In less than two months, three hot chicken shops opened. The newest is inside The Block.
Of course this is mom.
“She’s always here helping out,” says Linh Huynh, business marketing manager for The Block. “She cleans the tables, cooks family meals,” Huynh continues.
She’s talking about Diana Mei, mom of Arturo Mei, the owner of The Block, the Annandale food court.
“Mom is the mom of The Block,” Mei says. When Roots, a Thai concept, closed at the beginning of the year, Mei took over the stall, and he started with his personal go-to food.
“Chicken wings with mumbo sauce is one of my favorite things,” he says of the DC classic, but ended up with a Nashville-style hot chicken sandwich as the start of this wide-ranging menu.
While the other two shops concentrate on fried chicken, and various levels of taste bud-destroying heat, Mama Mei’s will also encompass family favorites.
Mei grew up in a restaurant family. His parents owned a Chinese carry-out in DC (Great Wall) and a full-service restaurant in Bogotá, Colombia. “I was always in the kitchen making my own food,” he says. But also, “helping my parents, frying and breading chicken.”
Mama Mei’s, he says, is built with a “Chinese take-out feel, but with a twist … Southern food with an Asian twist.” The chicken sandwiches, available in four heat levels (hot mama is the scorcher), come on a pineapple bun on the weekends, a nod to his Chinese roots.
Dishes include fried chicken nuggets with a hot-honey walnut sauce mimicking Chinese-American honey-mayo walnut shrimp. Sides include vegetable tempura bites, waffle fries, tornado fries (a long potato spiraled around a stick and fried) and corn cheese (off-the-cob with melted mozzarella).
To come are more Asian-inspired dishes, of which his parents are helping to test, like red pork, crispy pork belly, bao, dumplings and Chinese barbecue, the latter of which his dad is taking the lead.
The Mei family is a tight one: Mei’s brother Tommy is a manager at The Block and Mei still vacations with his parents, treating them to tour of Shanghai, Hong Kong and Macau last fall.
While his parents are retired, they are a constant present at The Block. Mei gives them an allowance. “They worked their whole life, didn’t take much vacation,” he says. “It’s fun, I get to take care of them.” // Mama Mei’s at The Block: 4221 John Marr Drive, Annandale
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