teaspoonful of flavorful liquid that adds an added dimension when you bite into the dumpling (as long as said liquid doesn't squirt onto the arm of the diner next to you, which is what Lisa did to me!). Kinda reminds me of xlb dumplings.

We also started with a nice selection of cold appetizers. The pickled daikon radish and cucumbers seemed to be a big hit.

After adding in a generous tip, we still only paid $13 each for a completely filling meal. I'll definitely be adding this to the regular lunchtime rotation!

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If memory serves, this was our menu last night:

Cold appetizers:

Mama's mixed vegetables

Spicy cucumber

Pickled radish

Baby fish with peanuts

Five spice Beef

(two of each appetizer)

Dumplings:

Vegetable

Vegetable Triple

Pork w/Green Squash

Chive Shrimp (twice)

Beef w/Celery (fried)

Ji Cai Pork (fried)

Mama's Special (fried)

Since we ordered 2 dozen for each (twice for the Shrimp), that's 16 dozen altogether.

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Since we ordered 2 dozen for each (twice for the Shrimp), that's 16 dozen altogether.

I'm so glad I was able to make it last night -- *now* I understand the great reviews China Bistro receives. It will be very hard to order dumplings anywhere else for a while. I really liked the shrimp and chive dumpling and also the beef with celery and I liked the non-vegeterian vegetable triple dumpling. And really, everything else. I'm torn on whether I prefer steamed or fried dumplings, but I think the shrimp dumplings are too light to be fried. 16 dozen? I don't think that's part of the fitness challenge. Ugh. Thanks all, it was a blast.

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See, I really liked the veggie triple dumplings. They had a little bit of extra complexity to me.
yeah, i have to agree. my favorites were the veg triple, and the pan fried beef and celery - the celery was something different that i wasn't used to, so biting into it brought a pleasant crunchy surprise. i was also very into the pork and chive dumpling, as well as mama's mixed vegetables app.

i also very much appreciated that the dumpling skins were not a doughy mass that sometimes can counter the savory filling, turning the entire dumpling experience into a big glob of chewiness. personally, every bite was wholesome goodness.

i tried to remember how many dumplings i ended up eating, and i believe it was around 12 or 13. (can that be right???)

thanks to daniel and scott for sharing their dumpling haven with the rest us!

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i tried to remember how many dumplings i ended up eating, and i believe it was around 12 or 13. (can that be right???)
If Daniel's recollection is correct, then I believe we should have had 16 each. I did see maybe six or so forlorn leftovers at the end of the night.

16 dumplings! Oy! Maybe I will hit the gym today.

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Thanks everyone for reporting on what sounds like an amazing dumpling feast! I'll have to check out the shrimp and chive on my next visit... I know the menu you had is posted, but did you guys try the noodles? I remember that they've got homemade noodles now, how are those? Thanks again for the reviews!

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Compelled to give another post of praise to this place.

Tried Mama's special dumplings pan-fried for the first time, and enjoyed them much more this way as opposed to steamed. Twelve big, plump and lightly fried dumplings with little to no greasy-ness to them (shockingly so). This time I also noticed a small amount of liquid inside reminiscent of soup dumplings. Next time I need to pry myself away from just dumplings and order some of the handmade noodles. Also got a Mango Bubble Tea here which I again recommend.

Ugh, I wish I could make it out here more often. Even on a lazy Saturday afternoon, it took me 45 minutes to get there from Woodley Park. But, it was worth every second of the drive. I absolutely think this is a destination restaurant, IF you are in search of delicious dumplings. If only the Rockville Pike wasn't so hellacious :mellow:

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And they deliver!

Dozens of steamed dumplings to feed 15 people were brought to my house on Saturday night, and only 40 minutes from order to the knock on the door at prime dinner hour. We deliberately avoided fried dumplings, but the steamed dumplings arrived still hot and not gummy or overcooked.

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