One of the first "pieces of writing" I remember being proud of was a short story I wrote in 4th grade about trying soup dumplings for the first time. I remember being taught to eat them (by biting a small whole in the side) by a waiter I thought was very cute. Soup dumplings/ xiao long bao/ Shanghai juicy buns have been a love of mine ever since. I even made a video about how to eat them a few years ago. Getting to try these years later in Shanghai was an experience I will never forget- and now I can confidently say they are as good here as in China!
My Chinatown Food Tours usually include an order of soup dumplings for the group. And they are usually from my top spot, Sakura Mandarin. I'll explain why they are my favorite along with a list of other great spots for them in Chinatown.
Sakura Mandarin 1038 Race St (@ 11th St.), 215-873-8338
This is the only spot to offer a shrimp and pork version. Typical soup dumplings will be filled with one of two meat mixes: pork or pork/crab. Pork/crab have perpetually been too fishy for me. Sakura gives me that bit of seafood flavor without being overpowering. I also love their marinated gluten, 8 treasures in spicy sauce, and pork shoulder. And they actually make pretty good sushi.
Tom's Dim Sum 59 N. 11th St. (btw Filbert and Arch St.), 215-923-8880
Tom's Dim Sum, FKA, the original Dim Sum Garden location, still retains some grit being located next to the bus station. They have some artfully thin skins. The above are actually crab filled, and were far less fishy than others. I also love their Shanghai Shu Mai.
Dim Sum Garden
The local standard, now upgraded to a nicer location. Can't really go wrong. Great party room in the back.
I can't hate on the dumplings, but I do not love the service here.
Whichever you choose, make sure to get a little ginger soy dipping sauce to season the dumpling wrapper and do not get burned!