Chefs prepare truffle and pork xiao long bao during a media preview at the Din Tai Fung at South Coast Plaza on Aug. 15. (SCOTT SMELTZER, Daily Pilot / August 15, 2014)

Visitors to a new Chinese restaurant at South Coast Plaza already know their fortune when they walk through the door.

It's going to be a two-hour wait.

That's because Din Tai Fung, the acclaimed Taiwanese restaurant that opened Monday, is famous for its Shanghai-style soup dumplings. So famous, in fact, among food connoisseurs, restaurant critics and national and international stars that Tom Cruise once donned an apron to help one of the top dim sum chefs make the small pastry during a visit to Taiwan.

But visitors have no need to worry about the long wait.

Staff will notify guests when a table is ready by a text message, allowing visitors to browse and shop luxury retailers while waiting to eat at a restaurant steeped in rich family history and legacy.


In the summer of 1948, Bingyi Yang, then 21, left behind the Civil War in China. He boarded a ferry to live with his uncle in Taiwan, where he found his first job as a deliveryman at Heng Tai Fung, a cooking oil retailer.

Seven years later, Yang married a co-worker, Penmai Lai. The couple found themselves unemployed four years later when the owner's other investments failed. Yang and his wife decided to start their own oil business, naming it Din Tai Fung to show their appreciation for Heng Tai Fung's kind owner and wife.

But when tinned salad oil went on sale in 1980, consumers began purchasing the oil from the new and large supermarkets, leaving the mom-and-pop business to plummet. The Yangs thought their business days were over until Mr. Tang, the owner of the neighboring Fuhsing Garden restaurant, suggested the couple turn half of their shop over to making and selling steamed dumplings.

Crowds of customers who had heard through word-of-mouth about the quality of the dumplings lined the streets.

That was when Din Tai Fung stopped selling oil and became a restaurant.

An international brand was born. The restaurant's flagship is in the Taipei 101, a landmark skyscraper known as the world's tallest building until the 2010 opening of the Burj Khalifa in Dubai. The space seats 350 customers. But here in the United States, with two locations in Washington state and now four in California, the restaurant's busiest location is in Arcadia, usually serving over more than 10,000 dumplings a week.


As he stood in the restaurant's 8,000-square-foot space at South Coast Plaza, Frank Yang, a son of one of Bingyi and Penmai's five children, proudly introduced private-event guests to one of the restaurant's largest locations in the world.

Frank and his wife, Joanne, operate the dumpling house with their two sons, Aaron, 22, and Albert, 21, both graduates of Cornell University's well-regarded hotel administration program.

The brothers started in the family's business early in life.

At 8, they ran credit cards. At 13, they started making dumplings. Now the sons are following in their father and grandfather's footsteps as they greet customers, help in the kitchen and monitor service.

"We've learned with each restaurant how to prepare best," they said. "We're always maintaining that authenticity."

That authenticity has been highly praised by the media.

In his 2014 list of "101 Best Restaurants," Los Angeles Times restaurant critic Jonathan Gold, a Pulitzer Prize winner, described the steamed pork dumplings, known as xiao long baos, as "small miracles; plump, round spheres soft yet firm to the touch, delicately 'fragranced.'"