A quick follow-up on my last update, about Fuchun Xiaolongbao. While I like the xiaolongbao there very much, it's ranked a mere #9 on diangping.com's list of xiaolongbao restaurants! So obviously I decided to opt for the Cadillac. Or in this case, the second-best on the menu, the Oldsmobile as it were. The #1 rated Xiaolongbao is a little out-of-the-way for me.
It's the well-known Jia Jia Tang Bao. I've actually been a few times, but it had been a while. It's a pretty convenient place to get to - on 90 Huanghe Lu, just a couple minute's walk North of the very central People's Park (#8 Subway exit). It's practically next door to the excellent Fusion-ish handmade noodles at Lao Kele restaurant.
Which is part of what kept me away - if I happen to be in the area, it's easy to just opt for Lao Kele. And if I just want a snack, Jia Jia Tang Bao either is very busy or has a line - there's no shortage of snack foods in the area, and it's easy just to opt for somewhere else. That's especially true now that there's a branch of Xiao Yang's Shengjian opened up directly across the street - it's basically a fried version of xiaolongbao, and very nearly as good.
So, you have to be prepared to wait in a line if it's a weekend. The line doesn't move very fast, which is understandable as there isn't a separate line for take-out, and the restaurant itself is quite small, it seats maybe thirty people total, and it's quite likely people will be splitting tables:
There's also a bit of a wait for the xiaolongbao to arrive, there's several varieties and they're made to order. The xiaolongbao are made by a group of young women, it all happens behind a big glass window, you can look in and see them fill the dough with the stuffing.
So I'll toss the gauntlet down: Jia Jia Tang Bao's xiaolongbao are not as good as Fu Chun's xiaolongbao. The wrapper doesn't taste as good, the soup isn't interesting, and the meat filling isn't ground enough to give it a proper consistency. It's not terrible but it's not particularly memorable. However, I also tried several other varieties: the shrimp-meat version was truly excellent, despite my general aversion to shrimp. And the chicken xiaolongbao was every bit as good, although it did have a very pronounced chicken flavor. I also enjoy their soups.
So while it's too bad the restaurant can't quite get the signature dish correct, I definitely recommend the restaurant on the strength of these versions, and it's probably worth trying different orders - when business is slower, they can split the orders into halves.
There's no English signs and probably no English spoken - a basic order for xiaolongbao will work though. It's 7.5 kuai (about $1) for a steamer of 10, and a single person would probably make a meal out of one steamer, or perhaps two. Shrimp is "renxia" and chicken is "jiding" - for those living the high life, there was one variation selling at 81 kuai for a single steamer.
Update 12/29/08 - Aside from the line to order, there can also be a fifteen or twenty minute wait once you're already seated. I'm a little more negative on this place than when I first wrote the update, if only because it can take such a long time to eat what boils down to a snack food, and these really aren't the best xialongbao in town.
After 2 or 3pm, the lines disappear, but only the more expensive crab varieties are available - 19.5 or 81 kuai for one steamer's worth. I've had the 19.5 kuai version a few times, it's actually very good.