A Lee 88 Chinese Restaurant [Waltham MA], Inner Mongolian Shumai Dumplings & First Rate Sichuan

I scooped eater dot com and everyone else again! Generally this month’s hot and new Chinese restaurant must be discovered on WeChat and is already slammed with Chinese students, but you get the first views! Come discover something unique to Boston and NYC even!

The location is 922 Main Street, Waltham. This is the location of Jin’s, Yummy Noodle, and lastly Jiangnan. In fact, Jiangnan’s awning is still up probably why no one has found it, since it opened in mid-November 2021. It is unbelievable that it has not been discovered by any blogger, social media, or foodie websites to date. I’ve posted the only review on Yelp.

To compound matters, the company who made their website put in a wrong name for their Google Places. It says “Sichuan Cuisine Waltham” but that’s not their name at all!

From the Google Places page, the link is https://sichuancuisinewaltham.com/ and in fact it is the restaurant, it has the menu and everything, but with the wrong name.

Sidenote: On the google page one reviewer left this:
(Translated by Google) His family has Inner Mongolia roasted wheat! ! ! !
(Original)
他家有内蒙烧麦!!!!
That translation is bad. It says “His house has Inner Mongolia Shumai!!!”

The English name is in fact A Lee 88 Chinese Restaurant. https://www.alee88restaurant.com/

Strangely, if you click the menus from both Sichuan Cuisine Waltham or A Lee 88, you get the same menu. https://menustone.com/local/alee88

Now the Yelp listing has it as Alee88 Chinese Restaurant making everything just completely messed up. I have the only review which was a copy pasta from this post. https://www.yelp.com/biz/alee88-chinese-restaurant-waltham

So a combo of bad street visibility from the old awning, multiple conflicting and incorrect web presence, and a lack of awareness even in the Chinese student community is making this place invisible. But maybe you guys can make some noise. This is a very special treat that even NYC doesn’t have at the moment, and I assure you it is expertly done, I have talked to my friend in Huhhot, Inner Mongolia about it this week, we’ve gone over preparation and examined this to be excruciatingly authentic.

Their Chinese name is somewhat meaningless. It sort looks like the characters for Quanjude 全聚德 (quan ju de) but it’s not the same characters. Quanjude is the most reputable Peking Duck place in Beijing. I’ve eaten at one of them, actually. So it’s kinda like they wanted to ape a reputable Chinese brand, but instead of Starbucks, it’s like SolarBlast or something, you understand?

This was a lotta sleuthing and research, so I hope all you bloggers, social media types, and food sites at least credit me with finding it and going the extra mile to completely document it’s origins and provenance.

Are you still with me? Let’s get to the food.

Technically this is not XLB. It is a shumai. And it’s Inner Mongolian Lamb style. Massively sized about twice as big as typical xlb. 6 dumplings, not 5. The lamb meatballs inside yield a broth that is extraordinary in it’s amount and you will want not for the unctuousness of pork fillings or it’s variants of concern. (Sorry bad joke.) The skins are not bao type but they are thinner than anything you’ve seen on any xlb or dumpling.

To give you some background, Shumai was actually invented in Huhhot, the capitol of Inner Mongolia. Most Americans and even Chinese believe it is of Guangzhou or Shanghai origin but that would be incorrect. There are no tricks involved like freezing the meat mixture to solidify the fat or liquid, except for a bit of starch added. It’s flavored with a variety of spices including white pepper, ginger, scallions, and flax seed oil. It is quite easy to devour the entire bamboo steamer’s worth, because compared to xlb, it’s a bit lighter in flavor and not as fatty, even if it’s twice the amount. The skins are made in a quite delicate manner, pressed out twice, and only rested for about a half hour. The outer surface is folded and creased upon itself to yield a top that is as complex as a carnation flower. When the lid of the steamer is lifted, the “petals” flutter bewitchingly as the steam wafts, beguiling you, yet you can’t just dig in, you just stare in fascination. Did you take 6 photos yet lol. The edges on my sample were so thin, flakes of completely dried out flour started flaking off, it’s basically shamanic cookery.

Almost no one knows this place, no chatter on WeChat, nothing. I sat there two nights ago and one Chinese student couple at, and only one takeout order went out. The phone rang once. Yesterday I ate lunch alone. The other dishes, jeez, some of the best it’s category in Boston or even NYC. This is a huge discovery and you are getting in on the ground floor, old-timers! This dish does not exist in NYC, it briefly existed in a closed Xinjiang style place for a while and was written up on Grubstreet.

