Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Wow Bao

About a week ago, I found myself discussing Wow Bao with two friends. It had caught my eye about a week ago while walking to the Clark/Lake El stop and I wanted to hear some opinions. Josh said that it was terrible, Natalie said that it was great. Hmm, not much of a verdict. I decided to check it out - I mean, a bao chain? I had to try it, if not just to evaluate the glorious concept itself.

At its core, Wow Bao provides an excellent service - fast food bao (steamed, filled buns - also known as baozi) in a handful of savory - and sweet - flavors. They also have other classic Asian items like potstickers, rice bowls, and noodle salads, but those all come secondary to the delicious bao.

Seconds after placing my order with an amiable Lauren, it was ready. The service wasn't just fast, it was lightning quick. I took my to-go bag (the Michigan Ave location was just a take away counter), found a place to eat outside, and paused for a second after peeling away the bottom bao paper label. The label denotes which flavor bao you are eating, but it also leaves behind an unsettling red ink on the white steamed bun. I doubt it's harmful, but still, sans red ink would be the way to go.

Quickly moving past this, I took my first bite of the thai curry chicken bao. Bao-ya! Ambrosial. The tender filling possessed a nice balance of exotic flavors and if you didn't mind its sludge-like consistency, you'd have been in heaven. Perhaps I would've liked a little more chicken, but I was still impressed.

I gobbled this down quickly and grabbed my other bao, teriyaki chicken, hoping that it would be equally tasty. This one was not as much of a heaven bun. It was more... a bun of contentment. The sauce was a bit too sweet and there was too much of it. The bao itself still contained interesting flavors, but they were most likely drowning in the corn-syrupy sauce.

Since the location that I visited was just a take away counter, I find it hard to comment on the ambience. But, I will say that I did get a sense of the friendly and clean modern vibe that other reviewers have mentioned. Actually, the first picture of this review would've been a picture of the actual Wow Bao location that I visited, but company policy does not allow Wow Bao storefront photography, wa wa waaa.

Cheap, high-quality, kind-of-healthy bao served up in a clean, friendly environment. Great value @ $1.39 per bao. The sodium content is a bit high, but the fat and cholesterol content isn't. Back or Forth? I will be going back.

Wow Bao - Magnificent Mile - (312)642-5888 - 835 N. Michigan Ave, Chicago, IL 60610 - Public transportation: the Chicago stop on the Red Line or buses 10, 125, 143, 144, 145, 146, 147, 148, 151, 157.

Thai curry chicken bao - $1.39
Teriyaki chicken bao - $1.39

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