Mei Li Wah – A Cha Siu Bao Institution; Amazing Cha Siu Bao? No…The Best In Chinatown? Probably
Mei Li Wah is a Chinatown institution and my blog would not be complete if I didn’t cover it. It’s a cha chaan teng / cha can ting (literally means tea restaurant), which is a type of old school Cantonese restaurant that is common in Hong Kong serving tea, coffee and various cheap foods. In particular Mei Li Wah is known for its various buns.
Originally, Mei Li Wah was a rundown super old school Toisonese run place, but a few years ago they changed ownership, renovated the restaurant and hired a much younger staff. Now it’s a much brighter, cleaner and new looking restaurant. The service is still fairly quick and brisk although it’s nicer than before when the old guys had little patience if you didn’t know what you wanted right away although some people liked that as part of the character of the place. I’m not one for nostalgia, but I do miss the old school feel of the old Mei Li Wah a bit.
Generally, I stick to their buns, which are all displayed up front as I find a lot of their other food to be pretty mediocre.
Steamed Pork Bun (Cha Siu Bao / Cha Shao Bao):
This is their most famous item. It’s a fluffy steamed white bun filled with diced cha siu (BBQ pork) in a brown sauce. One of the major differences between MLW’s and others’ versions is that the sauce is much more savory and brown than the normal sweeter red sauce. The sauce is the best thing about this bun as I really like that savory flavor. The cha siu itself is decent although sometimes it can a bit too much fat in it. The bun has a nice slight sweetness to it, but I’ve noticed over the last year or so that it’s become noticeably less fluffy than it used to be. I still think this is the best cha siu bao in Chinatown, but because of the decline in quality of the bun I’d say it’s good, but no longer great. 7.75/10 or 8/10 on a good day (a few years ago I’d have probably given it an 8.25 rating)
Baked Pork Bun (Cha Siu Bao / Cha Shao Bao):
This is baked white bun filled with diced cha siu (BBQ pork) in a brown sauce. Same exact filling as the steamed version. While I normally much prefer steamed cha siu bao, MLW’s baked version is actually quite good and maybe better than its steamed version as the bread is quite good with a nice honey glaze on the outside. 8/10
Big Bun (Dai Bao / Da Bao):
This is another famous offering. It is similar to a cha siu bao except it’s bigger and filled with chicken, Chinese sausage, half boiled egg and shitake mushrooms. They used to make these quite well, but I’ve noticed that the bun has gotten way too dry since they switched ownership. The filling tastes like it sounds and is reasonably tasty. Overall, it’s decent version, but not great. 7.25/10
Cocktail Bun (Gai Mei Bao / Ji Wei Bao):
This is the sleeper for me here. This is a baked bun with sugar on top and a minced buttery and sweet coconut filling. The bread is nicely moist and the sugar on top adds nice textural contrast. The filling is good and not too buttery like most places. I’m not sure everyone will like this as much as I do because I really like gai mei bao, but they make this really well. 8.25/10
Overall, they are pretty decent cha siu bao and certainly better than the vast majority in Chinatown which are quite mediocre. I’d recommend coming to try out the cha siu bao and the cocktail bun.
64 Bayard St (between Mott St & Elizabeth St)
New York, NY 10013