Guilty Pleasures

Dragon Dumpling Burger at Bitter & Twisted Is a Brilliant Mashup

The Guilty Pleasure: “Dragon” Dumpling Burger
Where to Get It: Bitter & Twisted Cocktail Parlour
Price: $12.50
What it Really Costs: Some unavoidable arterial blockage. But if you're going to block an artery, this is the way to do it. 

Since opening its doors last year, Bitter & Twisted Cocktail Parlour has become the epicenter for discriminating downtown bar flies. Owner and veteran barman Ross Simons’ book-length menu of carefully constructed libations, which boasts original creations like The Lit Up (an upgraded take on the Long Island iced tea, whimsically served in a chilled Coca-Cola can) and The Sucker Punch (Pisco brandy softened with summery strawberry syrup and lime juice), has developed a cult-like following among local cocktail devotees.

And though you may come to Bitter & Twisted to enjoy a drink, it’s hard to resist pairing your cocktail with something from chef Bob Tam’s menu of globally inspired bar bites. Tam, who cut his teeth at Betelnut in San Francisco, a restaurant known for its pan-Asian street food, brings global perspective and an undeniable flair for invention to the Bitter & Twisted kitchen.

Tam's Ramen burger, a pork-scented burger sandwiched between two fried, crispy ramen buns, is probably his most popular creation. But it's the "Dragon" dumpling burger, a Tam original, that has earned a special spot in our hearts. 

The Dragon was inspired by sheng jian bao, Shanghai-style pork dumplings, known for their pan-fried, crispy wrappers and steaming hot, soupy innards. It's hard to fathom turning these dumplings into a burger, but Tam has managed it with this uncommonly inventive dish. 

The centerpiece of the burger is the thick patty, a pork and beef blend that is seared in a pan and then oven roasted to lock in all the juices. It's topped with ribbons of caramelized onions, which give off nice, sweet bursts of flavor with every bite. Of course, as with most great burgers, cheese is involved. Tam uses white American cheese, which melts over the patty with deliciously gooey richness. 

The porky burger patty imparts the same kind of savory, juicy flavors you might recognize from a pork dumpling. But how do you approximate the slightly charred texture of a pork dumpling wrapper? You use an English muffin, of course. Tam pan-griddles the yeasty bread with butter, then slathers each bread slice with jalapeno mayo. The bread, crispy and lightly charred, is designed to evoke the texture of pan-fried dumpling skin. It feels like a fun, quirky stroke of culinary ingenuity, as if the chef ran out of dumpling wrappers and decided to use an English muffin instead. 

If this all sounds incredibly rich, it's because it is. The richness of the Dragon burger is brightened up with a side of dumpling sauce, a homemade blend of soy sauce and Chinese red vinegar, and a plate of sichuan pickles. 

Be warned that the modestly-sized Dragon burger is incredibly easy to inhale in a bite or two. We recommend pacing yourself to admire the Dragon's surprisingly complex construction. Or, of course, you can always order another one. 

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Patricia Escárcega was Phoenix New Times' food critic.