Sunday, December 23, 2012

Wow Bao

Location: 835 N. Michigan Ave., Chicago, IL 60611
Wow Bao on Urbanspoon
A Quick Word:
Located at the bottom of Water Tower Place Mall, Wow Bao is one of the first stores you see if you come through the main entrance.  This prime location always makes them busy, with people lined up and others using their self service touch screen monitors.  Their specialty is obviously the Asian bun or bao which is a white flour based bread that encases some kind of meat, vegetable, or sweet filling.  Overall, the baos at Wow Bao are very flavorful and packed with a generous helping of the specified filling.  Unfortunately, they are expensive, not very filling (unless you order a lot), and their other options (bowls, etc) are more time consuming to make (especially on a quick lunch break).  The expensiveness coupled with the almost non-existent seating, except for a couple two-person tables located in the mall, made me give them a just above average rating.  The quality and taste are awesome for a "better-than-fast-food" place, but I would stick to my Chinatown restaurants before heading here.

The 6-pack option for $9.20 without tax...
Otherwise they are $1.70 each without tax. 
What We Ate:

Spicy Mongolian Beef Bao

Each of the baos start off with the same white flour bread casing that is steamed to perfection.  The bun is light and fluffy on the inside, but gains more of a "filling proof" coating on the outside that makes it the perfect vessel for holding a variety of fillings.  In this bao, the mongolian beef was well seasoned, but not spicy. Every once in a while, I had a bite that reminded me of mongolian beef from Chinatown, but it was offset by all the disappointing bites of non-spiceness.  Still, I would recommend people to try this bao because it is better than some of the other ones listed below.

Thai Curry Chicken Bao

Out of all the baos they offer, the thai curry chicken one is my favorite.  The bun is exactly the same as described above.  The filling though is incredible... diced chicken sautéed with thinly cut vegetables and soaked in a thick curry sauce.  There is a great spiciness without being overwhelming and in fact, I think it is spicier than both the kung pao and mongolian beef (which isn't saying much since the spiciness is basically absent in both).  I highly recommend this one... in fact, I always order two of them because they are my favorite.

Teriyaki Chicken Bao

The teriyaki chicken bao is the most generic and palate friendly bao to order.  Everyone knows how teriyaki chicken tastes, and in this case, it is very similar... lots of ginger and soy sauce flavors shine through.  This is the staple bao for Americanized versions and a great one to try.

BBQ Pork Bao

For me, trying the BBQ pork bao was more of a comparison to the ones from Chinatown.  And Wow Bao falls way short.  I am unsure if it is the size aspect because in Chinatown they are huge... but it also may be the lack of gelatinous texture that everyone is used to from the cheaper version in Chinatown.  Anyway, the BBQ pork is self explanatory... a simple asian twist on BBQ stuffed inside the wonderful white bun.

Spicy Kung Pao Chicken Bao

This was one of the more disappointing baos.  Whenever I hear spicy and kung pao, I was waiting for something that would at least draw a little sweat.  Unfortunately, there was almost no spiciness to this bao.  The flavor was strong but lacking the spicy.  Warning:  There are whole peanuts in this bao... I am unsure which others may have them, but if you are allergic, be careful.

Homemade Pomegranate Ginger Ale

Whenever I come to Wow Bao, I always have to order their ginger ale.  It is a homemade sparkling drink using fresh ginger and your choice of either original, pomegranate, or green tea.  I opted for the pomegranate this time because I wanted a more fruity flavor.  The drink was once again awesome... I had a stomachache before eating and their ginger ale (like most clear carbonated drinks) helped to settle it.  The pomegranate flavor was light enough to not take over the ginger aspect of the drink, but it was definitely present.  A little lime was added which gave an additional acidity and depth in flavor.  Great!

The DOs/DON'Ts:
- The specialty drinks here are one of my favorite options to order... I really recommend them.
- There are two computers near the wall where you can place your order on touch screen monitors.  This speeds up the process so definitely take advantage if there is a long line.
- Not pictured is the Thai Curry Chicken Bowl served with quinoa (+ 50 cents).  This is my favorite item from the restaurant, but I decided to have baos the day I reviewed them.

- I have never been a fan of the breakfast or the sweet buns... so I don't order them.  But try them out and let me know what you think!

How far would I walk for this food?

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