MC's chicken sandwich at Mama Chan's in Northport.

MC's chicken sandwich at Mama Chan's in Northport. Credit: Newsday/Erica Marcus

There’s almost nothing at Mama Chan’s that feels like a typical Chinese restaurant. The look of the place, sleek and spare with a big fireplace, reads “chic cocktail bar,” and indeed this Northport storefront was Gin 45 from 2020 to 2023. The succinct menu features 16 dishes, but there are 15 wines plus signature cocktails and craft beers. Instead of a firing line of round-bottomed woks, the tiny kitchen boasts mostly Western-style equipment and an executive chef, Michael Meehan, who has decades of fine-dining and gastropub experience, although none with Chinese food.

But the heart and soul of Mama Chan’s are unquestionably Chinese. They both belong to Li Li Chan. Chan and her husband, Wing, operated Long Island’s Chinese mini-chain Tofu during the '80s and '90s and their children, Diana and Justin Chan, were determined to honor their mother with a restaurant devoted to her homestyle recipes.

“Our mom’s family was from Shanghai and then moved to Taiwan,” Diana said. “But most of these dishes are not strictly ‘traditional.’ They are what she cooked for us when we were growing up.”

The siblings insisted on Chan's pan-fried rice cakes, scallion-oil noodles, pork-bok-choy dumplings (steamed, pan-fried or in broth), beef noodle soup and fried rice (which can be enhanced with Taiwanese sausage and/or a fried egg).

Mama Chan's in Northport is owned by siblings Diana and...

Mama Chan's in Northport is owned by siblings Diana and Justin Chan Credit: Newsday/Erica Marcus

While the flavors here are authentic, many of the dishes have been tweaked to cut down on the fat. Those pork dumplings, for example, are made with ground tenderloin rather than shoulder; the sesame noodles do not sit in a puddle of sauce; the string beans are not twice-fried but, rather, blanched and then stir-fried to retain a more al dente texture.

One dish that doesn’t adhere to this leaner regimen is the majestic fried chicken sandwich, Justin’s brainchild: A big, fat marinated thigh is dredged in potato flour (mama’s trick), fried to a crisp, slid into a brioche bun and slathered with chili mayonnaise and pickled cucumbers. The same thigh, sliced, can be had on a bowl of rice. Braised pork belly also comes in for the bowl treatment. Nothing on Mama Chan’s menu tops $18.

The bar here is Diana’s domain and she’s selected Asian-friendly wines (including a junmai sake) and cocktails that make good use of plum wine, green tea and the shockingly blue butterfly-pea tea. Diana, who recently stepped back from her corporate job to concentrate on the restaurant, had long wanted to try her hand at bartending. She approached the owners of Gin 45 and started doing so once a week. That connection led to a series of Mama Chan’s pop-ups during the summer whose menus were executed by the three Chans. Once they decided to open a restaurant, though, they knew they had to hire a proper chef and placed an ad on Craigslist.

And who should respond but Meehan, a veteran chef whose decadeslong resume includes Mill River Inn in Oyster Bay, Tupelo Honey in Sea Cliff, H2O in Smithtown and Vauxhall in Huntington. Over the last few years he has opened and consulted for restaurants like Standard Rec in Patchogue, and he also fronts a roots music band, The Lucky Ones. “I was looking for something to do this winter,” he said. “While I’ve cooked a lot of Asian fusion, I’m really enjoying learning the challenge of learning homestyle Chinese and translating it for a restaurant kitchen.”

Mama Chan's, 1014 Fort Salonga Rd., Northport, 631-205-6671, Open Tuesday to Thursday 5 to 9 p.m., Friday to Saturday 5 to 10 p.m., closed Sunday and Monday.

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