Mei Mei’s Irene Li is on the National Zagat 30 Under 30

The littlest Mei Mei spearheads the innovative restaurant's sustainable sourcing and fair labor practices.

Irene Li of Mei Mei

Irene Li of Mei Mei. / Photo provided

Boston can claim one young professional on Zagat’s first-ever nationally selected 30 Under 30 list: Irene Li, chef of the sibling-owned Mei Mei, is among the country’s top hospitality pros.

Zagat, well-known for its regional 30 Under 30 lists, broadened the search this year and took nominations for chefs, bakers, sommeliers, entrepreneurs, and other industry game-changers across the U.S. The final class represents “some of the best, brightest and most badass hospitality players from coast to coast,” Zagat editors Kelly Dobkin and Anna Roth wrote with today’s announcement.

Li, 27, started Mei Mei as a food truck with her older siblings Margaret and Andrew. The company is a leader in ethical sourcing, and fair employment practices. Mei Mei has a sustainable answer to fast food, for instance, and Li was vocal about her company’s support of the Day Without Immigrants earlier this year, in addition to diverting the day’s sales to an applicable non-profit.

Li’s background informs these efforts. She once lived on an organic farm, and has organized for social and economic justice, Mei Mei shares in a press release. This year, the company, led by Li, is implementing an open-book restaurant management training program for all staff, from dishwashers to sous chefs, in conjunction with Rethink Restaurants.

She’s also an excellent cook. Li is a multi-year James Bear Foundation Rising Star Chef semifinalist and an Eater Young Gun, and Mei Mei—the fun, casual, Chinese-American spot in Audubon Circle with food truck roots—is among the best restaurants in Boston.

Before selecting the final 30, Zagat released a list of 45 finalists, including Pabu Boston general manager Linchul Shin. The top 30 also includes Rhode Island pastry chef Melissa Denmark, of Providence spots Gracie’s and Ellie’s Bakery.

“These gastronomic game changers are redefining the way we eat, drink, and interact with food,” the Zagat editors writes. They “need to be on your must-watch list.”

Check out the full list online.

Mei Mei, 506 Park Drive, Boston, 857-250-4959,