Hungry for dumplings? I’m referring to the predominantly Asian-inspired variety, not the starch-based Western kind, like those found in chicken and dumpling stew. No, these Eastern-style sort-of-meatballs are gift wrapped in a thin dough, which are then pan seared, deep fried or steamed with a simplicity that makes them delicious and versatile. Here are several local takeout options at which to find excellent dumplings.
Bridges Nepali Cuisine
Bridges Nepali Cuisine in Northside has been advertising a new menu item called momos. These Nepalese dumplings are filled with chicken or a vegan option, which you can then have steamed or fried. A single order comes with 10 momos for $10. I opted for fried chicken momos, which are golden brown and look like big, deep-fried pearl onions. The crispy exterior gives way to a pillowy mixture of buttery ground chicken, onion, peppers, ginger, garlic and a classic Nepali spice blend of cumin, white pepper, cinnamon, nutmeg and cardamom.
Nepali food, to oversimplify, is an amalgamation of Chinese and Indian recipes; that’s not surprising given Nepal’s geographic location between the two large nations. Momos are extravagantly flavorful, smoky and savory and the included dipping sauce is tomato based with a bright and spicy profile to help accentuate the already flavor-packed dumplings.
The order is quite large, so don’t treat momos like a side dish unless you’re sharing or are prepared for leftovers. If you visit Bridges specifically to try their momos, get a side of aloo wala, a spicy chilled potato dish marinated with cumin, olive oil, turmeric and fenugreek seeds. The heat level on any dish can be controlled according to your preference. 4165 Hamilton Ave., Northside, bridgesnorthside.com.
Shanghai Mama’s has been a fixture in the Central Business District for nearly two decades, serving up classic Chinese fare in a 1920s-inspired brown brick dining room. Their menu includes all the takeout essentials for a Chinese restaurant in the Midwest, including a versatile offering of dumplings.
First on the table was pan-seared vegetable gyoza. The filling consists of mixed vegetables including water chestnut, carrot, greens, corn and glass noodle. Served with a ginger-soy dipping sauce, they’re extremely satisfying on the palate, with a nice crunch from the filling. Next came potstickers. The steamed flour wrap was generously filled with ground pork and cabbage. It was a meaty bite and very juicy alongside its sweet and salty dipping sauce. Flavorful and basic.
The third dumpling I tried was the Shanghai traditional, which is another steamed option that contains minced pork and cabbage, but also an explosive amount of broth inside the dumpling that necessitates you slurp the contents as soon as you’ve bitten through so as not to lose all the flavorful liquid — like xiaolongbao, or soup dumplings. If you try only one dumpling when you visit, go for the traditional. 216 E. Sixth St., Downtown, shanghaimamas.com.
Ninja Grill Japanese & Hibachi Express
The branding for Ninja Grill Japanese & Hibachi Express did not inspire much interest in me when they opened for business near the University of Cincinnati. Perhaps I was initially dissuaded by the gimmicky charm of a Japanese restaurant that felt the need to incorporate ninjas to catch the attention of its American clientele, like I was being culturally pandered to on a scale I wasn’t comfortable with as an adult.
Fortunately, I shed the chip on my shoulder and was pleasantly surprised by the restaurant’s excellent dumplings — just called “dumpling” on the menu. Filled with ground chicken, Ninja Grill’s dumplings are very tender, savory and addictive. The dumplings are good two-biters, so you can really soak the filling with the soy-based dipping sauce on the second half. Get a side of miso soup and zucchini tempura with your dumplings and you’ve got an extremely satisfying lunch for less than $11. 229 W. McMillan St., Clifton, ninjagrillusa.com.
Other dumpling destinations:
• Uncle Yip’s serves authentic southern Chinese cuisine with full dim sum service during weekend brunch. Dim sum consists of small portions of food delivered in steamer baskets, and dumpling dishes like shrimp dumplings, barbecue pork buns and chicken sui mai are popular (and only $3.95 each). 10736 Reading Road, Evendale, uncleyips.com.
• Fortune Noodle House is known for their handmade and hand-pulled noodles, but they also offer assorted appetizers including pork and Chinese cabbage potstickers and dumplings. 349 Calhoun St., Clifton, fortunenoodles.com.
• The Loving Hut vegan café makes their own popular grilled dumplings, stuffed with tofu and green onions and served with a special house sauce. 6227 Montgomery Road, Pleasant Ridge, lovinghut.us/cincinnati.
• Riverside Korean Restaurant does Korean-style dumplings, offering an order of goon man du for an appetizer. Seven pieces are pan fried and filled with vegetables and tofu. 512 Madison Ave., Covington, riversidekoreanrestaurant.com.
• AmerAsia has a sort of cult following for their Dragon’s Breath wontons — ground pork meatballs wrapped in a wonton, boiled/simmered (not fried) and topped with hot red chili paste and fresh cilantro. 521 Madison Ave., Covington, facebook.com/kungfoodchu.