“I feel like I just made a drug deal,” I told my dining companion as we drove away from Chang’s Dumpling House.
We’d donned masks to enter the takeout-only operation’s nondescript storefront on Second Street, which was opened by Michigan transplant Lucy Zhang only a month or so ago. I’d given my name and paid a lone cashier in an otherwise empty room for a pre-ordered large bag of Chinese dumplings, buns and egg rolls, all of which were blasting the car with fantastic smells.
On the road home, it seemed both impossible and rather lucky that the semi-industrial space across from Back Road Pizza could have provided such heady bounty – after all, Santa Fe is a land of few dumpling options. It is wildly exciting to have one more choice and, in the case of Chang’s, it is a very good one.
The cashier said he was juggling 40 takeout orders that night, so I was clearly not the only one counting my blessings via savory dough sacks. It’s no wonder Chang’s, which is also slated to open a space this month in the new Chomp food hall, has been immediately embraced by Santa Feans. In each of our selections, ingredients were fresh, tasty and carefully crafted.
Dumplings are really the king of the takeout treat. They’re hard to make well, with techniques and flavors that aren’t easily achieved by the average cook – and they travel perfectly. Chang’s dumplings, available in panfried or boiled form ($6.99 for eight; $12.99 for 15), come in seven varieties: signature (shrimp, pork, chives); ground pork and cabbage; ground beef and green chile; ground lamb and carrot; chicken, mushroom and carrot; fish (sole, scallion, cilantro); and vegetarian (zucchini, chives, egg). Each dumpling order is accompanied by small sides of soy-sesame-scallion-chili oil dipping sauce. If you’re a real dunker, be sure to order extra sauce as they don’t give you much.
We tried the signature, as well as the pork, lamb and chicken. All were impeccably handmade, every morsel structurally supported by a crimped cloud of dough. Panfried edges were seductively crispy-chewy, though we wished more attention had been paid to evenly browning all sides. Our favorites were the signature, with its large, steamed shrimp, and the tender chicken dumplings. But I wouldn’t have kicked one of those dumplings out of bed – I mean, out of the kitchen. (And maybe, on a bad day, I would eat them in bed.) Chang’s menu is so small that trying everything on it – including the Chinese street food staple, jian bing ($7.99), a protein-rich, crepelike egg wrap of chicken and pork belly, wonton and bean paste – seems like a rewarding pandemic pastime. The vegetarian egg rolls are some of the best I’ve had – non-greasy, reasonably sized rollups of fresh cabbage, sprouts, mushrooms, carrots and onions. We also loved the nicely browned zucchini pockets of squash, egg and black mushrooms, and marveled at the crackling, slightly salted scallion pancake – another seemingly easy kitchen project that can be hard to get just right at home.
On a different day, I picked up another hard-to-find-in-Santa-Fe gem for lunch: a bowl of Korean bibimbap ($9.99). The large bowl of wonderfully sticky white rice was layered with prepared ingredients – a few strips of marinated beef strips that were ribboned with fat, an over-easy egg that yielded a rich orange yolk, a heap of crunchy cabbage, sesame-dotted spinach, and matchstick-sliced and steamed carrots and zucchini. A glossy soy-sweetened sauce with a hint of heat accompanied the bowl of goodness, and the portion was hefty for one.
It’s both life- and palate-affirming to watch brand-new food operations thrive during the COVID quarantine, and it is particularly heartening to see Chang’s Dumpling House fill a void in the Santa Fe dining landscape. In Chinese culture, dumplings are said to bring good fortune. “More is generally better as a rule of thumb,” London Chinese chef Andrew Wong has said. Chang’s is sure to keep us coming back.