6823 E Broad St, Columbus, OH 43213-1516
Phone: (614) 861-3515
Monday – Friday: 11am – 9pm
Saturday and Sunday: 11:30am -9pm
A couple of us had heard rumors of an excellent Chinese restaurant on the East Side called Lai Lai. Being that it was hard to pin down specifics such as their regional cuisine specialty, our interest was piqued and we headed east on a recent week night to see what the fuss was all about. Since there were seven of us, we were able to order quite a bit and get a good feel for their menu. We were a little disappointed to find out that there was not a separate Chinese menu, but after a little conversation with the owner who hails originally from Taiwan, we were assured that there were items with a more authentic flavor and that if need be, the kitchen would prepare special requests with a days notice. First up, the appetizers.
The Crispy Garlic Tofu had a delicately crunchy exterior surrounding soft tofu. The dipping sauce consisted of a mix of yellow hot mustard and duck sauce.
One of the appetizers on the specials menu, the salt and pepper calamari tossed with green onions is a staple in Chinese restaurants.
The Fiery Wontons had good flavor from the mild peppercorn sauce but the ratio of wrapper to filling was left us wanting more.
Dan Dan Noodles is really a misnomer. This dish should really be renamed noodles in peanut sauce.
We were impressed with how quickly the food came out but it might have been because we were one of two tables in the well decorated and spacious dining room. The entrees:
The Smoked Duck was by far everyone’s favorite at the table. So much so that we ordered another serving of it. The duck is placed into these taco-shaped buns (bao), maybe with a smear or two of hoisin sauce, and eaten immediately. While some of us opted out of the bao (it was tough, especially when it got cold), the flavor of the duck was spot on, infused with tea smoke and much like ones I’ve had in Asia.
The Taiwanese Style Noodle was more wet than we were used to seeing and nothing in the flavors jumped out at us as particularly Taiwanese. This is a good detour if you’d like to try something other than Lo Mein.
Coming from a group of adventurous eaters, we were all surprised to see that the Twice Cooked Pork was very lean. Traditionally made from pork belly, Lai Lai makes their’s with lean pork to make it more accessible to their customers. This was also more saucy than we were used to.
Fiery Szechuan Fish Filet with just the tiniest hint of numbing Sichuan peppercorns.
Any respectable Chinese restaurant has to have excellent greens that are simply stir-fried. Lai Lai was no exception: one of the first plates to be cleaned, the Shanghai Bok Choy (also known as baby bok choy) was still crispy with just a hint of garlic.
The Sa Cha Beef with Choy Sum was also well received. The owner offered to make us this dish off the menu since we were looking for more Taiwanese flavored dishes. Sa Cha is a type of condiment similar to oyster sauce but with a smokier and seafood-y flavor. Here, it is stir-fried with choy sum (closer to bok choy than Chinese broccoli) and beef. Though this was not as fancy as some of the above dishes, it was home-style and went great with a bowl of steamed rice.
We had hoped that the menu offerings would appeal to both novice and experienced palates with the inclusion of classic Chinese appetizers such as marinated cucumbers, vegetarian duck, and drunken chicken. Despite this, we cleaned every single plate and were so full that we didn’t get a chance to try the lauded desserts in Lai Lai’s display case. Our expectations were high but nonetheless, we had a good meal with great company. If we’re ever hungry, east of 270, we’ll be sure to keep Lai Lai’s in mind.
Lai Lai used to be out at Mill Run in Hilliard (15 years ago or so) – around the corner from Taj Palace – I think the space is currently occupied by Joey Chang’s.
The original restaurant had an Art Deco feel, practically elegant compared to most Chinese places, with etched glass panels between the booths and black & white table settings — nary a silk lantern, fan, or parasol to be seen in the decor. They had a dish that was unique in my experience, and when I found out they’d opened a new place out east I went, hoping it was still on the menu – no joy. So I’ve eaten there a couple of times, and some day I hope to find them serving it again – medallions of chicken crusted with almonds and served with a tomato ginger sauce. I doubt that it’s authentically Chinese food, but it was a terrific meal. (I don’t remember from the current menu whether they still offer chicken and fresh bamboo shoots in black bean sauce, but that was another wonderful dish at the original place.)
I really don’t know what your review of Lai Lai is doing on this site. It sounds like just another second-rate Chinese joint. I thought alt.eats.columbus was to cover restaurants that didn’t fit in anywhere else. No?
Well, it wasn’t quite as exciting as we had hoped, but it did have some high points. I can’t think of anywhere else in town you can find tea smoked duck, and it was really very good. A dish that new and unusual for Columbus will generally make it on to this blog.
My partner and I just got back from eating there and we feel sick. We ordered the Kung Pao Tofu and Spicy Eggplant dishes, and ended up with two really greasy bellies. In case you don’t know what greasy bellies are, its when the food sinks down really hard and fills you with a queasy feeling that is only obtained from eating mass quantities of oil. They garnished one of the dishes with a moldy tomato, and the food was definitely not worth the price they were asking. If you are looking for fresh no greasy food, check out the Chipotle next door. That was our biggest regret when we paid our $30 bill.
I love Lai Lai’s! Yes the menu is American friendly however I’ve hosted many Chinese New Year’s and Christmas dinners here where the owners had designed and cooked a special menu for me that is totally authentic and delicious. But you do need to order this a few days in advance so they can shop for it
On Tea Smoked Duck- its not really rare in Columbus, at least Pacific eatery has it
Lai Lai’s spicy eggplant is wonderful. Maybe it felt greasy and weighed you down because you are vegetarians and not used to eating a lot of rich food? You are mistaken.