Seated at the bar at Sunnyvale’s Top Dumpling, I’m elated when my vegetarian dumplings arrive, delicately arranged in a traditional bamboo steaming basket. I’m a dumpling newbie, so I look around at the other patrons for a hint.
Following the example of the young woman next to me, I create a mixture of chili sauce, black vinegar, and soy sauce on the plate, dip the dumpling and eat it with the chopsticks while holding my spoon underneath.
The depth and complexity of flavor, especially with the sauce mixture, is astounding. The vegetable-filled bao, with their steamed bun exterior dyed green with spinach juice and delicately shaped like leaves, is equally impressive.
The walnut shrimp is something that simply must be experienced. The use of seaweed and wood-ear mushrooms in salad and soup dishes is genius. Though I don’t sample them, fellow diners tell me the pork, beef and shrimp dumplings are equally incredible.
All of it is courtesy of Summer He and business partner and dumpling master Jin Zhai.
Summer He came to Cupertino a decade ago. Eight years ago, she started her first restaurant, after her mother-in-law expressed a longing for the flavors of her native Hunan.
“My family immigrated here ten years ago and our first home was in Sunnyvale, in Ponderosa Park. We found out it was so hard to find authentic Chinese food here,” He says.
He started her first restaurant: Noodle Talk. Later came trendy Moomo Tea, a boba joint with fruity flavors and popping mix-ins, right next door.
During the pandemic, while other businesses struggled, Noodle Talk thrived. He was able to translate her success into goodwill. She used her vacant short-term rental properties to house employees, for free. She chartered a shuttle bus so employees wouldn’t have to increase their risk of contracting COVID by taking public transportation.
She helped create a COVID-safe work environment and she and employees stayed afloat by serving takeout. Together, they donated over 1,000 bento boxes to local hospital workers.
“I was so honored, and happy to help the local community,” He says.
As the lockdown lifted, He had come out of the worst of the pandemic with all of her employees, a vacant building next door and a new idea.
Though she had success with her Hunan-style restaurant, she was missing the cuisine of her own Jilin province of Northeastern China.
“I’m thinking to do something from my own hometown,” He says. “We eat dumplings every day, we celebrate every event there with dumplings.”
Jin Zhai has been making dumplings professionally for 40 years. She suggested she and He put their heads together—and Top Dumpling was born.
“Everything here is fresh, daily made,” He says. She gives a tour of the kitchen, pointing over Zhai’s shoulder at the dumplings she’s making, deftly moving the dough with her left hand and pinching with her right thumb and forefinger, making not just food, but art.
Just a few short weeks after their soft opening, Top Dumpling landed on the radars of Instagram foodie influencers and Sunnyvale mayor Larry Klein, who reviewed Top Dumpling as part of his “Eat Sunnyvale” page.
Klein uses Eat Sunnyvale to promote local eateries. On Facebook, Klein posted his review of the new establishment, saying “I ordered the boiled pork wonton with peanut sauce and chili oil. This was FANTASTIC!”
Bright and modern, Top Dumpling now also features the art of local mixed-media artist Dana Harris Seeger. In addition to serving edible art, He wants to use Top Dumpling to promote local artists. And though they’ve added American Chinese food favorites like General Tso’s Chicken, the innovative takes on traditional Jilin dumplings and their spicy and flavorful signature dishes are their strongest offerings.
A new gem in the crown of Bay Area Chinese cuisine, Top Dumpling is making the deeply traditional infinitely accessible to restaurant goers looking for the comfort of food made with love, and the novelty of new and exciting flavors.