HOME > Chowhound > Manhattan >


You haven't heard the last of Mei Lai Wah!

Good news for the devotees...


  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. Amidst an absolutely lousy week, you just made my day. Hope lives.

    1. Usually when there is a slight change in the name of a Chinese restaurant it means that the new place is a completely different operation. Since the new place is called "Mei Li Wah" instead of "Mei Lai Wah" I'd bet that it's not the same place.

      1 Reply
      1. I just read this article over on Eater and came here to see if anyone had mentioned it.... this is good news, though I bet there are new operators and the food won't quite be the same. In any event, I will be checking it out as soon as I can get there. Oh, and if anyone can translate non-Cantonese (not sure exactly what region of China the lettering is from), there is a debate going on (link provided by sing me a bar) about what the new sign says.

        5 Replies
        1. re: vvvindaloo

          lettering doesn't matter in chinese between dialects, everyone uses the same characters

          the original one roughly says: "coffee tea restaurant" (ka fei cha can ting)
          the new one roughly says: "tea restaurant" (cha can ting)

          btw, i really hope they have the same coconut buns...ive found a replacement in sun say kai (which is arguably slightly better) for roast pork buns, but I cannot find a replacement for the coconut buns...ive got two more places to try (coffee/tea house on bowery just south of canal and a coffee/tea house on baxter just north of canal) and after that i think there isn't much hope to find a replacement

          1. re: Lau

            i feel the same way you do with regard to mlw vs. ssk,
            i knew you'd sniff out this post :)

            1. re: vvvindaloo

              cha siu bao is probably one of my all time favorite chinese things, so how could i not!

            2. re: Lau

              There is a delicious coconut gel with peanut stuffing in the front window at sun say kai.

            3. re: vvvindaloo

              Looks like we may be getting more of MLW back than we even expected!
              Here's hoping...

            4. I hope it is, I moved to NY just in time for this place to close :(

              1. Eater updated, the original chef and original employees are returning at least.


                1. It's open now! I recognized three of the older men from the old place. The counter is much longer and the 4-5 seats that were once there have been removed. The tables were all full and they were doing a brisk business. A menu is now listed across the top wall behind the counter. Seems like they have tripled the staff with many younger employees and they are all sporting new uniforms of bright orange polo shirts. Didn't spend time trying to peruse the menu as I wanted to try some of the chao shao buns - and maybe it was my appetite but they tasted slightly different somehow. Still good compared to any other bakery's offerings though.

                  10 Replies
                  1. re: scoopG

                    The coconut bun is just as good, the special combination buns maybe even better than before (they've got fresh mushrooms in there now!). We also noted, right away, three of the old employees from before, always nice to see. Full on waitress service now, with several young girls servicing about 6 or 7 tables, all looking and acting clueless. We got the wrong order twice. They'll get their act together, but for now, it's all very bizarre, quite a bit to take in. Especially the new employee uniforms - orange t-shirts with logos, smacking of plans for branding, franchising, world domination. If, like me, 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. What was apparent, however, is that the overall spirit, in the form of a loyal, happy and buoyant customer base, is still there, in addition to the old and familiar steady stream of old guys carrying huge trays of buns to the front from the kitchen. The chow's still good, the demand still there, and, if this morning was any indication, so is the excitement. (If anyone has any doubt about that, just sit for a while at nearby Mee Sum, which has all the vitality of a mausoleum, about 5 customers, and about three trays an hour coming out of the kitchen. In slow motion.) Oh, and by the way, the bathroom is cleaner, too. Not much of a feat, I realize this, but you could eat off the floor there now.

                    This isn't the old Mei Lei Wah, no. But it's close enough to merit lots of return visits.

                    1. re: Polecat

                      Sorry to say but the original owners sold the place, I spoke with one of old workers and he said that the owners had retired. Asked another old worker why they didn't have lotus bun and he replied loudly that the chef went to China acronym for either fired or retired. So not the same place anymore it's lost all its character and only gain in price. The sui mai shrunk in size and lost 2 pieces and much too mushy than before.=(

                      1. re: tal8

                        too be honest most of the non bun items ive tried there are very mediocre to bad (their siu mai weren't very good)

                        i did try the coconut bun and it was the same and ill get around to the cha siu bao

                        agree it doesn't have the same feel, but as long as the buns stay good ill get over it pretty fast

                        1. re: Lau

                          Hi Lau,

                          When you said coconut bun, do you mean "cocktail bun" on the menu?

