>> 12/6/12

238 East 14th Street
New York, NY 10003
(646) 669-8889

A lot of hype has floated around Baohaus. The times wrote a glowing review, all of the ingredients are allegedly organic or fair-trade or local or have some other such cutesy label, the owner seems to enjoy being belligerent to people... lots of stuff I couldn't care less about. I wanted lunch and I wanted cheap. So when I saw the run-down exterior of Baohaus on 14th street, I figured that was where to go. And it almost was exactly what I wanted.

Baohaus is small and dingy. There's another location on the Lower East Side, but I hear that it's not very different. There's a long shelf along the back wall to eat against and a couple of small tables. The staff is very nice, very friendly, and they cook from scratch everything once your order is placed. Oddly, for all the hype, the few times I've visited in the past couple of weeks, I've been the only customer. All these folks in the photo are just friends of the staff. The place is like a lounge with people gossiping and joking around, listening to loud gangsta rap. And that's another thing. If you don't want to do takeout, you better love rap. It's on, it's loud, and it's nonstop.

A Bao, just to fill text-space since I'm sure you're been told a thousand times already, is a flat-steamed bun. Baos are fast food on the other side of the Pacific; here, it's usually only something people will find in Chinatown (but in Chinatown, it's everywhere). In recent years, it's started getting a bit more mainstream. Typically it's an empanada-style ball with fillings, but occasionally it's also made taco-style. Baohaus makes them taco-style.

There are dishes on the menu, such as rice bowls and noodles, that aren't Baos, but I didn't bother. How many carbs do I need? That said, I tried as many bun tacos as I could on my visits. The best, hands down and with neither question nor debate, is the Birdhaus Bao: fried chicken, cilantro, peanuts and sugar. The chicken was moist with a flakey crust and worked well with the cilantro and peanuts. My biggest complaint was that they add sugar. The bao bun is already twice as sweet as Wonder Bread with jelly. In fact, this complaint stretched across the menu. Each bun was excessively sweet. 

I loathe celebrity-named food. At best, it's a cheap way to milk someone else's fame and, at worst, it's a cheap way to get them to visit your restaurant so you can mount a photo of their kisser on your wall. So when I saw the... ugh, Jeremy Lin Bao, I almost refused to order it just on principle. But I did order it. It's a fried pork chop with some radish and carrot and tastes almost exactly like the Birdhaus Bao. Pork really is the other white meat.

The Haus Bao, a braised beef cheek wasn't bad, but wasn't great. The thick bun and the toppings (including more sugar) meant that the beef got lost in there somewhere, like it blended into the bun. It was a sweet sauce bao in a beef-flavored bun. The Adobo Bao, a shredded chicken bao with sweet chili, daikon, and cucumber was pretty bad. Again, it was so sweet that I might have diabetes now. But beyond that, the chili overwhelmed the flavor of the whole dish. Chairman Bao, pork belly, cilantro, relish and, yay! more sugar, actually could have been very good (despite the sugar) save for the massive line of fat at the top of the pork belly. This might be something that will appeal to certain people who demand that their pork belly be 25% solid fat. I'm not one of them. BUT, once I cut of the fat, the bun was pretty good. The biggest surprise was the Uncle Jesse, fried tofu with peanut and cilantro and sugar (these ingredients are literally in almost everything) and the haus sauce. It was far better than I was expecting. The tofu was excellent and fried to perfection. If anything, the rest of the ingredients weighed it down, especially the haus sauce. Half the amount of that stuff and it could have been perfect.

On one occasion I washed lunch down with sweet chrysanthemum tea instead of water or Diet Coke. This was a mistake as it was, to be blunt, vile.

With tax, expect to pay about $4 per hit-or-miss bunwich. Cheap, but relative to Subway and given their small size, expensive.

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