Pro-tip, because of the massive size it is easy to burn your mouth. Eat with caution at first.

This is from an app called Red. It is a Chinese copy of pinterest and insta and yelp all together. Some of these pics are actually from the business itself. All 23 or so photos on Yelp are from the business too.


Here is a video I made of a “dumpling drop”.

It is traditional to dunk them in the vinegar or chili oil btw. I am so reverent that I ask for a soup spoon and eat off a spoon and plate just like XLB. When the juices inevitably spill, I ungraciously lift the plate to my mouth and slurp it down mmmmmm.

I’m going to get in the habit of moving them away for the bamboo steamer walls as well soon as it hits the table. They tend to stick and rip quite easily as they cool.

Now their Sichuan is really great, top tier for NYC or Boston. Peruse the menu and you will see a elegantly constrained Sichuan menu broken into categories that make sense. “Homemade from Wheat”, listing smaller items including the Mongolian Shui Mai, the sole Mongol dish. Lamb Mongolian Hot Pot for 2-3 people, either spicy-hot or not does exist, but it is not on the menu, you have to request. “Chef Specialty” has 20 dishes in a variety of heat levels, meats, preps, and plenty of offal like Sauteed Pork Kidney, Pork Blood and Ox Tripe in Spicy Sauce and more. 4 fish dishes round out that section.

“Appetizer” are non-wheat based Sichuan classics and they are beautifully presented with great attention to detail, prep, and excellent mise en place. Eggplants with Mashed Chili Pepper is a masterstroke of battonnet’ed cold eggplant generously covered in a crumbly paste of garlic, chilies, pickled mustard greens, ringed by chili oil. Mashed Garlic Cucumber comes attractively studded with crushed garlic all over, due to a thick paste amped with an enlivening sugary undertone. Traditional Chinese Smoky Rabbit is available as well 12 others in total.

“Veggies” are only 7 items, but again, extremely well executed including the Mapo Tofu, which I could not make better myself, having taught myself years ago when recipes or YouTube instructions simply didn’t exist.

“Famous Szechuan Mixed Hot Pot” are not appeasements to consumer demand only, 2 of 4 are offal, such as “Pork Kidney & Ox Throat”. 5 “Soup” are offered as serious minded efforts too, Pork Trotter in Herbal Soup is an enticing one.

“Entrees” are the Sino-American concessions but oddly traditional seafood dishes live there as well. They will prepare for you Live Lobster & Crab, but “Reserved only” format.

13 Lunch Combos await, and they are accompanied sometimes by extras, like tea egg or steamed cabbage.

The man in charge is from Inner Mongolia yet he has put together a talented team of Sichuan pros. The restaurant has some modest updates from it’s days of Jiang Nan, the previous tenant who did some remodeling on a space that desperately needed it. I immediately thought he looked Mongolian, and then I noticed atypical geometric patterns on the disposable tablecloths. Then I was given a Zojirushi thermos of tea instead of a tea pot. (In China sometimes they give you both, but I suspected the thermos was just a standard cold weather Mongolian thing.) At that point I just flat out asked him if he was from Mongolia and proceeded to order the shumai. I was blown away and came back the next day for the same thing. I may or may not have had my fourth or fifth sampling by the time of this writing.

This is a very special place, it reminds me of the excitement when I discovered MDM Noodles or Cha Yen Thai Cookery, or other places I have managed to get to before other intrepid ex-Chowhounders and the media coverage that ensues. One feels special to sit and dine with absolutely no one else in the room except the owner. You try to hold on to the moment, because you hope that once you push out your missives to the world, the place becomes packed everyday from then on!

So that’s the full story of my last 4 days of obsessing over Mongolian Shui Mai. What a way to ring in 2022!

In-House Smoked Pork Belly with Leeks (Hand-scribed Specials Menu)

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I had started a long multi-visit blog from Jiang Nan, but the food wasn’t that exciting, so I never went back to finish it. Guess I throw that away now. This looks very exciting and they also have off-street parking, but not a lot. Thanks for the write-up!

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Peter, HNY! I just couldn’t walk in the door of the previous 3 “sichuan” restos there, despite wanting a serious alternative to the always reliable Mulan. I frequent that place but you kinda want to see the wealth spread around. Kudos for slogging through part of it tho! Yea there are a handful of spaces and if it’s after normal business hours, I guess you could park by the adjacent business slots. Odd configuration of spaces and buildings.

