Vendor Spotlight: Li Wah – The Dim Sum Destination
It’s Friday afternoon and nearly every seat is full. The restaurant’s black chairs are lined with floral upholstery and a teapot of piping hot tea rests at each table as the dim sum carts methodically circle the restaurant. It’s a place that feels consistent, comforting, and metropolitan all at once. They say you can’t hurry a dive bar, and I think the same thing goes for a restaurant like Li Wah: its charm has developed with the passing of time.
Sunday brunch is their busiest time of all. For many, the convenient dim sum style of dining is a relaxed Sunday ritual. Dim sum is served to seated customers on carts filled with steamed baskets of small portions of many different dumplings, meats, buns, and rices. This style of dining makes it easy to share and try a few bites of many different dishes.
Li Wah opened in 1991, located in the heart of Asia Town, on Payne Avenue in the Asia Plaza. The Asia Plaza in a place where you can do it all —get your nails done, shop from huge selections of tea, purchase a gorgeous ornamental vase or maybe even a Samurai sword, and eat a great traditional Chinese meal.
It’s sister restaurant King Wah opened in 1973 in Rocky River. The menu samples Szechwan, Hunan, and Cantonese cuisine and also includes Americanized fusion style dishes. Both restaurants have participated in Night Market since its start.
At Night Market, Li Wah specializes in traditional Chinese dishes including lo mien, dumplings, barbecue pork buns, spring rolls, and certain selections of dim sum. King Wah serves more eclectic dishes including braised pork belly buns, sugar cane shrimp, and Asian style barbecue ribs.
“I was born and raised in Asia and I’ve experienced what Night Markets are like. In July, I was in Japan for two weeks and Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia for rest of the month. I knew that this was a good idea that would work here and get people talking,” says restaurant owner, Randy Hom.
As the first dim sum cart approached, I ordered shrimp dumplings and shumai, a traditional Chinese pork dumpling. “These are mainstays for all dim sum restaurants throughout the world. If you don’t have these two, you’re not a dim sum restaurant,” he says with a laugh as the second dim sum cart approached offering bakery and an assortment of spring rolls. I doused my veggie rolls in chili sauce and soy sauce.
Randy is one of four brothers who are all Cleveland natives. He controls the finance side of the business. After studying hotel management at Ohio State, Randy took over both restaurants from his parents in 1997 and began the process of change.
Throughout the years of operating the restaurants, he has seen the neighborhood change. Overall, he is optimistic that the city and Asiatown neighborhood itself are on the upswing. However, he believes that there is still a lot left to accomplish.
“I’ve definitely seen growth in this community, but I’d like to see more growth. I want to see people push and help this community move forward. I think it will take more infrastructure, more businesses moving in and also more basic necessities,” he says.
His favorite part of Night Market is seeing all the different types of people congregate in the neighborhood. In the future, he hopes to see more festivals pop-up in the Midtown neighborhood. “I love the idea of participating in a winter market in one of the big industrial buildings in this neighborhood,” he says hopefully. “Perhaps this is a possibility?” Only time will tell.
You can enjoy dishes by Li Wah and King Wah on Friday, September 30th from 5:00 PM to 11:00 PM at the intersection of Rockwell Ave. at Night Market’s final event of the season.
Photographs by Breanna Kulkin