23 September 2010

Wow Bao, Chicago - Restaurant Review


I adore baozi. There's something so comforting about those soft, warm, steamed buns filled with unctuous goodness. They sit there like feathery down pillows that you yearn to slumber upon. Served with a dollop of fiery red chilli paste, they make a perfect lunch for when you're on the go.

So when I was in Chicago recently, I was intrigued by a relatively new restaurant called Wow Bao that serves "hot Asian buns" (oi, you with the dirty mind, stop it!). Wow Bao is the creation of Chicago restaurant giant Lettuce Entertain You, who own 70 restaurants nationwide, including culinary heavyweights such as Chicago's L2O, Tru, and Everest restaurants. Yet despite having a corporate giant as a parent, Wow Bao manages to retain its own quirky personality, and has developed an army of loyal fans through an active social media marketing campaign (Twitter @BaoMouth and Facebook).

Wow Bao is a fast-food style chain of restaurants and, as its name suggests, the focus here is on those moreish steamed bao buns. They offer six different savoury fillings and two sweet fillings (chocolate and coconut custard), and even three egg-filled "breakfast bao's", although I'm not sure I like the idea of the latter. They also serve jiaozi (potsticker dumplings), rice bowls, soups, and salads. But it's their heavenly bao you really want to go for. Wow Bao also make their own homemade ginger ale, which is just sensational. Made with fresh ginger, it is so crisp and refreshing with a pleasing spiciness to it. Have it plain or with pomegranate or green tea. The full menu can be seen here.

Between Mrs Nibbler and me, we tried most of the different bao's on offer. Our initial problem was that they all looked the same, and it took us a while, and a fair bit of breaking open buns and sniffing inside, until we figured out that the name of each filling was printed on the paper underneath each bao. Doh! I'd say that the spicy Mongolian beef and BBQ pork (disappointingly, it wasn't char siu) came out as our clear favourites. The buns are steamed on site and have such a wonderful light texture to them. The filling, meanwhile, is generous and deliciously spiced. OK, so they are not the most authentic baozi around, but this is how fast food should be - cheap, fresh, and delicious!

Food:        6 / 10
Service:     6 / 10
Ambiance: 7 / 10

Wow Bao
1 West Wacker Blvd
Chicago, IL 60601
Tel: +1 312-658-0305

Also, locations at:
175 West Jackson Boulevard, Chicago, +1 312-334-6395
835 North Michigan Avenue, Chicago, +1 312-642-5888

Wow Bao on Urbanspoon