Dumpling Inn (4619 Convoy St., Suite F) can be considered a Kearny Mesa institution. Small, with about 10 tables and a long wait, it serves a variety of dishes with a focus on northern Chinese cuisine. Like any institution, it has its fans and detractors, with those against usually arguing about the quality of the xiao long bao (soup dumplings). I’ll leave that debate to the soup-dumpling aficionados; there are plenty of other things on Dumpling Inn’s menu to talk about.
They have good wok hei, the essence lent to a stir-fry by a blazing hot wok. There’s something about food cooking on hot metal and oil that results in a flavor that’s difficult to describe but completely obvious when compared with food cooked over less heat. Look for Dumpling Inn’s spicy eggplant with garlic and pork. The moisture in the eggplant is sealed by the high temperature; any lower and it would be garlicky mush, but this dish is perfectly cooked and pungently delicious.
Noodles aren’t the restaurant’s strong suit, but the pork and pickled cabbage noodle soup is consistently good. Like its chicken-sans-pickled-cabbage counterpart, this is simple comfort food: noodles, hot soup, strips of pork and a small pile of Chinese pickled cabbage that’s tangy and briny.
If you want dumplings, go for the potstickers. The dumpling skins are a tad thick, but they’re seared to crispy perfection. Mix up a mixture of soy sauce, vinegar and chili oil and this would be an excellent dish to go with an ice-cold beer. There’s no booze list, but you’re welcome to bring your own. I’ve seen everything from 40-ounce beers picked up from the Korean market next door to bottles of wine and wine glasses from home.
For those who enjoy Chinese-American dishes, Dumpling Inn has a delicious rendition of orange chicken. Sauce that’s not too sweet and not too gooey is drizzled over big and crispy chicken pieces. The sauce tastes fresh, like real orange juice was used. Cashew diced chicken is also a good pick, with a tasty sauce that’s sweet and sour without being too much of either.
Like any restaurant, this one has its hits and misses, but the hits are fantastic.