Since the 1960s, this unassuming bakery has been churning out fresh, piping-hot sweet and savory buns. In 2008, when the New York City Department of Health caused Mei Lai Wah Coffee House to shutter, the outcry was immediate. In a lament entitled “Farewell, My Lovely Pork Buns,” Eric Asimov at The New York Times declared it “a great loss to the Chinatown community” and wrote, “I still felt surprised each visit when I took my first bite and remembered how good they were.”
Thankfully for New Yorkers and pork bun enthusiasts everywhere, Mei Lai Wah reopened after a quick glow-up on the auspicious date of 8/8/08. Customers started showing up in droves for the bakery’s signature char siu bao practically from the moment the ovens restarted. Nowadays, the buns are as good as ever, often causing a considerable line to snake from the front door down Bayard Street.
Despite the hype, few items on the menu go above $2 or $3. Virtually everyone is here for the baked roast pork buns, which come handsomely burnished and stuffed with meltingly tender char siu. The subtle sweetness of the pillowy dough is the perfect foil for the über-savory interior, which tends to ooze down your fingers as you tear into it.
Know Before You Go
Bring cash and go early—the roast pork buns have a tendency to sell out.