                          1. re: kobetobiko

                            i dont know b/c ive never actually looked at a menu at the place (new or old), just ask them for a coconut bun and they'll know what you're talking about

                            its like a long rectangle shaped baked bun (so its brown) with crispy sugar on top, the bread itself is very soft and moist, its filled with a coconut paste that is sweet and buttery, but not overly buttery (a problem i have with alot of other places coconut buns). the ratio is weighted toward more bread than filling (which is a good thing)

                            1. re: Lau

                              To be fair, and as much as I still love MLW's coconut bun, Sun Sai Kay's version actually has more of that coconut taste. It actually has shredded coconut inside, as opposed to MLW's yellow concoction. On the minus side, SSK's coconut bun has a glazed exterior, which can get kind of messy. Both serve up a good version, and are decidedly different. As I posted above, MLW's is as good as ever.

                              1. re: Polecat

                                the funny thing about that is that i don't actually like the coconut bun for having a "real" coconut flavor (this is a personal preference), i just happen to like the way it tastes (i love the yellow concoction you mention). For example, my GF actually hates coconut, but very much likes the coconut bun at MLW

                                SSK's version's bread is much more dry (both bread and filling) and doesn't have that crispy sugar i like (as you mentioned it has the glazed exterior). It does taste more like real coconut as you mentioned.

                                1. re: Lau

                                  Yeh, I think we are talking about the "cocktail bun" which is essentially a coconut bun.

                                  To be honest, I am never that excited about the fillings on any of MLW's buns, including the roast pork (which they advertised as char siu in Chinese, but the filling is no char siu...). But I do really like their baked buns for the buns themselves. They are slightly sweet and when served warm, they taste exactly like how I had them when I was small.

                                  But their pork filling is really weak, IMO.

                                  As for the comments on the new owner, I did realize that there was a middle-aged lady (who seemed to be the new owner) who kept promotoing the new items on the menu to me. I didn't try them last time as I was in a hurry, and she said I must come back to try them. Perhaps next time.

                                  1. re: kobetobiko

                                    thats what i think is actually better about Sun Say Kai's buns is that the filling is better than MLW's

                              2. re: Lau

                                Places link (with menu) below ...

                                Mei Lai Wah
                                64 Bayard St, New York, NY 10013

                    2. I hadn't heard of Mei Li Wah until the old bakery closed, so I have no previous experiences to compare to. But the baked roast pork buns I had today were by far the best I've had in NYC. The pork was rich and unctuous. The bread was moist and sweet. I don't know how the recipe might have changed, but I am quite happy with the results. It seems that others would agree as the line for counter service stretch right out the door.

                      3 Replies
                      1. re: JungMann

                        Glad you liked it, JM. Next time try the steamed pork and the baked coconut. They were without equal before the shop closed, I haven't tried them yet since the reopening.
                        Though I was pretty happy with the steamed pork bun at Sun Sai Kay, too.

                        1. re: vvvindaloo

                          I heard they tend to skimp on the filling in their steamed buns, which is precisely why I went for the baked. Is there any truth to this?

                          1. re: JungMann

                            I don't think so. Many prefer the traditional white steamed version over the baked one but I'm not in that camp. I think the white steamed buns in general have a greater bun-to-filling ratio though.

                      2. ok so i popped in on my way back from getting a haircut...holy crap the whole place looks different, its all new inside with a bunch of kind of orange and green colored walls. All the waiters / waitresses now wear bright orange polo type shirts. That said, i saw 2 guys i remembered from the old mei lai wah working there (good sign) and most of them were joking around between themselves and some old customers (another good sign).

                        I only tried the coconut bun....verdict: AWESOME. Very pleased, i think the bread might've been even better than before although they didn't put as much of that crunchy sugar on top as they did before. That said, beats the hell out of any of the other coconut buns i've had recently...MLW is back to being my default spot

                        unfortunately, i wasted my time going to Ho Won across the street from Dynasty Supermarket b/c my friend said they have the best cha siu bao in the city...not even close, probably one of the worst ones ive had in a while, way too much bread, filling was kind of dry and plain...not so good

                        Also, Dynasty is gone...its now Hong Kong Supermarket

                        9 Replies
                        1. re: Lau

                          Oh, interesting news about Dynasty. Another hound told me that she saw a sign that said that they were closed while they were being renovated.

                          I really hope this Hong Kong market is better than the one near East Broadway -- everything is so disorganized and there are some bad odors going on in there.

                          1. re: Miss Needle

                            yeah im not a huge fan of the HK market near e bway

                            btw have u ever tried that street vendor that is always in front of that HK mkt near ebway? I just thought of that right now for some reason...i actually dont even know what he serves

                            1. re: Lau

                              No, I haven't. I've passed by it a few times, but I can't remember at all what he served.

                              1. re: Lau

                                Are you talking about the cheung fun cart on Pike? Thats been there since as long as I could remember. My memory dates back to 24 years ago, me making my mom buy that for me everytime we passed by on the way. I'm glad its still there. Now I just wish that roasted chestnut cart would make a comeback...

                              2. re: Miss Needle

                                I believe Dynasty and HKS is owned by the same guy...

