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Apr 30, 2008 09:31 AM

Calling all pork bun eaters....

Mei Lai Wah in Chinatown, makers of probably the best pork buns (steamed and baked) is now closed. Where to now? Any suggestions?

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  1. Just posted on the other thread that I like the ones at Golden Fung Bakery on Mott @ Pell, but I don't read much about them here. Anyone else tried them? Anyone else like them?

    16 Replies
    1. re: JoanN

      Joan, haven't tried Golden Fung's pork buns yet! Edensan, Here are some other places that have the Cha Shao pork buns:

      Lucky King Bakery at 280 Grand Street
      Chatham Restaurant at 9 Chatham Square

      Also there is another bakery - almost kiddie-corner from Mei Lai Wah up the street there on Bayard that has passable ones. I have some Cantonese friends who claim that Lucky King's pork buns were better than Mei Lai Wah but I never thought so. Nothing like Mei Lai Wah's fresh out-of-the-oven ones served by the surly old codgers.

      1. re: scoopG

        second the baked ones at 9 chatham sq. nice ratio of bun to filling + high turnover + onions.

        1. re: scoopG

          i like chatham's buns (i used to hit it alot when it was hop shing, but its pretty much the same)

          someone said mee sum on pell is good (never tried it)...i've also heard that sun say kai (says xin shi jie cha can ting in chinese) on the corner of baxter and canal has good ones (i havent eaten there though)

          i'm still reeling from mei lai wah closing

          1. re: Lau

            mee sum is excellent and has probably been there even longer than MLW was...they also do a steamed chinese sausage bun that keeps me happy.

            1. re: david sprague

              I have a 1968 edition of Time-Life's "Foods of The World- American Cooking: The Melting Pot" volume that has a photo of Mee Sum, so it has to be at least that old.
              In fact, I have fond memories of Mee Sum while visiting a friend in NY and desperately seeking a great but unpretentious cup of coffee to help a splitting headache and head cold. We stopped in there, and I honestly cannot remember having a more satisfying cup of coffee since then. I had a red bean filled pastry that was quite tasty as well, not too sweet with a nice earthy-beany flavor.

              1. re: david sprague

                MLW dates from the 1890's - started by two bachelor brothers from a small village in Guangzhou.

                1. re: david sprague

                  Just a question, as I may be mistaken. The 1968 photo I referenced earlier actually shows a shop called "Mee Sum Mee Tea Shop & Pastry" with no street address visible. It's clearly a different storefront than what is now known as Mee Sum Cafe. Same place, different location? or are/were these places unrelated?
                  Just wondering if there could have been multiple Mee Sum's at one time.

                2. re: Lau

                  Sun Sai Kai's pork buns are OK but nothing special and certainly not comparable to Mei Lai Wah.

                3. re: scoopG

                  The bakery up the street from MLW is at #47 Bayard and is called Nice One Bakery. It is actually a branch of Lucky King at 280 Grand. Same Cha Shao pork buns.

                  Another bakery is Lung Moon at 83 Mulberry. They were out of pork buns when I stopped in but had decent small curry beef pies, pork pies and assorted other goodies.

                  1. re: scoopG

                    Thanks for spreading some hope, scoopg. I will have to try some of these (though I don't know if I have the heart just yet). Do you have any suggestions for coconut buns?

                    1. re: vvvindaloo

                      Sorry vvvindaloo, I am not much help in the coconut bun department!

                      1. re: vvvindaloo

                        i believe chatham sq restaurant (the old school dump) has pretty decent coconut buns

                        1. re: Lau

                          thanks, lau. boy, am i depressed tonight.

                        2. re: vvvindaloo

                          vvvindaloo, I was a huge fan of the MLW coconut buns in addition to their roast pork buns. Sigh. My heart is broken.

                          Wednesday, after people's suggestions here, I tried Lucky King's pork buns and coconut buns and posted about them here:

                          The coconut buns were ok, but didn't match the fluffy deliciousness of MLW. The one that looked kind of like the MLW coconut bun tasted more like a Chinese coconut and cheese danish. Ok, but not what I was looking for. I'll report back as I continue my search.

                          1. re: brooklynbrownie

                            i'm going to try mee sum today, will report back

                            1. re: brooklynbrownie

                              Thanks for the photos, bb. You may not have been crazy about the coconut, but the pork bun photo on your blog looked very good.

                    2. Another thing I'll miss from MLW is their "dan-san", the deep fried honey/syrup drenched pastry. Other restaurants have them too but none as good! As for pork buns, another place I like is the Chinese restaurant few doors north of McDonald's on Canal St. Think it's Seafood 86 or some generic name like that. They have roasted pork/duck/chicken hanging in their window display. (For those who read Chinese, there are 3 characters in the name, the first one is "big", second one is "3" in Chinese.) Both steamed and baked ones use the left over cha-siew meat which is what make it special. The red sauce is very flavorful and doesn't taste oily. The only complain is that the dough part is much bigger than the filling. They have fresh ones in the morning, only leftovers during lunch/brunch time.

                      3 Replies
                      1. re: usbchinita

                        Thanks for the suggestions, and I will definitely try them. I have seen each of these places, so now I just need to stop in. I used to love the 9 Chatham Square (formerly Hop Shing) baked, but found them to be very greasy after being introducecd to MLW's. I also used to love their coconut buns and cheese buns.

                        MLW closing was just the second blow in several weeks, since I also saw a few weeks ago that 10 Pell, across from Joe Shanghai, is now also closed. I loved their food.

