The words “dim sum” conjure images of roving carts, chicken feet, and indecipherable character-filled menus. There are crowded tables, long waits, and florescent lights. You may have a hangover.
So it is a little peculiar to walk into Mama Ji’s on a sunny Sunday afternoon and be greeted with English menus, tiny tidy tables, and a full selection of Belgian beers. The room is strangely calm, even with a packed house—chalk it up to the lack of background music and patrons’ enthusiastic noshing. Even on the cusp of the Folsom Street Fare nearby, the wait for a table was only a few minutes; the host, co-owner Marv Woatla, is cheery and helpful, if a bit spacey.
Mama Ji’s has a history much like that other Sichuan darling over on Mission Street. Begun as a pop-up in the back of Queen Malika café last October, Lili “Mama” Ji and Woatla, her husband, formally took over the space this past May. This move has allowed Ji to expand the menu to include not only her family’s specialties, but also dim sum and Sichuan classics. They picked up a prize dim sum cook in Li Guozhong, formally of Daly City’s Koi Palace.
A surprising Belgian beer selection, curated by Woatla, makes up the bulk of the drink menu; they’ve also got Ritual coffee and Red Blossom Teas for teetotalers.
If recent press is any indication, Mama Ji’s is a welcome addition to the otherwise dull selection of Castro restaurants. But is the restaurant poised to be good enough to stand with the city’s greats, or is it destined to remain a quirky neighborhood staple?