Home Style Dumpling for Mandoo Tonight
I keep a general rule about not reviewing restaurants that open in locations that once housed dives I previously covered. It's dumb logic, sure (and Edwin sure as hell doesn't follow it—nor should he), but I almost find such a thought an insult against the previous place, an unceremonious dance on the grave of a wonderful spot that couldn't make it because not enough readers followed my advice.
But I'm making an exception for Home Style Dumpling, a counter in a grimy Tustin liquor store that used to house one of the few Jamaican restaurants Orange County ever hosted. Home Style is as small a restaurant as they come: a stove, two tables and a counter carved out of said liquor store (between the ice box and the chips aisle). The man and woman who run it try their best to class up their business: A chalkboard outside lists the day's specials, they trot out two panchan with each meal, the chilled barley tea is on the house, and they'll even artfully slice up cantaloupe for you as a free dessert. Understandably, the menu is limited: a nicely toasted bibimbap, beautifully messy jjajangmyung, and a spicy ramen soup pulled from the liquor-store counter, but also containing a fat, bobbing, glorious beef mandoo, the legendary Korean dumpling that's the main reason to visit.
A proper mandoo is airy, fluffy, wonderful. The beef mandoos here look like translucent tan pillows, half balled-up mix of sweet beef and diced leeks and half dough flaps that get slightly crisped if you order them steamed. The veggie ones are just as delicious, although better enjoyed fried and folded into little pies. The best one is the wang mandoo, pork buns the size of a fist, each its own meal yet coming four to an order for an incredible $5 (the veggie and beef mandoo come 10 to an order for the same ridiculous price). The owners make the mandoo almost daily, freezing whichever ones don't sell in bags of 50 for $15 (!). Not only do you have one of the best mandoo deals in Orange County, but they're also one of the best mandoos, period. They need just a dip in soy sauce and vinegar to bring out their mix of bovine charm and vegetal grace, doughy comfort and puffy delight. I worry for Home Style Dumpling, though, because of its location: Please let it fight the trend and make the mandoo the next blueberry doughnuts.
This column appeared in print as "Everyone Mandoo Tonight."
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