4416 18th St., Castro
Phone: (415) 309-6661
Status: Opened Sunday
After a two-month hiatus to transform itself from a pop-up into a full restaurant, Mama Ji's, the dim sum spot at Queen Malika Cafe, has now officially taken the reins. Helmed by Lili Ji, in partnership with her husband Marv, Mama Ji's still offers Ritual coffee, Five Mountains tea, and Black Jet Baking pastries in the mornings, but Queen Malika's crepes are gone, replaced by a full-service dim sum menu at lunchtime and Szechuan menu at night. Ji is a native of Sichuan province and grew up in Guangzhou, so her food encompasses both styles, with some help from Yank Sing alum Li Guozhong, who makes all the dim sum by hand in the newly remodeled and enlarged kitchen.
When we stopped by to interview her, the extremely hospitable Ji wouldn't let us leave without eating half the menu, and we can testify firsthand that the standards, from Shanghai-style soup dumplings to sesame balls, are just as good as they were before the renovation. She's also added some new dishes, including an incredibly delicious glutinous rice steamed with Chinese sausage in a lotus leaf and a vegan steamed vegetable bun with tofu that's good enough to allure carnivores. Here's page one of the dim sum menu, and here's page two.
On the dinner side, things get spicier, though the dim sum remains available. We asked Ji to pick a few of her favorite dishes from the sizable menu: she recommends the Chongqing spicy chicken, Nam Yu spareribs with tofu, silky tofu with beef, fish braised in chili bean sauce, and crispy eggplant. There's also a combination dumpling platter for an appetizer-sized dive into dim sum. Here's the full dinner menu.
The space has been updated with new tables and clean white walls, and they now have a beer and wine license as well. The drinks menu is small at the moment, but displays a predilection for large-format Belgian beers like Delirium Tremens and Allagash Tripel; they're planning to add three drafts of Belgian brews and an even bigger bottle selection. Hours are daily from 9:30 am to 9:30 pm, except for Mondays, when they'll close at 6 pm. Takeout is available, and Ji says they'll add delivery in the coming months if there's enough demand.
Photo: Steven Bracco