                                1. re: DarthEater

                                  I didn't know that. If they're owned by the same guy, I'm kind of surprised they didn't keep it at HKS as it seems like it's a better recognized name in NYC.

                                  If I'm in Manhattan's Chinatown, I find that I usually go to Kam Man for things like oyster sauce, fermented black beans, etc. It seems to be a bit pricier than HKS or Dynasty, but it's generally a more pleasant shopping experience (except for the hordes of tourists). In Flushing and Elmhurst, I find Hong Kong to be pretty well maintained. Just don't understand why HKS and Dynasty is kind of dumpy. Dynasty used to be fine years ago. But then something changed.

                                  1. re: Miss Needle

                                    Yea, the guy is pretty well known. He used to also own a small chinese grocery store Mon Chong (i could be wrong in the spelling) on Catherine st. which is now the .99cent store even when he had the HKS on E.B.

                              3. re: Lau

                                glad to hear the coconut bun passed muster. now i can allow myself to get psyched :) thanks.

                                1. re: Lau

                                  btw tried a mei li wah steamed cha siu bao this week; this is the first time i've tried a cha siu bao at the newly renovated MLW (ive tried the coconut bun). I've decided that it is the 2nd best steamed cha siu bao after Sun Say Kai's cha siu bao (almost pains me to say it)

                                  Here's my semi-detailed thinking on why:
                                  Bread: tie; both are fresh and fluffy bread that is slightly sweet
                                  Sauce: tie: both use the great brown savory sauce as opposed to the sweeter redder sauce
                                  Filling to bread ratio: tie; both are basically perfect
                                  Filling: this is what sets them apart....SSK's meat is better as there is pretty much all meat and no pieces of fat; MLW's has random pieces of fat

                                  All that said MLW's are still great and way better than almost any other place in ctown, but SSK's are slightly better.

                                  Btw, the MLW coconut bun is still by far and away the best in ctown.

                                2. Went by MLW Weds afternoon-ish. 30 minute wait on some baked pork buns! Bought a few steamed pork instead, just as delicious IMO. So glad they are back.

                                  1. They used to have really good coffee. I hope its just as good. I think its one of the oldest running places in Chinatown. I still remember going there as a kid with my grandpa. Great to hear!

                                    10 Replies
                                    1. re: designerboy01

                                      You're right! It was started by two bachelor brothers from Guangzhou in the 1890's.

                                      1. re: scoopG

                                        Interesting. Where did you hear/read this? The newspaper article posted in the window of the old MLW stated that they had been around since 1968.

                                        1. re: Polecat

                                          Polecat, it's from MoCA - the Museum of the Chinese in the Americas (specifically Beatrice.) I believe the brothers were from Taishan County, part of what is called the "four counties" area in Guangdong. Some 45% of all Chinese in the U.S. in 1876 (50% after the passage of the Chinese Exclusion Act in 1882) were from Taishan.

                                      2. re: designerboy01

                                        We too, loved the coffee, that combination of bitter and charred taste, with enough caffeine to get your heart bouncing back and forth like a ping pong ball in a wind tunnel. Based on one visit to the new MLW theme park (uniforms, no more counter seating and, of all the nerve, a clean bathroom!), the coffee was the one weak link. It was okay, but definitely not the same - one sip was enough to know. This was one visit, a week ago, so the jury is still out on this one. Please report back on your findings.

                                        1. re: Polecat

                                          I think the old guy use to use egg shells or some other restaurant trick to remove some of the bitterness. I don't know what he did but it was dam good coffee. I wonder if the cat is still there. I use to see him when one of the guys was making siu mai...probably dead by now. Yes, I'll try to pay a visit and let you guys know.

                                          1. re: designerboy01

                                            Let us know, both of you. I always get milk tea but will have to try the coffee. BTW it is open under the same owner(s) as before.

                                            1. re: scoopG

                                              db01, didn't see the cat, would be very surprised if it was still there. you have to assume that the reno, and the new menu items, was an attempt at something of an image change. the cat just wouldn't fit in with the slick new booths and such.

                                              ScoopG, very interesting stuff. Did you read that these two brothers specifically founded MLW? Is there an online resource? Do tell.

                                              Glad to hear that the old owners are still there. I didn't see them there last Saturday. Always liked them. Especially the wife, who would make a point of greeting and chatting up customers. As I posted above after my first visit to the new MLW, so is the old customer base. Hence, a lot of that old spirit will still be there.

                                              1. re: Polecat

                                                Polecat, the MLW info was from Beatrice Chen of MoCA. I tagged along with a school group that had a tour about 3-4 years ago. I've never seen anything online about MLW or in any other source so far. Beatrice is still there although they are closed now until they re-open in their new digs on Lafayette Street. Other info from "Chinese America - The Untold Story of America's Oldest Community."


                                                1. re: scoopG

                                                  Very interesting stuff, thanks.