                        I also loved the crispy honey noodles at MLW. I agree that no one else made them the same way. I called my mother and told her the bad news. News traveled fast because I've now heard from both of my sisters and several other relatives asking me if it was true!

                        1. re: usbchinita

                          Usbchinita, can you recommend other restaurants/bakeries in Chinatown that carry a decent 'dan-san'? I've been craving one for awhile and remember seeing them all over C-town years ago but they seemed to have disappeared...

                          1. re: poutinelover

                            Can't remember the last time I saw them in C-town other than MLW, but several dim sum places in Flushing carry them: Kum-Fung, Gala Manor, East Manor, and the (relatively) new one right across from Flushig Mall. They are no MLW dan-san though. The noodle from all of these places tends to be on the airy therefore crumbly side, and they seem to use straight sugar, whereas MLW might have added honey or used Chinese brown sugar 'cuz of the hint of caramel in the syrup. Aaaaaah... heavenly!

                        2. Do any of these Mei Lah Wah alternatives use less fatty pork? I love the actual bun of the pork buns at MLW, but the lack of meat and all the fat was a problem for me.

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: teresa

                            Agree about the excessive pieces of fat in MLW. I like Chatham's better --- not sure it's less fatty but with the sauce and onions, at least it's not as obvious.

                          2. I love the baked pork buns at Wing Shoon on 165 E. Broadway. There is a nice pork filling that isn't gloopy. I find Chatham 9 to be overly cornstarched.

                            3 Replies
                            1. re: DarthEater

                              Had the steamed combination pork bun at Sun Sai Kai on Sunday: The bun tasted as if it was made by a peasant to take into the rice paddy and bite off hunks of while she planted rice: big, freeform, containing very flavorful pork, Chinese sausage in one piece, and egg cooked in soy. They have several kinds of buns behind the front counter, dumplings (we were too late) a non fancy, tasty menu, and some stuff in Vietnamese. The buns were memorable.

                              1. re: crowsonguy

                                This was the dialogue I was hoping for! Thanks to you all.

                                Crowsonguy, where is Sun Sai Kai?
                                Vvvindaloo, Chatham had very good coconut and cheese buns.
                                Teresa, my wife hated MLW and Chatham b/c she found them greasy, but she loved the ones from the bakery chains like Fay Da.

                                1. re: Edansan

                                  sun say kai is on the corner of baxter and canal (you can't miss it)

                            2. alright so i tried mee sum and chatham restaurant today. i used to go to chatham alot when it was hop shing, but i havent been going at all the last couple of years.

                              Mee Sum: someone on this board said that its the "reverso world" version of mei lai wah and that is totally true. it looks similar, but its bright inside (mlw was dark), the counter looks the same, but its on the left (mlw is on the right), the people serving you food are sorta young (people at mlw were old as hell). anyhow, i got a cha siu bao there and it was very good. I know some people don't like the fatty filling at MLW and there was basically no pieces of fat in it, the sauce is slightly sweeter and more red than MLW (MLW had a brown sauce that is slightly saltier than most place's cha siu bao), im debating whether i like the filling better at mee sum or MLW, but either way its good. The bread was good although I think MLW's bread is a bit better b/c its slightly more moist. The ratio of filling / bread was not as good b/c i didn't think there was enough filling. That said this is a pretty decent replacement for MLW

                              Chatham: I ate a coconut bun here, it looks just like an MLW coconut bun. However, while it was pretty good, I didn't think it was as good as MLW. My main problem with it is that the ratio of filling to bread it too much (i.e. there is too much coconut filling) and the filling is very buttery (MLW's was less buttery and sweeter), so its pretty heavy. The bread is good although I think the bread at MLW was a little more moist and MLW's bread was kind of crispy on top which i liked and Chatham's isnt. They do have that crunchy sugar on top which i love. I'd get it again, but its not as good at MLW.

                              7 Replies
                              1. re: Lau

                                Thanks for the report, Lau. MLW definitely had a uniquely-textured bun that was always shinier and more moist than any other. However, I am glad to hear that Mee Sum buns taste good. I'll have to give them a try the next time I'm in the neighborhood. Buttery and overly-rich filling are often an issue with coconut buns. Unlike the pork buns, which I enjoyed a bit salty, I prefer coconut buns to be very sweet and not greasy. They are tough to find.
                                I appreciate your fieldwork :)

                                1. re: vvvindaloo

                                  chatham restaurant's cha siu bao are worth a taste as a long time ago it used to be me go to place for cha siu bao and then i switched to MLW...i havent had them in a while, but they were great a while ago

                                  i agree with u on coconut buns, these could be awesome if they were less buttery

                                2. re: Lau

                                  Thanks, Lau. I don't really eat roast pork buns but DH does and complained about the fattiness at MLW. Got to give Mee Sum a try. Did it have onions in it? I personally think onions are a no-no in roast pork buns.

                                  1. re: Miss Needle

                                    nope no onions, i dont like it when they put onions in either

                                    they actually had a good variety of buns, but i only went there b/c i needed to know if it was good or not, i was already full

                                    1. re: Lau

                                      Thanks. Will make a stop next time I'm in C-town.

                                      1. re: Lau

                                        I think of the baked bun at 9 Chatham as a great soft onion tart tasting rich with pork flavor, more european.

                                    2. re: Lau

                                      Round 2 at Mee Sum: so I stopped by Mee Sum today after I ate at Wing Shoon and got one of their coconut buns and I've got to say it was pretty disappointing...not even close to MLW. The bread was a bit dry, the filling was also kind of dry, too buttery and really not even sweet and they didn't put that great crunchy sugar on top. Don't even bother getting coconut buns there, stick to the cha siu bao