"Did you want me to put this in right away?" the voice on the other end of the phone asked. "It's kind of cold out there, we want to make sure the food stays warm. 15 minutes OK?"
So far so good. See, the recent insanely snowy day made two things clear—I needed to leave the office early, and I sure as hell wasn't about to cook something at home myself. And then it dawned on me: Everybody whose tastes I take seriously has been bugging me to visit Chang's Dumpling House (1807 Second St., 231-2088); right across from Back Road Pizza), and the time had finally come.
Perusing the concise but enticing menu online, I settled on a large order of pan-fried veggie dumplings (though there are a handful of other options like shrimp, pork, fish, lamb and chicken; $6.99-$13.99 and all available pan-fried or steamed), but the zucchini, chives and egg in the vegetable version sounded too good to pass up. Sadly, Chang's was already sold out of the zucchini pockets with black fungus ($4.99) for the day, but the voice on the phone suggested the crispy scallion pancakes ($3.99) and an order of egg rolls with cabbage, bean sprout, mushrooms, carrots and onions ($3.99). I chose to pass on the vegetable buns as a large order of dumplings plus sides sounded like plenty of food. I'd come to regret this decision later, so believe me when I say that 15 dumplings for two might sound like too much food, but sincerely is not.
"15 minutes OK?" the voice on the other end of the phone asked again.
Roughly 10 minutes later, I entered the new restaurant and was greeted with an aromatic wall of Chinese cooking smells and sounds. Chang's doesn't really do in-person dining just yet—there's the pandemic to consider—and other than a kind of strange just-moved-in feeling that dissipated with the realization that everything smelled incredible, the warm interior was a welcome respite. My food was ready to go, packaged neatly in one of the most adorable yet brilliant to-go containers I'd ever seen; each of the 15 dumplings nestled in its own little pocket to avoid any sticky situations. The order was hot to the touch and sealed up responsibly; the server wore a mask and gloves and had sanitizing products available at the counter.
Back home and with the items moved from their to-go containers into bowls, my partner and I made quick work of the order, dipping into the included chili and sweet and sour sauces and remarking on how these were easily the freshest egg rolls we'd ever tasted. Like them, the dumplings struck a sublime balance between chewy at the edges, crispy in all the right places. Each felt like a miniature flavor explosion, particularly thanks to the subtle bite of the chives. The scallion pancakes were excellent as well, crispy with an ever-so-slightly sweet moment that snuck up and stayed there.
Of course, hindsight is 20/20 and all that, so missing out on the veggie buns felt silly. Chang's also serves up pork and beef chili buns ($8.99-$9.99) with six to an order, and the meat eaters out there will surely want to try the Korean bibimap with egg, bean sprouts and bulgogi beef. I should have asked if they'd make that without the meat. No matter, though, because I'll be back. With service seven days a week from 10:30 am-9 pm and a reported second location on Cerrillos Road in the works, it'd kind of be hard not to.
-After promising SFR they'd open soon, coffee shop/restaurant/plant store Opuntia is indeed back up and running in the Railyard at 1807 Alcaldesa St. I hear the soft opening last Wednesday went off without a hitch, and that the coffee is straight up divine.
-I also wanted to make sure to congratulate Second Street Brewery for taking home gold at the Great American Beer Festival this year. Winning the American Nut Brown category with their aptly named Nut Brown Ale, the company Rod Tweet build continues to evolve and improve. I also hear there will soon be outdoor heaters at the beloved local brewery's Rufina St. location, where I recently had one of the best fish and chip meals of my life—and I lived in England as a kid (sorry for the brag).
-If you've missed out on the special meals being put together by chef Hue-Chan Karels and her Open Kitchen outfit, you've been missing out. Not to worry, though, as Karels' next big adventure is the curated Let's Nhậu! event on Dec. 11. Nhậu, I understand, is Vietnamese for "together," and it's all about small plates for good friends. According to her website, Karels' menu "re-imagines and celebrates the essence of the Vietnamese Nhậu drinking and eating culture," but what does that mean to you? It means you order through Open Kitchen by Monday, Dec. 7 and come four days later you munch down on Karels' culinary creations. Sold.
-It's unclear where it went exactly, but I also hear Loyal Hound (730 St, Michael's Drive, 471-0440) briefly took a chicken green chile stew off the menu, but that as of last week it's back. Good news, people who apparently missed the stew.
-If you've been dying for some killer BBQ, be aware that Uncle DT's (3134 Rufina St.) now offers free delivery on Wednesdays. So, plan your ribs and brisket and turkey and chicken BBQ needs for mid-week.