If you’re done with the relentless lines at Din Tai Fung but still need a dumpling fix, there’s a new spot in the Chinatown International District. At Jiaozi!, the potsticker-style dumplings come a dozen per order. The dumplings themselves weren’t my favorite—they’re a bit doughy, and the innards break too easily away from the wrappers; and though they come steamed or pan-fried, the latter don’t have that really nice golden crisp. But the fillings really stand out.
Lamb and carrot, scallop and chive, pork and fennel, and pork and corn are some of the more unusual ones, though you’ll also find the more traditional couplings of shrimp and pork or pork and chives, as well as the classic vegetable dumpling. I loved how the thin threads of fennel were visible and present on the palate. Likewise, lamb has a gentle cumin touch, and small pieces of scallops add a juicy burst of seafood. All come sprinkled with sesame seeds, and you can also order any of them with a fried egg (for an extra $1), though I didn’t quite get the appeal of that.
Besides dumplings, Jiaozi! offers over a dozen appetizers, ranging from the more adventurous (spiced beef tendon or black-pepper fungus) to the more familiar (popcorn chicken or sweet-and-sour cucumber salad). Since we ordered 48 dumplings (!), we kept appetizers to a minimum. The salt-and-pepper fried squid rings with a five-spice-forward flavor are crispy and delicious, as is the popcorn chicken, small but meaty wings.
The “spicy brined cold appetizer” section—which includes items like pork feet, pig ear, and chicken gizzard—was crossed out. Just on that day, or forever? The young boy who brought our food wasn’t sure.
There are also soups, stews, and noodles—and the handmade noodles seared with chili oil and chili flakes are better than the dumplings. The slippery, flat noodles are just the right thickness, doused with just the right amount of heat, and scattered with braised celery and scallions. The braised beef-brisket stew with potato is a winner as well. Tender cubes of brisket share space in the dark, rich, five-spice-flavored broth with chunks of fried potatoes that remind one, in flavor, of French fries. Green pepper and cilantro add freshness and a hint of green to the otherwise hearty brown dish.
Jiaozi!’s interior, while not completely unattractive, feels a bit unfinished. There’s an unfortunate muddy yellow color on the walls, but blonde wood on tables and on one wall—which shimmies up to a raised seating area with wooden slats above—helps lighten and brighten the space. Exposed rafters and a few random red Chinese decorations are about the extent of the decor, along with odd, large lettering on one wall that reads in all caps: FRESH FRUIT GUARANTEED. I thought perhaps this refers to something on the dessert menu, but that only consists of coconut jelly, Taiwanese grass jelly, red bean soup, and toast with honey. Likewise, drinks are just sodas and tea. The fruit mystery continues.
On a Sunday afternoon—prime dim sum hour—I loved that this tucked-away spot, on the corner of Eighth Avenue South and South Jackson Street, was practically empty. Meanwhile, the long lines at the nearby (and overrated) Jade Garden cascaded out the door. To be clear, this is not traditional dim sum, so don’t come expecting carts wheeled to your table. But if you want to fill up on dumplings, noodles, and other Chinese and Taiwanese treats, Jiaozi! is a lot less hassle, and different enough, to feel a little special.