Award-Winning Pop-Up Mimi’s Chūka Diner Finds a Somerville Home

Showcasing a blend of Japanese-style Chinese food and American diner influences, Mimi’s will open in the former Tasting Counter space at Aeronaut Brewing later this year.

Overhead view of a bento box with seasoned white rice, saucy meatball skewers, gyoza, noodles, butter cake, and more.

Mimi’s Chūka Diner’s hanami bento. / Photo by Ted Woo for Mimi’s Chūka Diner

Dumplings and Dr. Nandu, together at last: Best of Boston pop-up Mimi’s Chūka Diner puts down roots at Aeronaut’s Somerville brewery and taproom later this year. The four-year-old pop-up—known for its chūka ryōri cuisine, or Chinese food made in a Japanese style—most recently resided inside Cambridge’s now-closed Artifact Cider taproom and has been making appearances at Greater Boston breweries and restaurants since the beginning of 2020. When the Mimi’s team moves into the former Tasting Counter space inside Aeronaut this spring or early summer, expect plenty of old favorites—and new surprises.

Mimi’s Chūka Diner is “an amalgam of our families’ culinary histories,” says cofounder Ted Woo, who met his fellow cofounder Jon Awerman when they were both working at B&G Oysters a decade ago. The two moved up the ranks together—from assistant manager and sous chef, respectively, to general manager and chef de cuisine—and became “best friends and an excellent team,” as the story goes. Woo brings the Japanese-style Chinese food to the table and Awerman blends in “classic American diner or luncheonette” influences, as Woo describes it. (Awerman’s grandparents owned diners in New York City.) The Mimi’s Chūka Diner mantra, adopted from Ted’s restaurateur uncle: “Good food. Good service. Good price.”

Dumplings have played a starring role at Mimi’s pop-ups since day one—gyoza, in particular, stuffed with fillings like pork and cabbage or a vegan-friendly vegetable mix—but it’s a lot more than a dumpling business. “We realized through making literally thousands of dumplings and through our dozens of pop-ups that it would be very difficult to make that type of concept work economically in Boston,” says Woo. So, the new spot will include a full-service, dine-in menu that more deeply explores “the diner side of the concept” while continuing to offer a lot of the chūka favorites Mimi’s fans have seen on previous menus.

Six pan-fried gyoza sit in a circle on a plate, held together by a golden-brown, lacy skirt of dough.

Mimi’s Chūka Diner’s hanetsuki gyoza. / Photo by Ted Woo for Mimi’s Chūka Diner

There will be space for about 32 people for full-service dining, and this is the part of the Mimi’s concept—which is really more like three concepts in one; more on that in a moment—where the menu will be at its most expansive, and the dishes will encourage family-style dining “as it is typical in Japan and China,” says Woo. (Also in the plans: the addition of brunch! “[Brunch is] something we’ve wanted to do for a long time,” says Awerman.) As for drinks, the team plans to offer a variety of cocktails, beer, wine, sake, and batched cocktails, with an emphasis on Japanese- and Chinese-inflected beverages. Think chu-his—shochu-based highballs—and whisky highballs.

On the topic of drinks, the second concept, so to speak, is “a modest tachinomi bar,” says Awerman. “Think old-school, traditional standing tapas bar but in Japan. Guests will be able to grab a quick drink and some special small plates and snacks only offered at the bar.”

Third, an expanded takeout program with its own menu optimized for the purpose. “Many of the options will be ‘complete sets’ that pack well and are easy to eat out of to-go containers,” says Woo. This means that you might not be able to order a dish you’ve loved on the dine-in menu for takeout service, “but we’re trying to do a lot in a fairly small space, and to do it all well, we have to create parameters that will set us up for success,” says Woo. A note for Aeronaut newbies: You can eat food from the brewery’s own vendors (as well as outside food) in the taproom, so when Mimi’s opens, you can grab your takeout and enjoy it with, say, Aeronaut’s signature IPA, A Year With Dr. Nandu, or perhaps a blackberry Baltic porter, milk stout, or rice lager. Aeronaut’s Best of Boston taproom programming—from live music to trivia and beyond—sweetens the deal even more.

A white bowl is full of noodles, celery, seaweed, peanuts, and more in a brown-orange broth.

Mimi’s Chūka Diner’s hiyashi tantanmen. / Photo by Jon Awerman for Mimi’s Chūka Diner

The Mimi’s team is working with local firm 42 Architecture to transform the boxy space, which measures about a thousand square feet. The design “explores ideas from the intersections between Japanese and Chinese restaurants with elements from traditional American diners and luncheonette counters from the 1940s and forward,” says Awerman. “We’re aiming for a feel that’s classic, pragmatic, warm, and familiar, with a touch of modern polish.”

While construction gets underway, keep an eye out for a ramp-up in pop-up appearances. “We’ll be a lot more active and visible as we emerge from the past few months of hibernation,” promises Awerman. “We can’t wait to get back to doing what we love.”

A rendering of a small restaurant and bar features light wood accents, gray walls and seating, and a black tiled bar.

Rendering of Mimi’s Chūka Diner’s forthcoming space at Aeronaut Brewing in Somerville. / 42 Architecture

Opening late spring/early summer 2024; watch social media for updates. 14 Tyler St. (inside Aeronaut Brewing Company), Somerville,