Northern Dumpling House | ★★ | Chinese | $ | Kirkland |12085 124th Ave. N.E., Kirkland; 206-902-8861; northern-dumpling-house.business.site; Tuesday-Sunday 11 a.m.-3 p.m. and 5-8:30 p.m.
KIRKLAND — We were in the right parking lot, but it still took an intuitive left and a leap-of-faith of a right before we spotted Northern Dumpling House, tucked between a muay thai gym and a nail salon in a strip mall.
But isn’t this how the best finds are unearthed?
There is something morbidly exhilarating about walking into a restaurant for a first time, when you don’t know what to expect — here, pop singers croon in Mandarin from the television in the corner. Along the wall, a menacing red-stencil dragon glares as we walked to the counter, as if threatening to fire-breathe us to smithereens if we didn’t hurry up with our order.
Located at Totem Square in Kirkland, this restaurant runs a simple menu, a handful of dumplings, a few noodles and rice dishes, deep-fried appetizers and meat-on-the-stick-street food.
Evan Wang, the 25-year-old owner who looks young enough to be on the JV basketball team, kept this menu simple since it’s mostly just him and his wife, Na Lu, who run the joint.
Your best bet are the boiled pork dumplings; ground pork with cabbage and bright hit of scallions, and its seafood version, a snappy bit of shrimp interspersed with a pork meatball. The skin is firm but chewy, a tad bouncy, and the juicy fillings are substantial enough that one order (a dozen) can pass for lunch.
You can order the dumplings pan-fried, but know that Wang’s soul dies a little every time a customer requests that. No pressure.
Wang grew up on the eastern coast of Shandong province in China, where he folded a zillion of these dumplings with his grandparents and then boiled their handiwork to savor these morsels for their pillowy, lingering chew.
Pan-fried? A chomp and the shell crumbles to an early demise.
Psst, there’s one dumpling that tasted better fried, listed on the menu simply as “pork.” The crusty-brown bottom dumpling has a belly that popped a lava of meat drippings fragranced with Shaoxing rice wine. It’s an unctuous bite, Wang’s soul be damned.
Not everything worked. Meat skewers, from pork belly to beef, were gristly, lacking sauce or enough MSG to help them go down easy.
Jianbing, crepelike snack, looks like folded parchment paper and has the unfortunate crisp texture like one.
As its name implies, this is more of a one-dish restaurant concept.
By the open kitchen, Wang’s wife kneads the dough into coaster sizes to make the dumplings while Wang mans the six-top burner and takes takeout orders. When the couple have time, they play mad scientists, trying to create a Frankenstein dumpling. It’s not ready for prime time yet, said Wang, but soon they hope to unveil a softball-sized soup dumpling that comes with a boba straw for you to suck up the porky broth.
Two years ago, the couple moved to Seattle from Coral Springs, Florida, to follow up on their dreams of opening a dumpling parlor. After opening week in May, when his 10 tables sat mostly empty, a scared Wang “thought I would lose all my money.”
Two months later, thanks to word-of-mouth in the Chinese American community, Northern Dumpling House boasts a full house by 1 p.m. on many Saturdays. The waitlist is by the counter. Don’t even think about cutting the line. That dragon is watching!
Northern Dumpling House: 12085 124th Ave. N.E., Kirkland; 206-902-8861; northern-dumpling-house.business.site; Tuesday-Sunday 11 a.m.-3 p.m. and 5-8:30 p.m.
Highly recommended for the boiled pork dumplings and the hand-kneaded spicy noodles.
Reservations: not accepted, though the only busy hours are Saturday afternoon before 1 p.m. There’s a waitlist to sign up at the counter.
Prices: $ (appetizers $4.99-$5.99; meat skewers $2.99-$6.99; dumplings $10.99-$13.99; noodles and rice dishes $9.99-$13.99)
Noise level: tranquil, with background Mandarin music coming from music videos
Service is fast and congenial.
Drinks: tea and soda, no alcohol
Access: no obstacles, a unisex restroom, accessible; no stairs