Lucky Seb’s Dumpling Bar and Grill is a small but hip, unassuming place tucked into the northeast corner of 23rd and Iowa streets, behind Crunch Fitness and sharing a parking lot with the venerable West Coast Saloon. Small and unassuming, that is, until you sample the delicious food.
While my partner and I waited for our food to arrive, we took in the atmosphere. Walking in, there’s a long bar to the left dividing the main cooking area from the dining area to the right. There are seats available at the bar, and a couple of tables to dine at as well, plus some outdoor tables.
Will Soo, the owner, said most of the decor is reclaimed from other restaurants, the local ReStore and various other projects that he had going on. It looks very welcoming – clean and stylish, yet simple.
We started off with the wonton soup. The broth, though light in color and texture, was rich and deep with flavor. Spicy and sweet meat came wrapped in a doughy pillow of wonton, with bits of green and white onion and dashes of fresh cilantro. The soup was bright and warm; light, yet filling. I would definitely recommend it. This was my partner’s favorite of the evening.
Next up, we enjoyed the pork and vegetarian dumplings. These came served with the house sauces: a soy and vinegar sauce and a rich yellow coconut curry sauce. As a condiment connoisseur, I especially enjoyed the soy and vinegar sauce. This was my favorite part of the meal, along with the vegetarian dumplings. The dumpling filling was soft and almost melted into the surrounding dough. It was all so good and all made from scratch.
Will Soo grew up in Lawrence in the restaurant business — his parents owned restaurants throughout his childhood. He has always been cooking, both his family recipes and his own. His wife, Hannah Soo, loved his mother’s dumpling recipe, and once she perfected her version, they started making them for friends and then selling them online. They always sold out fast.
The couple thought they might have the opportunity to expand and sell dumplings in an actual physical space instead of online, thinking it would just be a nice side gig. Luckily, they were mistaken about the side-gig part.
Will always had a passion for chicken and a special place in his heart and stomach for the fried variety. They melded the ideas together and came up with Lucky Seb’s, a place for Will to serve the chicken recipes he loves along with the couple’s popular dumplings, plus a few Asian-influenced rice dishes on the small but delicious menu.
Though the tiny restaurant may have begun as a side gig, its success has the Soos thinking about expansion. For now, Lucky Seb’s is only open on Friday evenings and all day Saturday. It’s sharing space with La Estrella, the popular local Mexican grocer and restaurant that recently was forced to close its previous location on Iowa Street to make room for a new gas station.
Eventually, La Estrella will be moving to new digs across 23rd Street, behind El Mezcal, but in the meantime, it needed a temporary home. Will, a frequent patron, saw that La Estrella needed a space, and he had room to give. So La Estrella serves its fantastic tacos, quesadillas and burritos from the Lucky Seb’s space during the week, and operates its store next door.
Why extend such kindness? “I needed a place to shop,” Will said. “Lawrence has always been good to me.”
Will has big plans for expansion once La Estrella moves out in a few months. He envisions his larger space to be a welcoming place with good food and a place to relax and spend time with loved ones. He doesn’t want to turn tables quickly; he wants to give patrons time to dine, enjoy the atmosphere and hang out.
In a busy world of fast food, deadlines and hurry up and go, this sounds quite inviting. Lucky Seb’s indeed – wouldn’t we all be lucky to be able to enjoy such a thing?