Their concept is simple: make someone’s day by popping up in their neighborhood at lunch or dinner and give them a choice between five, equally mouth-watering buns. While they give you a choice between a small, steamed bun ($3.75) or a much larger, baked bun ($6.25), their normal menu selections are as follows:
– Spicy Chicken with Sesame, Pickled Carrots, Cucumber & Cilantro
– Braised Pork with Savoy Cabbage & Preserved Yellow Mustard Seeds
– Pork Belly with Turmeric Pickled Daikon & Green Shiso
– Muscovy Duck Confit Terrine, Green Papaya, Pickled Red Onions & Mint
– Crispy Miso Cured Tofu with Garlic-Tofu Mayo & Baby Choy Sum
I know, I know, they all sound awesome, right? Well guess what. They are! Luckily for me, I work right next to one of Chairman Bao’s bi-weekly, pop-up locations, and have thus had the opportunity to try the entire menu (all on steamed buns) on numerous occasions. I can testify that, no matter which magical creation you choose, there’s no way in hell you’ll be disappointed. I mean, c’mon, as much as I hate to admit it I even fell in love with the Tofu bun. As someone who tries pretty hard to distance myself from this vegetarian/vegan staple, that’s saying a lot.
While my order depends on what I’m in the mood for that day, I keep coming back to the Spicy Chicken and the Braised Pork. The chicken is always tender and dripping with fatty, spicy goodness that is perfectly offset by the sweet acidity of the pickled carrots and cucumber. Similarly, by pairing Savoy cabbage and mustard seeds with moist, braised pork in a Chinese bun, a classic flavor combination is reinvented and rejuvenated through its use in a different style of cuisine.
Finally, this review wouldn’t be complete without mentioning what is easily the crowd favorite: the Pork Belly. Dripping with flavor, this meat that many would call “cliche,” is made original by pairing it with classically oriental ingredients – daikon and shiso. A pairing that, rather than adding more fat or richness to each bite, helps to lighten the flavor.
Although when I’m in the office I’m always committed to eating a salad for lunch, Chairman Bao is the sole exception to this rule. I can’t help it – I’m powerless in the face of their magical Bao buns and consistently fail in my resolve to eat healthy. But you know what? With a Bao bun in hand, failure tastes good.