For five long years, Old Town Chinatown, once the heart of Portland’s Asian-American restaurants and culture, has gone without a single operational dim sum restaurant.

House of Louie, the 30-year-old Chinese restaurant and last remaining holdout in the neighborhood, closed in January 2018, citing the end of their lease and the homeless population in the area. While the new Din Tai Fung in Pioneer Square Mall, Dough Zone, and Duck House all represent the West Side, Xin Ding Dumpling House alone is holding down Old Town.

Xin Ding Dumpling House opened to TikTok and Instagram fanfare in May, and has slowly settled into a solid place to grab glutenous delights, including xiao long bao and housemade noodles. 

Chef/owner Leon Liu and his partner, Mindy Chong, moved to Portland from Los Angeles a few years ago, after visiting and falling in love with the city’s vibes and art scene. Chong explained: "It was cool to see a slogan for a city like ‘Keep Portland Weird.' I can see a lot is growing. We were like this must be an interesting city.”

Customers can see staff prepare dumplings through a little window by the bar. SUZETTE SMITH
Xin Ding's xiao long bao arrives soupy and hot. SUZETTE SMITH

Liu, 32, had worked in dim sum restaurants and wanted to open his own space, so they settled on one at the corner of Southwest 2nd, formerly home to gastropub the Thirsty Lion. There’s still a sports pub feel around the bar, where TVs hang overhead, but in the kitchen, Xin Ding's staff is rolling out handmade pork and shrimp xiao long bao as good as any in Portland, or stir frying spicy eggplant with green beans juicy enough to make a Gusher candy jealous. 

Chong, 29, met Liu in college, and the two have been dating ever since. Liu hails from Yangshen in Northwest China where dumplings are a big part of the cuisine. “For festivals, or whatever, they do dumplings,” she said. “Because the dumplings look like money pouches, and it’s like good fortune.”

As the name promises, the dumplings are the star. Leek and pork potstickers arrive stuck to each other thanks to a crispy, frilly cornstarch skirt that provides a crunchy contrast to the succulent insides. Their xiao long bao is soupy and hot, with a thin wrapper just waiting to release all that savory goodness within. Other dumplings include slightly more obscure elements, like pot stickers with pork, shrimp, egg, and black fungus. 

A crispy, frilly cornstarch skirt on the potstickers provides a crunchy contrast to its succulent insides. SUZETTE SMITH

Vegetarians and omnivores alike have items to celebrate, including the sleeper hit of the whole menu: the spicy tofu buns. Fluffy bao dough is wrapped around minced tofu mixed with enough spice and goodness to make its plate the fastest eaten in our group. The green onion pancake is thick, flaky and generous.

Elsewhere on the menu, there are ample offerings of usual American-Chinese fare to draw in the less adventurous (or those who just want a decent General Tso’s Chicken). Stir fries are plentiful for those in the market for a quick lunch. Liu hand pulls the noodles for chow mein, their chewy bounce making it an easy choice to order. Cumin lamb, another Sichuan speciality, is served heaping on a plate at Xin Ding, and slaps your palette with more cumin than a packet of taco mix. It’s great.

Chong recommends any of the hot pot dishes, or the mapo tofu, all of which use the Sichuan málà peppers that heat and numb the mouth. “People will be like, ‘Why is my tongue tickling, that’s strange,’ but they like it,” Chong says, laughing.

There’s still a sports pub feel around the bar, where TVs hang overhead. SUZETTE SMITH
Xin Ding Dumpling House is one of the few restaurants in Old Town ready to serve large parties. SUZETTE SMITH

Xin Ding has joined the recent openings of Meet Fresh, a Tawianese dessert chain specializing in taro balls, tofu pudding and purple rice, and Japanese “nerd goods” store Stumptown Otaku. Chong says that has brought foot traffic to the street, though weekdays are still rough as residents continue to work from home. “I do have a feeling if we chose another location we would have more people than right now,” she says. “Weekends are busier. Weekdays it’s not so many people so far… but we have been pretty good for a new start up business.”

Chong added that she and Liu are also happy to bring back Asian cuisine to Old Town/Chinatown. “What makes me feel really happy is some of the customers tell me, thanks for being a part of Old Town,” she says. “I think that more people are coming back, and the whole community will be good.”

Xin Ding Dumpling House, 71 SW 2nd, (503) 345-7777, Wed-Sun 11am-2:30 pm; 4:30-9 pm, Mon 11 am-2:30 pm; 4:30-9 pm