Vail’s May Palace: ‘Get the dragon bowl’ |

Vail’s May Palace: ‘Get the dragon bowl’

Nicole Frey
Vail, CO Colorado
Theo Stroomer/Vail DailyJohn Figgatt, in red, and girlfriend Kelly McKeay, right, enjoy drinks at the May Palace restaurant happy hour in Vail. May Palace has become a happy hour hotspot in recent months.

VAIL, Colorado ” At 5:30 p.m. on a Friday, the four members of the Friday Afternoon Club are in their usual seats in the Dragon Lounge at May Palace Chinese restaurant.

“We go snowmobiling every Friday afternoon during the winter, and then we come here,” Vail Valley local Mike Carpenter said. “The location is convenient. The beer is cheap and the food is affordable.”

Surveying his table, Carpenter added, “They’re all idiots in here. That’s what we like.”

His hearty guffaw was joined by everyone in earshot, and there were plenty to hear his playful dig.

At 5:30 p.m. you couldn’t find a seat at the bar. Twenty minutes later, you couldn’t find a seat anywhere in the intimate Dragon Lounge.

Boasting $1.75 Miller High Life and Pabst Blue Ribbon beers and a slew of other food and drink specials, it’s hard to find a better happy hour deal in town, May Palace patrons said.

“And we come for Victoria,” Carpenter said, smiling up at his favorite bartender.

New appetizers, new crowd

Under the new ownership of Rick and Joyce Woo, who recently bought the restaurant from Rick’s brother, the May Palace’s happy hour menu has flourished. In addition to staples like pot stickers and chicken wings, the Woos have added a variety of peel-and-eat crustaceans, fried calamari and chicken and beef satays ” skewers of tender, grilled chicken or beef served with a creamy peanut sauce.

“The wings are awesome and so are the peel-and-eat shrimp,” said “Rocket” Ray Cocher, who’s been eating at May Palace since 1982.

But the crowd of veterans is kind to those new to the fold.

“Get the dragon bowl,” May Palace patron Matt Miller shouted at some newcomers. “The mai tais and dragon bowls are great. They’ve got lots of booze. The whole place has got a good atmosphere, and best of all, it’s only 63 steps away from my front door.”

Miller’s been frequenting May Palace for more than a decade and recently brought his out-of-town girlfriend, Virginia Small, to the establishment.

“It’s only my third time here, but it’s a nice contrast from the uptight feel of the (Vail) Village,” Small said.

“And the food’s good too,” Miller said.

While the Woos’ happy hour business plan is clearly flourishing, they’re constantly tweaking the menu, adding new dishes, removing the less popular ones and tweaking old favorites ” albeit with mixed results at times.

His new recipe for the chicken wings met with loud opposition, and Woo quickly switched back to the beloved old recipe.

“You got to give the people what they want,” he said.

While May Palace has traditionally been a Chinese restaurant, the Woos are branching out to include scrumptious selections, like satay from Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam and even India on their lunch, dinner and happy hour menus.

Try the Roti Chanai, an Indian dish of warm, crispy pancakes served with a thick curry dipping sauce and slightly spicy, tangy pickled Malaysian vegetables. Or take a leap into the exotic with the Seafood Todmun, a Thai-style seafood seaweed roll. Instead of rice, a fish cake makes up the base of this tasty appetizer, which is filled with seafood and veggies and drizzled with a sweet chili, mayonnaise sauce.

Expanding the menu beyond Chinese borders also included adding several curries to the menu. The Thai Coconut Curry mixes your choice of meat or seafood with water chestnuts, eggplant, bell peppers and Thai basil, while the Penang Coconut Curry takes a sweeter route, adding pineapple, mushrooms and zucchini to a mild coconut sauce. The Masaman Curry offers a thicker peanut-infused curry.

While diners enjoy the new flavors, traditional Chinese dishes still rule at May Palace, Woo said.

“The hot and sour soup is so good, and you can’t beat an eggroll with that spicy mustard,” said Fern Boucher, one of the four FAC regulars.

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