Bao Bar is located in The Social on Ebro street in Poblaction. The Social is kind of a food park, but an unusual one, featuring only three food concessionaires and a surprisingly well stocked bar.It moved there from The Hub: Make Lab, an indoor market in Escolta that sells itself as an incubation space for new concepts. And in incubate it did. Bao Bar grew up in that space, and was soon selling out all the time. Owners Chris Cataluna and Trisha Katipunan also brought Bao Bar to a couple of different restaurants as a pop-up, and ended up selling out all their stock before the night was through.
Even now, in the more competitive environment of Poblacion, Bao Bar feels like it’s destined to keep running out of things to serve people. The food is just that good. And it’s not complicated or particularly fancy. It just feels thoughtful: every single dish in their focused menu feels smartly constructed. They eschew the lazy excess that has generally emerged from our now Instagram-focused food culture. Every component is there for a reason, contributing to a better, more interesting bite of food.
Take for example, the drunken noodles, with the surprising bite of tausi black beans, adding just a touch of satisfying fermented meatiness that plays well with the Sichuan numbing spice. It’s a novel use of the ingredient, and it makes the dish a cut above your average plate of noodles. And it also isn’t a bunch of random things thrown together. It’s a composed plate of food that, in spite of its name, isn’t just meant to be something to line the stomach after having one too many shots while roaming the neighborhood. It’s something that really ought to be savored.
Chicken Bao and Killer Noodles
The same goes for their killer noodles. While the spicy curry and fried egg certainly make the dish appropriate for the process of getting back to a more sober state, the dish’s savory punch of flavor is just generally worth craving. And then there are the bao: beef curry with chopped nuts and cilantro, pork adobo with fried shallots and cucumber, fried chicken with caramelized onions and dobanjan, and their breakfast bao, which is spam with a fried egg and onions. They’re more remarkable for their restraint more than anything else. The focus is on making sure the different parts work with each other. Each bao is distinct, every variation producing a very specific taste experience that one might latch on to.
Bao Bar’s menu as of mid-January 2018
We’ve come down pretty hard on food parks here on Rogue, but if more food parks had something like Bao Bar in them, we’d be a lot more forgiving. It’s the kind of hyper-focused, innovative food concept that we can really get behind, and it’s the kind of thing that generally benefits from the more low-pressure environment that a food park is supposed to provide. But whatever space it’s in, whether it be a hip little DIY market in Escolta, the kitchen of a completely different restaurant, or among the container vans of a food park, Bao Bar is just worth seeking out. It’s offering up what you’re craving, but it’s just a lot more thoughtful about it.