What Is a Dumpling? Here Are 6 Interpretations in San Francisco to Try

The gyoza at Bon, Nene are made with a "dumpling skirt." (Olivia Won/KQED)

A few weeks ago, we set out to make a crowd-sourced guide to the Best Dumpling Spots in the Bay Area. We provided a definition of a dumpling and let the comments on our social media outlets speak for themselves. The dumpling fanatics of the region did not disappoint: an incredible (and growing) list was born to share gems across the Bay Area.

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As far as filling-stuffed-in-dough creations go, there are many culinary traditions of dumplings that have found a home in San Francisco that didn’t end up on the original guide. To celebrate these, we’ve compiled a short guide to San Francisco eateries that serve culturally diverse takes on fresh, prepared in-house, and epically delicious dumplings.

Some you may recognize. Others might be completely new to you. A few may be controversial (strong opinions on the Internet have spent a lot of time and energy trying to ascribe a direct meaning to “dumpling” as a category.)

At the end of the day, is it really worth having a food fight over which cultures claim proprietary rights over dumplings? Perhaps it’s more interesting to consider how social forces impact the ways we value, think about, and even eat different types of dumplings.

For now, take a day to travel to our 6 spots and savor a diverse array of dumplings that makes San Francisco’s culinary world go round.

Bini’s Kitchen

1001 Howard St.
San Francisco
(415) 590-3087

Bini's momos are available with chicken, turkey, and vegetable fillings.
Bini's momos are available with chicken, turkey, and vegetable fillings. (Olivia Won/KQED)

Visit Bini’s Kitchen for a fantastic momo, a steamed Nepali dumpling. Founder Binita Pradhan, a La Cocina graduate, brings flavors from her native Kathmandu to her expertly spiced dumplings which are available with chicken, turkey, and vegetable fillings. Each order of momos is smothered in a creamy tomato-cilantro sauce that you could probably eat on its own as a soup — it’s just that good.

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Grab them to go from Bini's kiosk at McKesson Plaza or head to her brick-and-mortar restaurant on Howard St. if you want to sit down and enjoy your momos.

Pushkin

380 Bush St
San Francisco
(415) 901-3434

Pushkin offers boiled Russian and Ukrainian dumplings called pelmeni.
Pushkin offers boiled Russian and Ukrainian dumplings called pelmeni. (Olivia Won/KQED)

You could easily walk by the entrance to the International Food Court that houses Pushkin and never realize the good eats you’re missing out on. Pushkin offers boiled Russian and Ukrainian dumplings called pelmeni. Flavors like smoked gouda with beef and lamb with mint fill the neatly folded pelmenis, which are served in a hearty chicken broth.

For vegetarians, there’s a pan-fried potato-filled pelmeni coated in sweet, caramelized onions.

Yuanbao Jiaozi

2110 Irving St
San Francisco
(415) 702-6506

The boiled Northern Chinese dumplings at Yuanbao Jiaozi are made in front of your eyes.
The boiled Northern Chinese dumplings at Yuanbao Jiaozi are made in front of your eyes. (Olivia Won/KQED)

For boiled Northern Chinese dumplings that will bring tears of epicurean joy to your eyes, Yuanbao Jiaozi on Irving Street is the place to be. Behind a glass window in the back of the restaurant, you can see the chefs rolling out wrappers and expertly sealing perfect dumplings in record time.

The freshness really does make a world of difference: the dumplings, with shitake mushrooms and fish or rich pork and three delicacies fillings, are incredibly tender whether served plain or in a hearty soup.

Italian Homemade Company

716 Columbus Ave
San Francisco
(415) 712-8874

Italian Homemade Company's pasta is made in house and boiled to order.
Italian Homemade Company's pasta is made in house and boiled to order. (Olivia Won/KQED)

Get your fix of Italian dumplings at the growing Bay Area chain’s original North Beach location. Stuffed pastas, including tortellini and ravioli, are made in house and boiled to order. The tortellini — whose shape is modeled after Venus’ belly button — is filled with prosciutto, mortadella, pork, and parmigiano. The ravioli comes with a delicate ricotta paired with either spinach or beef. A choose your sauce adventure then begins with options of butter and sage, pesto, bolognese, or pasticiatta.

Bon, Nene

2850 21st St
San Francisco
(415) 872-9332

Bon, Nene's original potstickers are filled with pork, sprouts, cabbage, ginger and garlic.
Bon, Nene's original potstickers are filled with pork, sprouts, cabbage, ginger and garlic. (Olivia Won/KQED)

At Bon, Nene in the Mission, thoughtfully executed Japanese potstickers, or gyoza, shine in an airy bistro ambiance. The original nene potstickers, filled with pork, sprouts, cabbage, ginger and garlic, are served beneath a crispy batter-skirt and accompanied with a bright ponzu dipping sauce. The combination of the light, earthy filing with the sharp citrus sauce makes for an exquisite bite.

Pera

1457 18th St
San Francisco
(415) 796-3812

Pera's delicate beef manti, covered in garlic yogurt sauce and smoked paprika butter.
Pera's delicate beef manti, covered in garlic yogurt sauce and smoked paprika butter. (Olivia Won/KQED)

For the tiniest dumplings you’ve ever seen, head to Pera in Potrero Hill. Pera serves traditional Anatolian manti, filled with herbed beef and covered in garlic yogurt sauce and smoked paprika butter. The cool tanginess of the yogurt and the warming Turkish paprika combine for a delicate, light dumpling experience.

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