Restaurant Review: Bao’d Up
Mueller’s new steamed bun shop is hit and miss
Reviewed by Jessi Cape, Fri., Nov. 10, 2017
Like pasta and tortillas and rice, steamed buns are a carb-loaded staple that is deceptively tricky to get just right. Chinese carbohydrate master Ting Li (also the chef/co-owner of nearby Xian Sushi & Noodle, known for its hand-pulled noodles), offers a delightful version at Bao'd Up – his new, dedicated baozi shop – but a few menu items miss the mark.
With only six tables in a bright, narrow space accented by a high ceiling and pop art graffiti, the clean lines, light wood, and vertical greenery mirror the bao's sophisticated simplicity, but it's hard to grab a seat at peak times. In the ever-expanding, walkable business strip of Mueller's Aldrich District, though, this counter-service spot, just next to Alamo Drafthouse, offers validated parking, making pickup orders a convenient alternative.
With only a handful of ingredients, technical execution can make or break the bun game. The bao bread – plain, unfilled mantou – must be smooth as silk, offer only a whisper of flavor from the bamboo steam basket and yeast-activating sugar, and be moist but still able to withstand fat-laden pork belly juices. Bao'd Up's buns check off each criterion. They're light and plump and palm-sized with simple crimping; some are oblong, others are flat-bottomed spheres. Two or three with a side makes a solid budget-friendly lunch, and they've added combos to the menu ($7-11) to facilitate just that.
Bao'd Up's crowd favorites, like the Juicy Bao's texturally pleasing, well-seasoned pork, and the sweet and savory BBQ pork bao, are often 86'ed or delayed, but they're worth a wait. The veggie bun filling (cabbage, mushroom, corn, and tofu) was a bland letdown, but the sweet and creamy egg custard and adzuki bean bao are a nice counterpoint to the meaty menu. I had high hopes the pickled veggie salad would land somewhere near the flavor bombs of escabeche or kimchi, but instead it was mostly an undressed pile of lonely, raw cabbage.
Bubble tea is another major feature, and this shop has a five-step selection process – fruit or milk base, flavor, tea type, sugar level, and 15 toppings. All of the teas have caffeine, but the green tea's level is low enough to be okay for a child, and there's something remarkably satisfying about tapioca bubbles shooting through those neon-colored wide straws. There are quite a few tasty bubble tea shops in town, but something tells me this locale (near the Thinkery) might increase the fan base.
Billed as Taiwanese hamburgers, gua bao, another menu option, are flattened buns folded in half and stuffed past capacity. They're more like tacos, really. The pork belly gua bao's braised meat is robust and accented with bright cucumber, cilantro, and hoisin sauce – and thankfully, not too much gristle. Interestingly, the chicken katsu side – panko-fried and sliced – was dry, but when served whole with coleslaw, green onion, sesame, and Szechuan spicy mayo in the gua bao, it was juicy enough to inspire an extra order. Speaking of, the Szechuan fries – crinkle-cut and garlicky, drizzled with spicy mayo and green onion – are on point, especially with sriracha (oddly, the only hot sauce available).
Though tweaks are needed, the menu's multiple edits since their July opening indicate that this hardworking team is listening to their patrons and updating accordingly. Plus, they've got new additions – including a Texas brisket gua bao – that are worth another trip.
1911 Aldrich Ste. A-1
Mon., Wed.-Fri., Lunch: 11:30am-3pm, Dinner: 5:30pm-10pm; Sat., 11:30am-10pm; Sun., 11:30am-9pm; Closed Tuesdays