Golden Delicious

Chinatown favorite Mei Li Wah is better than ever

When the beloved-but-dingy Chinatown bakery Mei Lai Wah closed last year, fans thought the city's best pork buns were gone for good.

But the place reopened a few months later with a dramatic makeover: Gone is the "No Spitting" sign and decrepit olive-green booths. Now we're served by staffers in bright orange shirts, who turn out house specialties under a slightly tweaked name: Mei Li Wah.

The cosmetic changes are nice, but the food, thankfully, remains the same. The dim sum is still fine though forgettable, but the baked goods remain mind-blowingly good (and cheap). There's a steamed ball of dough filled with sausage, hard-boiled egg and chicken called "big bun" ($1.60), and a braided sesame bun (80 cents) baked to soft, sweet, golden perfection. Both are great, but without question the shop's star is the baked pork bun (a.k.a. char siu bao, 80 cents).

For those unfamiliar with the glory of baked pork buns (versus the steamed variety made famous by Momofuku), imagine a large, golden dinner roll lovingly glazed with sugar and filled with sweet-salty chunks of fatty pork. It's no wonder the doorway is constantly jammed, once again, with people ordering them by the dozen.

Mei Li Wah, 64 Bayard St. (between Mott and Elizabeth sts.); 212-925-5435