Chinese restaurant Dumpling Kitchen heads for former Papi de Castro

A new Chinese restaurant is set to open on Castro Street in the coming weeks, occupying a long-vacant storefront.

Dumpling Kitchen will occupy the space previously occupied by the Puerto Vallarta-themed Papi Rico bar and restaurant at 544 Castro Street. Hoodline readers will recall that Papi Rico closed in 2019 after less than two years.

Restaurant manager William Tao tells Hoodline that the restaurant will open in late August.

Dumpling Kitchen will open next month at 544 Castro St. | Photo: Steven Bracco/Hoodline

San Francisco locals may already be familiar with Dumpling Kitchen — its first Outer Sunset location at 1935 Taraval Street (between 29th and 30th Avenues) has been open since 2011.

Dumpling Kitchen is currently owned by Michael Shao, who has operated the restaurant since 2019.

“Dumpling Kitchen serves Shanghai cuisine,” Tao said. “Most Chinese restaurants in San Francisco serve Cantonese cuisine or Northern Chinese cuisine.”

“Shanghai cuisine is special, it has a small part of northern Chinese cuisine and Cantonese cuisine,” Tao added. “He also has his own dim sum and other unique dishes.”

Dumpling Kitchen at 1935 Taraval Street. | Image: Google Street View

Born and raised in Shanghai, Tao has lived in San Francisco for four years. When Tao first visited the city, he says he fell in love with Dumpling Kitchen’s traditional cuisine.

“It was really hard to find a place in San Francisco that offered food from my hometown,” Tao said. “The food is so good and really reminds me of home.”

Dumpling Kitchen’s signature dish, dumplings, will all be freshly hand-made at the restaurant. Tao says they are going to convert Grandpa Rico’s old shower room into a dumpling station where customers can watch the freshly made dumplings.

Additional dishes include Shanghai-style pork buns ($11.50), chow mein ($12.50) and rice cakes ($13.80), five-spice beef noodle soup ( $15.30) and ribs in mild vinegar ($14.80).

Photo: Meatball Kitchen/Instagram

Photo: Meatball Kitchen/Instagram

Dumpling Kitchen’s recipes and ingredients are all created by dim sum chef Tong Gang Wang (Chili House) in their Foster City test kitchen where they also sell frozen dumplings.

Looking for the right place to open the restaurant’s second location, Tao said, “We really like the Castro.” “As soon as we walked in and peeked in, we loved it.”

Having spent a lot of time in the neighborhood dining at a variety of restaurants with friends, Tao said he noticed there weren’t many Chinese food options. While the Castro has Dumpling House (335 Noe) and Mama Ji’s (4416 18th), Tao said Dumpling Kitchen will be different with an emphasis on Shanghai-style dishes.

Work is currently underway to prepare the restaurant for opening. Upon entering the restaurant, many tchotchkes, murals, bathing suits and even a Papi Rico seahorse date back to when the restaurant opened.

Patio space at the old Papi Rico (2018). | Photo: Steven Bracco/Hoodline

No major changes are planned for the restaurant other than adding a few fresh coats of paint, new furniture and decorations. Additionally, the murals painted by Grandpa Rico on the patio will be restored and remain once the Dumpling Kitchen opens.

The Puerto Vallarta-themed items that adorned the walls inside Grandpa Rico will be removed but not lost for good. Tao says that an artwork will be created with some of the decorations and installed inside the restaurant. The remaining pieces will be sold to anyone interested.

Full-service meals for lunch and dinner will be available inside the restaurant and outside on the terrace. The restaurant has a capacity of approximately 60 to 70 people. Tao says they are currently applying for a cafe tables and chairs permit to add sidewalk seating. There are currently no plans to add a parklet platform from the Shared Spaces program to the street.

While Grandpa Rico had a full liquor license, Tao says Dumpling Kitchen will only serve sake, soju and Asian beers. “We try to be a little different from all the other restaurants in the neighborhood,” Tao explained.

The space at 544 Castro has seen significant turnover in the 11 years since Asian fusion restaurant Nirvana closed in 2011. Since then, it’s been home to three closed restaurants: Dancing Pig, Dante’s Table, and Papi Rico.

The opening of Dumpling Kitchen fills one of many vacancies along the 500 block of Castro St. Earlier this month, How’s it Hanging Plant Store (548 Castro) opened and in May the arts pop-up Queer Arts Featured opened in the former HRC store.

Vacancies on the ground floor continue to plague the Castro, and the 500 block of Castro Street alone has seven vacancies. Earlier this year, the Levi’s Store (525 Castro) and Sunglass Hut (511 Castro) closed.

Spaces formerly occupied by Puff ‘n Stuff (504 Castro), Dogo Love (541 Castro) and Under One Roof (541 Castro) remain vacant.

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