When it comes to northern style Chinese dumplings there are a few places to consider. It’s best to go in a group of 4 give or take because a single order of dumplings can be too much for one person to finish. As good as dumplings can be, you don’t necessarily want to eat 15 of the same type. The first two restaurants make their dumplings fresh to order. They also only take cash (no credit or debit cards) but they have nearby bank machines (as far as I remember).
I used to have a section on pot stickers (guo tie / wo tip) and little dragon buns (xiao long bao / siu long bao) which are my favourites but there aren’t many places that do them well. I only consider Mon Nan (which also serves Peking Duck) and Noodle Factory as good/decent options (in that order). I talk a bit about Gyoza (which are pretty much the Japanese equivalent of Chinese pot stickers) on the Ramen page since they’re often served at those types of restaurants. None of them come close to Mon Nan’s offering in my opinion.
Last updated June 2013: I added three new dumpling places.
The St. Laurent location was a recent addition to Chinatown in late 2011 while the original on Lincoln has been around for years. I’ve previously claimed the original Qing Hua location to have the best Northern Chinese style dumplings in Montreal that are comparable to the best in China. I have been to that location twice but my second visit was somewhat of a letdown (The soup in the dumplings seemed kind of bland and fried dumplings were a bit burnt). So how does this new location stack up?
Each dish has 15 dumplings, steamed or pan-fried. It’s a $1.50 extra for pan-fried like the Lincoln location. There’s no boiled option like at the Lincoln location but that’s no loss since steamed in my opinion beats boiled any day. You can also buy a bunch of pre-made frozen dumplings at the Lincoln location too. At the Chinatown location, the prices of the dumpling dishes ranged from $10-$15 (Last I remember the Lincoln location had some types that were less than $10 but the price range is pretty similar). There is a lot of variety. You have a choice of pork, beef, chicken, lamb and seafood. The seafood I remember included mackerel, scallop and possibly oysters. Most of these meat fillings could be combined with a vegetable such as leek, onion, cabbage, coriander, etc. They also have curry flavour too. I believe they have vegetarian options but I swear some had shrimp listed in them which sure isn’t vegetarian. The Lincoln location does have some genuine vegetarian options. Back to the Chinatown location, their menu also has one soup with dumplings option but you’ll mostly see pages of different dumplings, a few dessert options and a page of appetizers which are way overpriced at around $7 each or more.
At the Lincoln location I’ve tried the classic pork & cabbage, curry beef, lamb & coriander and even some of their vegetarian options (whose names escape me probably because they were unmemorable). At the Chinatown location, I decided to order one dish of 15 with a mix of two different fillings at an extra cost of $0.50. I chose the mackerel and the pork with shrimp dumplings. I also had the soy sauce beef appetizer which was a bit dry not worth the price at all. The mackerel was not bad but I could barely detect a mackerel flavour. I guess that’s what happens when you mash up fish which is a shame because good mackerel has a very distinct flavour. Luckily the pork and shrimp dumpling were much better, in fact, they were excellent. There was a lot of broth inside them and I squirted the juicy liquid out on a couple of occasions. Unlike my last visit to the Lincoln location, the broth here was very flavourful. The pork and shrimp combination was yummy.
I opted for the pan-fried option and the bottoms were lightly browned and slightly crispy. There was little grease. It was not bad but I prefer dark brown bottoms that are extra crispy (practically stiff) which no restaurant I’ve encountered comes close to doing anymore (It was easy enough to find places in China that fried them like this and the only place I remember in Montreal doing this was Mon Nan with their pot stickers but that was a decade or so ago).
Compared to the Lincoln location, this location is larger and neater with a more organized layout. It has a cute logo that’s branded on the dishes and menus so it immediately gives a more professional look than the original hole in the wall location. There is also much more space with many 4-seat and 6-seat tables for an estimated total capacity of 80 people. Taste-wise both locations are comparable. While the Lincoln location gets busy quite quickly, the Chinatown one doesn’t seem to be all that busy but that might change soon.
On my second visit to the Chinatown location I tried some more varieties but opted for steamed and like the first time, the dumplings were all bursting with broth and as tasty as ever. The beef curry dumplings were surprisingly, very good and even the ones with chicken and mushroom were not bad.
Overall it’s a tad pricey by Chinatown standards but you’re definitely paying for freshness that you can see and taste.
Mai Xiang Yuan
1084 Saint Laurent (closest metro: place d’armes or place des arts)
Last visit: December 2011, # of visits: 2
Before Qing Hua opened their Chinatown location, Mai Xiang Hua was already on St. Laurent for at least a full year in 2010. I had first tried it at lunch time in summer 2010 and ate their dumplings with a combined filling of pork, shrimp, egg and leek which was fresh but otherwise a bit too plain tasting. I also had dumplings with pork and cucumber which was actually more distinct in flavour. I was thoroughly unimpressed with the pan-frying as the bottoms were mostly white like they had barely even touched the frying pan for more than a few seconds. Note that this was my first visit over a year ago . Now for my second most recent visit…
The dumplings are about the same size as Qing Hua’s dumplings but they are not as neatly folded and have a more elongated shape like half crescents. The Qing Hua dumplings are more ball-shaped. Mai Xiang Hua’s dumpling dishes also have 15 dumplings each that come steamed or pan-fried. Again pan-fried costs an extra $1.50. They don’t have as many options but there are still plenty. There’s pork, beef, lamb and seafood (no chicken) with veggies such as carrots, mushroom, leek, cabbage, cucumber, etc. They have only four appetizers but unlike Qing Hua they are reasonable priced at $3 or $4 for the jellyfish one. They have more soup with dumpling options (these have 10 dumplings but they’re also cheaper). The only real vegetarian option is the egg and tomato which was something that foreigners would often eat in China which would make Chinese people erroneously conclude that egg and tomatoes were the only food that foreigners ate. Oddly enough Mai Xiang Hua also lists dumplings with dried shrimp under the Vegetarian section. There doesn’t appear to be an option to mix two dumplings with different fillings in one dish (but I didn’t ask). They have hand pulled noodles listed in their menu but they are no longer offered.
