We’re tired of calling it Asian tacos, too. But sometimes that’s the phrase you need to describe it to the unfamiliar, those who’ve yet to try the sticky, sweet, steamed softness of good bao. You’re almost envious. For the well-versed, we may know what bao are, but maybe we don’t know all the places in town to get them. Here are six that may help you out a bit.
Bao Bar Phoenix14 East Pierce Street
Operated by Cole Wagner and Isabelle Ibanez — both formerly of many chef-driven restaurants throughout the Valley — Bao Bar Phoenix is set up from 8 a.m. to noon every Saturday at the Open Air Market neighboring the Phoenix Public Market Café (and sometimes other places). The menu is simple, and pretty much just fun stuff on a house-made bao bun steamed to order. There’s the breakfast bao, plus pork belly, popcorn shrimp, and tempura enoki. And for something sweet, the bao bites are little pieces of the sweet bun made sweeter with a dusting of cinnamon.
31 West Southern Avenue, Tempe
Sometimes bar food is a couple of tiers above some microwaved pizza. Bao Chow, specializing in handheld Taiwanese food, mostly, is found in the whiskey lounge at Yucca Tap Room in Tempe. A pillowy, mildly sweet, steamed bun is wrapped around bulgogi, fried chicken, or tofu. The fried chicken comes heavily recommended. Bao Chow is open to people of all ages daily until 7 p.m., and then you’ve got to be 21 or over. The kitchen’s open from 10 a.m. to 1 a.m. daily.
Bonsai BoysMultiple Locations
The Bonsai Boys food truck is run from Chef Jon Hing of Arizona and Chef Leong Yam, originally from Malaysia. It offers a “variety of Asian Fusion cuisine to the local Phoenix community,” but since this is a bao list, let’s focus on that one offering in particular. The pork belly bao comes as three tasty samplings of the soft protein and even softer bun, complete with some fresh veggies stuck in there for taste.
Deez Buns1158 West Washington Street, #105, Tempe
The owners of Mesa’s late-night Korean restaurant Drunken Tiger and the Filipino food pop-up Good Fortune Kitchen have teamed up to bring us Deez Buns. The northern Tempe restaurant offers pho, Korean fried chicken, bulgogi, and more in the form of more burger-like handhelds with soft, steamed buns.
SoSoBa214 West Roosevelt Street
The bao here aren't as good as say, the ramen or cocktails, but they're certainly contenders. The 2016-established SoSoBa is situated as one of the many dining options around downtown’s Portland Parkway Park. An order of Bao Buns is described as three pillowy steam buns seared in ryu and filled with your choice of protein, and those choices are exciting. Think bulgogi beef, panko chicken, pork belly, pulled pork, and soy-braised mushroom.
The Clever Koi4236 North Central Avenue, #100
At The Clever Koi, creativity is the name of the pan-Asian game. Orders of bao come in a pair of those elaborate metallic taco holders, and the puffy rice-flour mini sandwiches get more interesting as you go. Think pork belly, soft shell crab, Korean hot chicken, and kimchi cauliflower. The pork belly comes recommended, as it contains pork belly, duh, as well as hoisin sauce and crumbled peanuts. The rice-flour bun itself brings a layer of pillowy sponginess. The dark, musky flavors of hoisin and pork mingle once you tear into the filling.