Back from the dead, to the delight of Chinatown hounds, is Mei Lai Wah, a neighborhood landmark that was loudly mourned when it closed in the spring. Make that Mei Li Wah—the place is apparently under new ownership, and lost a letter from its name as part of the deal. More important, hounds report, the kitchen hasn’t lost a step.
Longtime fan Polecat, reassured at the sight of familiar faces behind the counter, says the coconut buns are as good as ever and the special combination buns might even be better than before. JungMann never made it to the original place, but declares the signature roast pork bun to be the best he’s had in New York—moist, sweet bread filled with rich, unctuous meat.
A warning to old regulars: Your beloved dive has been transformed with fresh paint; bright signage; a longer, higher counter; and newly hired servers in orange uniforms. “If, like me,” writes Polecat, “you went to the old MLW not just for the food, but for the old-school vibe and the wall signs written in thick marker stating ‘no spitting,’ the scrawny old cat, the counter seating, and the old employees joking around in the front and stuffing dumplings in the back, then this will be an adjustment. This isn’t the old Mei Lai Wah, no. But it’s close enough to merit lots of return visits.”
A couple of blocks away, Chatham Square Restaurant is in top form, Lau reports, at least for dim sum. This popular banquet house, which made a promising debut two years ago, is turning out the best dim sum he’s had in Manhattan. Standouts include beef cheung fun (rice noodle crêpe), zhong zi (sticky rice steamed in lotus leaf), har gow (steamed shrimp dumplings), and pai gwat (pork spare ribs in black bean sauce). It’s not quite the equal of Flushing favorites like Jade Asian, Ocean Jewels, Gala Manor, and Perfect Team, Lau adds, “but not that far off.”
And for those who don’t mind combining eating and entertainment, there are TVs around the dining room. “Dim sum and the Olympics in Beijing, does it get any better?” asks financialdistrictresident.
kobetobiko, though sold on Chatham Square’s dim sum, warns that dinner is not as good, and the seafood is a notch below that of nearby Oriental Garden’s. “It was above average Cantonese,” she writes, “but I wouldn’t say it was excellent.”
Mei Li Wah [Chinatown]
64 Bayard Street (between Elizabeth and Mott streets), Manhattan
Chatham Square Restaurant [Chinatown]
6 Chatham Square (between Mott and Doyers streets), Manhattan