Their dumplings also have soup broth inside but less of it than the Qing Hua ones. I had the pork, shrimp and mushroom dumplings and opted for pan-fried. This time I was quite impressed, the shrimp in particular was very flavourful and the mushroom nicely complimented it. The broth was also tastier than my previous visit. They were also fried much better, still too light for my liking but darker than Qing Hua. There was also more grease and oil but it wasn’t excessive.
What could explain the difference between visits? Well the first time I went it was men making the dumplings but this time it was all women wearing hot pink shirts no less. Coincidence? In any case, I was very impressed (by the dumplings). Considering that the most expensive dumplings here are the same price as the least expensive dumplings at Qing Hua, it makes a visit to Mai Xiang Hua a much better deal.
A slight downside is that this is a very small and cramped restaurant with little room which means you need to be extra careful in not knocking over something (since it will likely spill onto someone else with any luck). The small tables can barely accommodate two people and some tables are paired for four people. I estimate a total capacity of 40 people. On a Friday evening it was packed and there was a small lineup when I finished my meal.
Now food-wise, the dumplings I tried might not have been quite as good compared to Qing Hua but for the lower price, they were more than close enough.
1050 Clark (closest metro: Place d’Armes)
Last visit: June 2013, # of visits: 1
This is a promising new place that seems to have opened in May 2013. I only tried the pork and shrimp dumplings and they were quite good with a good amount of soup broth in them. The filling was tasty and quite fresh. It’s been a long time since I’ve gone to the places mentioned above so it’s hard for me to compare but I’d say these were as good as Mai Xiang Yuan but probably not quite as good as Qing Hua. Although prices are comparable to Mai Xiang Yuan, their dishes offer 12 dumplings which is three less than Mai Xiang Yuan. The pork and shrimp cost $10.99 and were boiled. Surprisingly they offer lots of other non-dumpling dishes and appetizers which is one possible advantage they would have over the other places which really only offer dumplings and only a few appetizers. I had a pretty decent cumin lamb skewer.
Fortune Dumpling & Bubble Tea
1629 St. Catherine O (closest metro: Guy Concordia)
Last visit: Spring 2013, # of visits: 1
I only tried one type of dumpling, the classic pork and cabbage which was not bad but not better than the places mentioned above. These dumplings were boiled and the filling tasted fresh. There was no soup broth in the dumplings but these aren’t those type of dumpling anyway. I was more impressed with their non-dumpling snack called Jian Bing Guo Zi which while overpriced, tasted very authentic. It’s a thin egg crepe with green onions that’s wrapped around either crunchy spring roll like sheets or fried cruellers known as you tiao. It also has a tasty sauce mixture that is peppery that is basted onto the crepe before it’s wrapped. You can have it non-spicy but that’s for sissies.
1425 Mackay (closest metro: Guy Concordia)
Last visit: June 2013, # of visits: 1
This is a recently opened placed (possibly May 2013). Its menu offers a lot of interesting little dishes with lots of variety. That includes many dumplings and also tang baos (little buns with soup broth in them, xiao long bao is similar to this). I tried their classic tang bao which indeed had lots of soup broth in them. They were nicely steamed but unfortunately the filling and broth were a bit bland. Maybe the other types of little buns and dumplings are better and I’m willing to give them another chance or two. I also tried a Rou Jia Mo which was ok but I had a better version of this at ZhengQingQiao (a tiny place inside the same mall complex as Kam Fung and Ande & Dobe) for nearly half the price. Their Jian Bing Guo Zi was not bad. Overall, I think this place has potential but my first visit was still disappointing since I really wanted to like this place.
La Maison du Nord (北方人家 bei fang ren jia)
2130 St-Mathieu (closest metro: guy concordia)
Last visit: 2012, # of visits: 4
I have liked their dumplings in the past but in my last visit there, I had half orders of lamb and shrimp+egg and unfortunately the dumplings were overly salty. The dumplings here are not made fresh to order but I’m pretty sure they pre-make their own dumplings. They don’t taste like generic supermarket frozen ones. They’re way cheaper than Qing Hua and a bit cheaper than Mai Xiang Yuan. Here, a half order is 12 dumplings which is more than I expected (It’s been a long time since I last came here for dumplings). Full orders at the other two places are 15. I would assume a full order here is a massive 24 dumplings.
It costs extra to have them steamed or fried and it’s the same price for either. The no cost option is boiled. For a half order it’s a $1 extra for fried/steamed and $2 extra for a full order.
Although dumplings do comprise a significant part of their menu, that’s not their main speciality and they offer a lot of other Northern style Chinese dishes. In a past visit I’ve had their hand-pulled noodles which were quite good, perhaps the best I’ve had in Montreal. I had them in a soup with red braised beef (hong shao niu rou) but unfortunately the beef was a bit tough and bland. The Rou Jia Mo (a pork sandwich) which was highly touted by online foodies turned out to be quite tasteless with stiff bread and flavourless, dry meat. I tried it twice too and it was terrible both times.