Bess's Cafe

By Molly McDonough · 08/14/2018    Brookline · Chinese · $$

These days, Bostonians are embracing big flavors; the city’s buzziest dishes boast salt, fat, sugar, and spice in spades. Gone are the days of dumplings dipped daintily into a side of sauce—now, those meaty, doughy bites arrive swimming in Sichuan sauce, soaking up chili oil like a sponge.

Chicken dumplings with Sichuan sauce from Bess's Cafe

Such is the case at this unassuming cafe in Brookline, where Hong Kong native Bess Lee draws from family recipes to craft tasty Jiangnan-style dishes. Lee ditched a retail career in 2017 to open the friendly, casual shop, where food is ordered at the counter and brought to tables steaming hot and smelling divine. Cozy up and dive into filling dishes—dining here is an effortless experience whether you share it with a crew or snack solo. (And with most dishes priced under $10, it won’t break the bank.)

Pork belly buns from Bess's Cafe

The depth of umami flavor in this MSG-free menu is impressive—and meat is its driving force. Start with the saucy variety of Chicken Dumplings: Shaped like little tricorn hats, they’ve got a super-dense center and extensive doughy edges—the perfect vehicles for soaking up that sweet-spicy liquid. Their scallion pancake is fried to a perfect crisp until its browned outer layer could be peeled off and eaten like a chip; get it filled with fried chicken for the most indulgent wrap ever. The ground pork topping the bowl of Dan Dan Noodles gives the dish spaghetti Bolognese vibe. But what’s that, you’re already stuffed? These dishes are as good cold as they are hot. Trust us: You won’t mind having a takeout container full of meaty Chinese dishes to snack on when late-night cravings kick in.

Pork belly noodle soup from Bess's cafe

Lunch special alert! Between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. Tuesday to Friday, Bess’s lets you choose a main dish and two sides for only $9.95.

Can’t squeeze in to one of Bess’s 14 seats? Clark Playground across the street is a solid spot for a picnic.

Must Haves

  • These adorable wrinkly nuggets yield salt, sweetness, and spice in equal measure.

  • A simple classic with an extra-fatty layer of pork.

  • Fried chicken and loads of sauce snuggled into the flaky scallion pancake of your dreams.

Fun Fact

Lee’s mother painted the hanging paper scrolls adorning a wall inside the cafe.

Tastes of Bess's Cafe

So good we can't stop writing about it. Read more about Bess's Cafe!

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