With a simple white sign with red letters reading “DUMPLING KING” written once in English, and then again in Chinese, the deceptively unadorned Dumpling King goes unnoticed by many of Isla Vista’s residents. However, nestled away between Deja Vu and Naan stop along Embarcadero del Mar, is this unassuming restaurant that deserves your attention.
The restaurant maintains a calming presence with minimal decorations, an emerald green exterior, and mustard yellow walls. These decorative choices serve to create a bland atmosphere that do not align with the strong flavor of the dumplings offered on the menu. I arrived at the restaurant at 1:30 p.m., so the lack of customers and ambiance may have been attributed to the unusual timing of my meal.
The chefs smile warmly at everyone who enter the establishment and love to tell customers about their fresh, locally caught shrimp. The menu is simple. The laminated white card wastes no time suggesting to customers its most popular item: the Three Fresh Delicacies Dumpling set. Boasting 15 dumplings for $10, the Three Fresh Delicacies Dumplings consists of shrimp, pork, and chives. I ordered and sat outside while I waited. After five to 10 minutes, my meal was ready, and the chef who took my order came outside to hand me the tray with a gentle smile on his face. He offered the soy sauce before I had the chance to ask.
With 15 steamed dumplings packed with a mixture of shrimp, pork, and chives, this variety item is a surefire way to get a serious bang for your buck, especially in a college town where residents are frequently strapped for cash. Served on a yellow or green tray atop a styrofoam plate, the meal doesn’t look like much at first. However, take one bite into the first dumpling and your taste buds will tell you otherwise.
While the dumplings are undoubtedly flavorful, the taste is not overwhelming. The pork and chives offer tanginess to the meal, whereas the shrimp acts to neutralize a bit of the strong flavor, although in a few dumplings, the shrimp slightly over-neutralize. Even though I preferred adding soy sauce to the meal, the condiment is not essential by any means. Rather, the soy sauce softened the thick doughy exterior and added a bit of extra unnecessary sodium to my meal. The inside of the dumpling had a texture resembling ground beef, which I did not expect but did not mind, either.
After scarfing down the 15 dumplings in less than 15 minutes, my only complaint would be the occasional small shrimp tail fragment in the dumplings, which was a bit of an unsettling find. Despite the three small shrimp tails encountered, the meal exceeded my expectations, as I had been told that good Chinese food in Isla Vista is a rarity. I couldn’t help but nod my head in agreement after fellow restaurant patron and UCSB student Taline Marokosian exclaimed, “Dude, these dumplings are bomb!”
Considering the good food, good prices, and good service, I will be returning to Dumpling King soon. The restaurant is clean, open, and has benches outside to accommodate larger parties. The only regret I had was my decision forego ordering a plate of the beef and celery dumplings to try for comparison. While my stomach may not have been too pleased with the large influx of sodium over such a short period of time, my taste buds couldn’t complain.