Flatiron Lunch: Di Di Dumpling is Your Chinatown Surrogate
Every Friday we go south of the ML boundaries in search of a delicious lunch. Sometimes it’s Murray Hill south or the Flatiron District, sometimes Gramercy and everything in between- but we just like to call it Flatiron Lunch.
Since it seems like every other Profiled ML’er says they wish they worked in Chinatown for the lunch, this post is for those people. On the other hand, Di Di Dumpling is not as good as some in Chinatown… a sad reminder that we work in Midtown and not Chinatown. Then again, Di Di is on a corner with a cluster of Asian restaurants (KalBQ and Coco Fresh) so maybe we can just pretend.
Inside there is barely room to order and wait for your food, much less eat your lunch. (Note: this photo was taken at a non-peak time, but when I was in there between 1-2pm, it was very crowded.) There are two narrow countertops if you are very committed to not eating at your desk, but I ended up with a bar stool that started to sink as I sat in it (way to make a girl feel good as she is eating greasy food!) Needless to say, in the end I just stood at the counter.
The ordering system is fairly straightforward. Order potstickers or boiled dumplings, lo mein or soup. Even better, they offer Combo Meals (from $5.95 – $10.95) that include different numbers of dumplings and side orders. It is important to note that the menu has at least one major item that they didn’t have – tempura vegetables. In fact, when I was there, they said not only did they not have the veggies that day, but that they have never had them. Interesting considering there is a mouthwatering photo of the veggies on the menu. They also didn’t have any bottles of water (which seems like something you could fix easily with a trip to the nearest grocery store.) Also of note, this is a cash-only establishment.
Don’t be distracted by the huge photo menu as you walk in the door tempting you with Ramen and Noodles. I did, and you don’t have to make the same mistake I did. They have the word “Dumpling” in their name for a reason, it is the best thing they offer.
The Hong Kong Style Wonton Noodles Soup ($5.95) arrived looking very promising with sliced red pepper rings, bok choy, noodles (same as lo mein), chopped cilantro, a few sheets of seaweed paper, shredded iceberg lettuce (not sure what purpose this serves, unlike the bok choy which stayed nice and crispy, the iceberg wilted within a few minutes), sprouts, sesame seeds, and wontons. The wontons were good, but not amazing, and the bland broth made the whole dish kind of unexciting.
I also ordered Comba B ($7.95) with soup, lo mein noodles and the beef kimchi potstickers. The dumplings had an amazing sear on them thanks to the griddle they were cooked- which looks like a massive sandwich press that sears from below and cooks from above. These dumplings did not explode with hot grease like some of the $1 dumplings I have had in Chinatown, which might be a good thing for some people, but not me. I personally missed the flavor bomb. It was an easy enough problem to fix with a little sauce (see below.) In terms of taste, we found the beef, but where is the kimchi? The beef flavor was very gamey, more like buffalo or yak. The menu indicated these dumplings would be spicy, but I didn’t notice any heat. Also, an easy problem to fix (see below.) My friend ordered the “Pork Special” dumplings (not totally sure why they are called that other than to be consistent with the two word dumpling names…Pork Special, Beef Kimchi, Veggie Natural, and Chicken Experience. Chicken Experience?!?!? Are they serious? It sounds like the vomitorium ride at Food Poisoning Park. Really, the names are just terrible.
The grease lacking in the dumpling was more than made up for in the lo mein. It didn’t have any shitake mushrooms like in the photos on the menu, and it didn’t have a ton a flavor either. I recommend you view it as side-show oily filler to the dumplings.
They do provide options for adding flavor, in the form of sauces. In fact, the space is made more cramped by the fact that all the to-go orders are filling up mini sauce containers. Do the same, or you will regret it. The dumpling sauce is a traditional salty, sesame oil sauce. The potsticker sauce is a bit thicker and a little sweet with no flavor of sesame oil. My friend that I went with liked the potsticker sauce more, and I preferred the dumpling sauce, so take both until you figure out which one you prefer. These sauces combined with the chili sauce make everything at Di Di taste better, so be sure to take advantage. They also offer something that looks like plain white vinegar. I am not totally sure what purpose this serves that the other sauces don’t, but if you know it’s for you, have at it!
The soup I got with my combo was the corn chowder. It wasnt much better than Hale and Hearty’s corn chowder. My friend got the hot and sour soup with her combo. It was spicy with a nice beef broth flavor, which we later decided was probably from the mushrooms, since the soup seems vegetarian. In the soup, we also found large hunks of tofu and carrots with a key ingredient – black pepper. The first couple bites of this soup were out of the world, but we quickly discovered that this soup is best one spoonful at a time eaten throughout your meal.
If you are not too hungry, we were thinking that you could probably be satisfied with Combo A ($5.95), with 5 dumplings and soup. You can probably skip the lo mein, unless you are feeling very hungry or if you are hungover and you need the extra grease. Considering this post goes live on Friday and a decent number of us might still be recovering from Thursday night – Di Di Dumplings might be the right lunch choice. Unless of course you work in Chinatown. Lucky you!
The + (What somebody who likes this place would say)
- This place does a great sear on potstickers.
- They don’t skimp or restrict the amount of sauce that I take, so I can really go to town.
- I love a filling, greasy lunch at a great price!
The – (What somebody who doesn’t like this place would say)
- I would rather wait until I can go to Chinatown (or Queens) for the best dumplings.
- The lo mein is too greasy with not enough flavor.
- They need to reprint their menu to accurately reflect what they really serve (and change the stupid names while they are at it.)
Di Di Dumpling, 38 Lexington Avenue at 24th St. (entrance on 24th), (718) 709-8132