There are few things in this world more satisfying than a properly prepared dumpling. Sadly, even with its many culinary triumphs, Denver has never been known as a dumpling destination. It was for this very reason that Shan Zi eventually decided he had enough.
“I cried and whined about the lack of good dumplings in Denver,” laughed Zi, whose in-laws started the original Mason’s Dumplings in Los Angeles. Sick of the lack of proper fare, Zi and his wife Eleven Li decided to open a Mason’s outpost in the metro area. After choosing a location in Aurora — aided by the city’s Restaurant Incentive Program, which provided a good deal and assistance with the buildout — the two embarked on the noble and weighty task of bringing top-notch dumplings to a city so desperately in need.
While the restaurant was originally slated to open on March 17, Zi was delayed for obvious reasons, eventually being able to open for take-out May 7. Having initially planned to deal with the nearly 3,000 reservations the place had racked up in the first two weeks following the original opening, Zi said there was a glimmer of relief to be found in the slower rollout. “I figured it would be somewhat slow with what was going on,” he said. Somewhat to his surprise, the place has still been slammed — Zi has had to up the daily dumpling supply by several-thousand more than he had initially planned for. While the new structure has still had its madhouse moments, Zi said it has given staff a little additional leeway to perfect the recipes.
The dumplings are divided into three categories — boiled, steamed and pan-fried — and are joined by a well-curated list of rice and noodle bowls and appetizers. A bun section, as well as the famed soup dumplings, are expected to join the menu when Zi feels it is appropriate. Issues both with sourcing the necessary ingredients and concerns over freshness — particularly in the soup dumpling’s case — have left a few of the items on standby, though the remaining items are still plenty of reason to visit. It might also bear mentioning Jonathan Gold’s seal of approval for the original location.
The boiled cabbage, pork and shrimp dumplings ($11) — which Zi says lean most towards traditional fare — benefit from the interplay between the crunchy cabbage and the soft, gelatinous dough. The morsels are particularly hard to prepare, having the highest risk for breaking. Even so, each of the slippery bites’ structural integrity remains well-reinforced by the adept staff. The pan-fried dumplings — available in both pork ($11) and chicken and cabbage ($11) — are particularly satisfying, each being crisped to a delicate char. While take-out isn’t the ideal way to consume dumplings, everything on the menu can survive a car-ride — though limiting the duration is highly recommended.
While everything on the menu provides a surprising bang for the buck, the appetizers are a particular steal. The seaweed salad in chili and garlic sauce ($6), the spicy wood ear mushrooms ($6) and the sweet and sour lotus roots ($6) all reproduce fairly traditional sides with impressive intricacy, each providing a textural delight of its own.
Opening a restaurant is hard enough without a pandemic. Despite the many additional complications, Mason’s has been doing a good job making the kind of necessary adjustments that have allowed the place to continue to live up to, and even exceed its hype.
Mason’s Dumplings is located at 9655 East Montview Blvd., Aurora. It is open Wednesday – Monday 11 a.m – 2 p.m. and 4 – 7:30 p.m., it is closed on Tuesdays.
All photography by Kori Hazel.