“There is always stomach for dumplings.” These words of wisdom line a sandwich board, but not in an expected place like the San Gabriel Valley. Instead, the juicy pleated dough packets in question reside at eLoong Dumplings, a surprising Chinese food destination that’s sandwiched between an after school tutoring center and kickboxing studio in a Westlake Village strip mall. Here, chef-owner Mia Liu is redefining what “local, home-style cuisine” means for the Conejo Valley.
Anybody who’s ever eaten at Din Tai Fung will recognize the menu’s checklist format, which transitions from soups to noodles, sautéed greens and steamed dumplings.
Pork soup dumplings ($10.95), also known as xiao long bao, arrive in a paper-lined bamboo steamer. The ten-pack touts thin skins and bunchy tops that prevent breakage. The juicy ground pork butt filling incorporates ginger and scallions and benefits from a savory, concentrated broth crafted from chicken and pork bones. As always, be careful of hot soupy bursts when biting.
Pork & shrimp, chicken, chicken & shrimp, and vegetables also factor into eLoong’s steamed dumplings .Pork buns (3 for $8.45) feature fluffy steamed bao and a central patty of the same pork butt, ginger, and scallion concoction that works so well in xiao long bao. Customers who favor a sticky sweet minced char siu filling should head elsewhere.
Shrimp & pork wontons with spicy sauce ($10.95) teams a classic surf & turf combo inside thin skins and presents them in a shallow pool of crunchy clipped scallions, soy sauce, tangy vinegar, and gritty, judiciously spicy chili oil.
Liu and her team don’t make noodles in-house, but eLoong Dumplings still produces a satisfying bowl of noodles with sesame sauce ($9.75). Firm, slurpable noodles are slathered with nutty sesame sauce and accented with crushed peanuts, crunchy shaved cucumbers, and more of the aforementioned chile oil. Toss them to integrate the different flavors and textures.
Balancing such heavy carb intake calls for vegetables. Six types of sautéed greens are available. Sautéed string beans ($10.95) with more than a little minced garlic are preferable.
Liu’s food is well seasoned and flavorful, but she still provides a container of fragrant house-made chile oil that benefits from warming, wok-seared spices like cinnamon and star anise.
eLoong Dumplings offers two desserts — ice cream-filled mocha and red bean dumplings — and the choice is clear. Six red bean dumplings ($5.75) don’t fill out a bamboo steamer very well, but the tiny packets of earthy red bean paste sport the same thin skins. Eat these (and all) dumplings quickly, since their coats solidify by letting them sit.
Liu grew up in Shandong, a coastal province between Beijing and Shanghai. 20 years ago, she was living in L.A. and exporting cars to China. She got married and settled in Westlake Village, where she became a stay-at-home mom and developed a passion for cooking. Liu and her husband recently split, so she needed to start a new career. She settled on the cuisine of her youth, opening eLoong Dumplings to end 2017.
Liu always loved dumplings growing up, saying, “It’s amazing that food can be so different when you put stuffing inside. It change the whole flavor with skin wrapped up.”
Liu also associates dumplings with family fun time, saying, “Making dumplings are our way to celebrate when family are reunited. Everybody can be involved and help while we chat. We celebrate for all the holidays, especially for Chinese New Year.” Liu’s grandmother taught her to make dumplings as a little girl; she’s refined the recipe over the years, resulting in versions with far thinner skins.
The name eLoong carries three different meanings in Mandarin. Liu translates: “The first meaning is delicacy, The second is means number one dragon. The third one is measurement of one basket of dumplings.” Liu’s put nearly as much thought into the name as her dumplings.
The space features bamboo accents, cushioned grey banquettes, a small counter facing the parking lot, and glass-fronted kitchen where all the rolling, pleating, and steaming takes place. A detailed blackboard drawing depicts a pair of chopsticks plucking dumplings from a bamboo steamer.
Liu’s restaurant would be the envy of most LA neighborhoods, but really stands out in Westlake Village, an area that’s never been strong on Chinese cuisine. The relatively young city barely has 8,000 residents, and nearly 90% identified as white in the 2010 census. Given the demographics, international cuisine has mainly meant Italian food.
The neighborhood’s main draw is Lindero Country Club, which houses a golf course, pool, and tennis courts. If members have any sense, they’ll skip clubhouse food in favor of Liu’s dumplings.
30843 Thousand Oaks Blvd., Westlake Village, 818.532.7668, www.eloongdumplings.com