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so I wouldn’t normally get XLB “to-go” but i haven’t been eating in restaurants a lot lately . . . worth trying to go? or just try the sichuan and wait for the XLB until I’m up for an inside meal?

They are quite delicate and the skin thin - will dry out fast so yes I would wait. I wouldn’t even offer it to go myself, you can’t crowd them, some will break open, two dipping sauces…not worth it. I got a massive SUV early on just so I could eat onsite! If you go off hours it will probably be empty.

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I live in Waltham and this looks wonderful. I’ll get there very soon. At Jiang I ordered a noodle dish that still had sand in the cabbage. Aaaarrrrrgh. Never went back. So happy to see there’s a fresh incarnation.

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Guess who’s back?

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I just looked at their website and scrolled down and found Spicy Duck Head. Doesn’t get more authentic than that. Next to that, there is General Tso’s Chicken, it doesn’t get more inauthentic than that.

Its segregated better on paper menu

honestly, I can’t believe how good that looks. If i had wheels, I’d drive out there tomorrow. Might have to take the train to Waltham…

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Get a crew together and get a lift! Its kinda far from station

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This all looks amazing. Thanks @anon6418899 for sharing the fruits of your sleuthing and research with us! Only hope I can get there before it’s mobbed (but they certainly deserve success!)

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In reply to duck head vs the general it is damned if you do damned if you don’t. I would offer it actually if it were my decision and hopefully drop it later.

There is a successful mini chain of northwestern Chinese restos in NYC area called Dun Huang. It is shockingly good for a “chain”. (In the city anything with 3 or more is a chain and then like Yogi Berra says oh, no one goes there anymore its a chain. Meanwhile Manhattan is turning into a Frankenstein Mall of America and the high rise apartment building lobbies are jam packed with Amazon packages everyday.) With a tight menu this is way better than say Xian Famous Foods. I’m a fan. The rice pilaf is some of the best I’ve ever had and that includes some of the finest Afghan brown rice ones I’ve had, Turkmenistanese, Azerbaijanian, etc.

So they open one in Syosset I check it out a few times. I notice that locals start walking in looking at menu and then walking out. But there is a healthy stream of Chinese FOBs. I ask the waiter, uh does that happen often? He throws his hands up in total frustration. “You know, 50% of our customers are Chinese. But people call and ask for orange chicken and I say no we are authentic Chinese restaurant. Then they ask do you have almond chicken? I say sorry no. Then they ask me, ‘Are you sure you are a Chinese restaurant?’” Can you imagine? It takes a lot to fluster a young Chinese zoomer.

Brutal! Yeah this is a tough business you really can’t know what will happen. The first time I met Jeemui at Cha Yen Thai Cookery she said after conversing “and we have homemade ice cream too.” I asked why. “to differentiate us I guess.” After eating her food I was like lady you have no need to differentiate! None the less she enjoys making it and customers love it too. It worked.

So sullying your menu with the general is a safe play at least in the beginning. I mean we don’t have to order it anyway let the hoi pal-oi eat it if they want.

I’m just extremely thankful I get to eat this stuff!

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Yes @GretchenS and everyone, I hope you will support them! I have done my job! (Please note, I’m not paid by anyone although I should be lol)

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We got some from Dumpling House in Cambridge to-go recently and I was skeptical as well. It was a pleasant surprise, however. They actually did fine, with the soup still nicely liquid, and our kids were psyched to not burn themselves on the first bite which usually happens. That may not apply to these, though.

It’s half as thick as XLB when you examine the tops it’s literally paper thin.

I’d request to buy them uncooked and steam at home. Up to your persuasion skills if they will do that.

Was driving past today, looked packed at around 2pm! Always a good sign. (On way to grocery, need to stop in for food!!!)

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plancomes

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I was there at noon on Sunday and it was just me and the crew until I left at one. A few takeouts. Had the Mongolian Dumplings and they were fantastic. Interesting dishes on the lunch menu. Ping me if anyone wants company for lunch M-F.

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“Fantastic” is what I like to hear! Hopefully this means 2022 will yield some other interesting finds, but I haven’t been this excited since I went to Cha Yen 3 times in a week when she opened. I did forward this thread to eater dot com but haven’t heard back. Waiting for the blogosphere and soc media to catch up. It is odd to eat there alone and kinda used to it, but it will change soon. Going later today, catch the images on IG!

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