Happy Hot Hunan Restaurant opened back in 2015 in a prior location of the Wondee Siam chain. The new owners kept the dining room fixtures, threw up some Chinese decorations and started cooking traditional Hunan style food – there is very little American-Chinese food on the menu. The chairs and tables have grown chipped and worn, but the kitchen is turning out some good food. The place seems to be very popular with Chinese international students at Columbia.
The Dumplings: The appetizers section of the menu is where they keep the dumplings. They have on offer: House Steamed Pork Soup Buns, Steamed Crab & Pork Soup Buns, Spicy Steamed Pork Soup Bun, Steamed or Fried Vegetable Dumpling, Fried Beef Dumpling, Spicy Fried Beef Dumpling, Shrimp Dumpling, Pot Stickers, Steamed Pork Dumpling, Fried Pork Buns, Small Pork Buns, White Shumai, and Brown Shumai.
Spicy Steamed Pork Soup Buns – These soup dumplings checked all of the quality boxes – all of the dumpling wrappers were intact when the steamer was opened, the wrappers were thin and supple and just thick enough to contain the soup, and the pork filling was finely textured and savory. The added features of these dumplings were the ground chili pepper mixed into the filling that made a spicy soup and the dab of chili paste placed on the top of each dumpling. The spice level was pretty high, but the taste was a little one note. It didn’t have the complexity of flavor and heat of the spicy kimchi and pork soup dumplings at LaSalle Dumpling Room.
Steamed Vegetable Dumplings – These dumplings look identical to the veggie dumplings served at Oriental Taste in Northampton MA, so I assumed they were frozen dumplings and both places were using the same brand. But the waiter insisted they were house made. These dumplings were filled with chopped greens, carrots, tofu and shiitake mushrooms and were really flavorful.
Fried Pork Buns – These were my least favorite of the dumplings I sampled, they were not bad, just not as good as the others. The pork filling was tasty but was quite dry, these buns are supposed to be juicy, sometimes almost like a soup dumpling filling. The bun itself was also dry and not particularly fluffy. Usually this dish is garnished with sesame seeds and slivered scallions, neither of which made an appearance in Happy Hot Hunan’s version.
Brown Shumai – These shumai were Shanghai style but wrapped in a wheat flour, rather than rice flour, dough wrapper which I found to be a little mushy, but otherwise I liked these dumplings a lot. This style of shumai is filled with a dirty rice that is cooked with ground pork and diced shiitake mushrooms and has finely diced Chinese sausage mixed in. The filling they make at Happy Hot Hunan was really flavorful with lots of umami from the mushrooms and sweet and savory from the pork.
The Dipping Sauce: Happy Hot Hunan Restaurant serves a pretty standard soy, rice vinegar and sesame oil mix dipping sauce. It worked pretty well as a compliment to the dumplings but wasn’t anything special.
The Location: the restaurant is located in New York’s Manhattan Valley neighborhood, just south of Columbia University. There is a growing cluster of excellent Chinese dumpling spots in this area whose business is buoyed by the Chinese international students at Columbia. Happy Hot Hunan Restaurant is on Amsterdam Avenue between 107th and 108th streets.