Dumplings are one of my all-time favorite foods.
Jiaozi (the catch-all term for dumplings), a quintessential, everyman sort of dish in Chinese cuisine, come in all shapes and sizes, and can be filled with myriad proteins and vegetables. Boiled, steamed, pan-fried — while I love them all, my favorites are the little half-moon pan-fried ones called jian jiao.
I can still remember the ones I had over a decade ago during my first visit to Guangzhou, the capital city of Guangdong province in China. Purchased for something like $1 from a street vendor, the dumplings were served in a small paper takeaway container, fresh off the grill, so hot that when I took a bite, I fanned my mouth, as one would fan themselves on a sweltering Houston day. While I tossed the small morsel around trying to avoid a potential burn, it hit me: the juiciness and savoriness of meat filling, the just-crisp snap of the pan-seared dumpling wrapper. Everything about the bite was perfect.
In Houston, while there are many places that serve pan-fried dumplings, the best ones I’ve had in recent memory are from a family-owned spot called Dumpling Haus, a fast-casual restaurant located in the Sawyer Yards complex in the First Ward that has been open since January 2020.
Ashley Lai, her sister Amiley Lai, and their mother and chef, Elaine Won, started Dumpling Haus as a pop-up in 2016, selling their dumplings at various farmers markets and then later as a weekly pop-up at local bars like Axelrad, Johnny’s Goldbrick and Grand Prize Bar.
Won learned how to make dumplings from her Cantonese father, who, in turn, learned from his Northern Chinese friends. Her dumplings are made using traditional recipes and techniques, and she uses a scratch kitchen. With the exception of the dumpling wrapper, which she sources from a trusted vendor, she makes everything in-house, from the chili oil to the dumpling sauce to the chicken broth base for her dumpling noodle soup. Won spends up to five hours a day making her dumplings by hand.
With some dumplings, the wrapper can be too thick and doughy, leaving the filling lightly packed with too much air. Higher-quality, more artisanal dumplings will have a thin wrapper and plumper, more substantial meat filling. Dumpling Haus’ dumplings are artisanal-style, and each bite is a joy.
While the pan-fried dumplings are definitely a highlight, the restaurant also offers a variety of other dishes, ranging from red chili wontons to Taiwanese beef noodle soup to Cantonese char siu pork and rice. The restaurant is also extremely vegan-friendly, with more than half of the menu available in vegan form.
Pork, Chicken or Vegan Dumplings:
It just takes one bite to know that these are quality dumplings. From their appearance, to the way in which they are pan-fried, to the style of dumpling wrapper, to the consistency of the filling and the way that they are seasoned, you can tell that a lot of love was put into each dumpling. I haven’t found a better version anywhere else in Houston, and the same can be said for the vegan version. One order is $8; you get six per order. Pro tip: Bags of frozen dumplings (20 pieces/$20) can be purchased at Dumpling Haus, at their farmers market stand and at local retailers like Henderson and Kane, and Kickin Kombucha.
Chicken Red Chili Oil Wontons:
Silky, small packets of fabulousness, these miniature dumplings are filled with ground chicken and topped with a house-made chili oil that packs a major punch. $8/order.
Shrimp Dumpling (Noodle) Soup:
Better than versions you’ll find in Chinatown, Won’s shrimp and chicken dumplings, or sui kow, are made in traditional Cantonese style with a filling that has bamboo shoots, wood ear mushroom, shrimp and chicken. Served with bok choy in a fragrant, clear sesame oil-tinged chicken broth, the dumpling soup can be ordered with or without egg noodles. $8 per order of dumpling soup; $12 per order of dumpling soup with noodles.
Mai Pham has been a freelance food writer covering the Houston food scene since 2010. In this new column for Houstonia Magazine, “Mai Pham Favorites,” Mai will be showcasing her favorite foods and hidden gems within the Bayou City.