Lai Lai is a slightly upscale Chinese restaurant located in a nondescript strip mall in Blacklick. After selling previous suburban restaurants with the same name (now closed) and staying out of the restaurant business for a decade, owner James Miao opened a new Lai Lai on the far East side.
Lai Lai is an authentic Chinese eatery with classic dishes. Although the decor and plating suggest a top shelf experience, prices are reasonable with nothing more than $15 and most priced around $10.
The menu at Lai Lai is not exceptionally vegetarian friendly, although like most Chinese restaurants, there are about five or six vegetarian entrees and three vegetarian appetizers available. The only dish that puts up warning flags for vegetarians is the ma po tofu, a traditional Szechuan tofu dish that is prepared with pork.
Vegetarian starters are a fried vegetable spring roll, a breaded tofu dish with peanut dipping sauce and sesame noodles. The spring roll was crisp and artfully presented. The accompanying condiments were a nice touch, especially the hot mustard, which provided an explosive accent to the dish.
Vegetarian entrees are usually made with tofu. The Chinese eggplant is one of the non-tofu main courses, while choices like kung pao tofu and Szechuan black bean tofu occupy the other side of the spectrum at Lai Lai.
The black bean tofu is prepared with blocks of tofu, bok choy, pea pods and sauteed mushrooms. The black bean sauce is somewhat mild at Lai Lai considering the dish is traditionally very spicy. While I would have preferred it to be spicier, the earthy flavor added by the tender mushroom caps still adds a nice touch to the dish.
Service at Lai Lai was prompt, friendly and capable. The staff on hand was unable to answer my questions about vegan dishes, so vegan diners might want to call ahead before visiting.