Orlando outpost of KungFu Kitchen dazzles down by Disney

Superlative soup dumplings and hand-cut noodles by NYC chef Peter Song

Pork xiao long bao
Pork xiao long bao Photo by Faiyaz Kara

I wasn't surprised by the line outside KungFu Kitchen, the New York City noodle and dumpling import that's taken the 407 by storm. This is arguably Orlando's hottest restaurant of the moment, and the FOMO factor is high.

In fact, queues have been consistent since chef Peter Song's Orlando outpost opened nearly two months ago in the Vista Center Shoppes off Palm Parkway. But lines, especially those in front of restaurants, are sometimes a good thing, and the ones here tend to move with Disney-like efficiency. No doubt lovers of xiao long bao, hand-pulled noodles and knife-cut noodles will consider KFK to be the happiest place on earth, and to these patient patrons go the spoils. And a little bit of splatter.

We counted ourselves among the happy people packing the dining room, its red walls festooned with steamer baskets — the same ones that sit (eventually) on every table in the joint. But our grins commenced pre-noodles and dumplings when a server-recommended plate of scallion pancake with sliced beef ($9.99) hit the table.

The pancake, filled with slivers of salted beef and scallion tips, was cut into four squares and served with a sweetish hoisin sauce that we couldn't get enough of. If it weren't for the copious amounts of food we had coming, we would've ordered more of this outstanding "dim sum" snack. It precluded us from finishing our bowl of stir-fried chicken ramen ($14.95) as well, even though its intoxicating wokky essence (slapped with a few spoonfuls of chili oil in excelsis) nearly got the best of our appetites.

"Chicken xiao long bao!" announced our server as she laid before us a basket holding a half-dozen of the prized pouches. The twisty, soup-filled sacs are tinged yellow, differentiating them from the pork xiao long bao ($11.95), which are white. "They look like little boobies," said my dining comrade as she placed a chicken pocket onto a spoon using a small pair of tongs. "Bite a little hole in it and slurp out the soup," I instructed, but it was clear she wasn't amused by my mansplaining.

As she devoured the dumpling, I chopsticked a pork-filled funbag by its topknot, dipped it into a little vinegar, and followed suit in bumbling fashion. They didn't offer ginger slices, as is customary, but we didn't mind — that chili oil was the glaze we craved. A debate ensued after a few more dumplings were downed. She liked the chicken; I liked the pork. But we agreed they're both spectacular.

click to enlarge Green veggie dumplings - Photo by Faiyaz Kara
Photo by Faiyaz Kara
Green veggie dumplings

Then came a basket of plump green veggie dumplings ($10.50). We figured they were a cursory offering for the meatless set, but biting into these steamed wonders was genuinely surprising with their depth of flavor and finely chopped ingredients — bok choy, mushrooms (shiitake? wood ear?), carrots plus dried tofu for protein. When the half-dozen Shanghai pan-fried pork buns ($14) arrived, we were forced to hurriedly place leftovers into boxes to make room on the table.

The buns, seared on the bottom and soft on the top, are a whole lot more filling than their soupy counterparts, but there was one more dish to sample before we left — dao xiao mian. The hand-cut noodles were, as expected, flawless. Chef Song is a noodle master, after all, and though he's not in the kitchen, he's clearly relayed those skills to the kitchen, with co-owner Shawn Zheng QC'ing the squigglers. Our choice: spicy beef ($15.50). They came with bok choy and peanuts lolling in a 12-hour beef bone broth. The thin slices failed to ignite, so we summoned our server for more of that chili oil. Another option, beef with chili oil ($15.50), will certainly be the soup of choice on my next visit. I have my eyes on the pan-fried Peking duck buns ($9.25) as well. And the red bean puffs ($8). And the cucumber salad ($11.95).

Looking around, we noticed that practically every table was drinking water and water only. We were never asked what we wanted to drink, but we were fine with water anyway. When the couple next to us asked about drinks, they were told Coke products are all they have. But it seems that what KungFu doesn't put into their beverage program, they put into their take-out program. "Wow, these are like the Louis Vuitton of to-go bags," said the dining pal, pawing at a thermal, resealable, beige-hued receptacle.

KungFu's servers, I have to say, were on it — courteous, vigilant and efficient. As we headed out of the restaurant, I glanced back at the dining room one more time and noticed our table had already been cleaned and reset.

Yeah, those cats were fast as lightning.

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