Hungry Hound revisits growing Wow Bao chain

January 9, 2008 10:54:34 AM PST
Our Hungry Hound doesn't have to travel too far for today's snack. It's right across the street from our studio. But he says convenience is only a small part of the story. He's revisiting a spot that continues to expand in the city, both in locations and in the size of its menu.

My first day on the job here at ABC7, I featured a little kiosk in Water Tower Place called Wow Bao. Since that opening four years ago, they've added another location in the South Loop, and just a few weeks ago, added a third location at State and Lake. The reason we're revisiting this Asian snack shop isn't so much about the bao as it is the greatly expanded menu, with options for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

After four years in business, you could say the Wow Bao concept has taken off. Now with three locations in Chicago, including the latest in the Loop, with an entrance near State and Lake, the founders decided to take the concept of the bao -- essentially a steamed bun with savory fillings -- and expand it.

"So we started working with the filling that goes in with the bao," said Kevin Brown, Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises. "Bruce Cost, my partner, came up with the filling that goes into the bao, how does that work with rice dishes; then we thought well, since bao is a dumpling essentially, we could then add steamed dumplings or we could add potstickers."

Actually, they have both. The potstickers have a nice texture, and the dumplings are also worthwhile; you get a choice of sesame-mustard or soy-ginger dipping sauce. Other non-bao options include having that filling -- whether it's Thai curry, teriyaki or kung pao chicken, even barbequed pork -- scattered over either steamed rice or Chinese egg noodles. Soup is another option; having a few dumplings submerged in the rich broth is always a bonus, and they're even attempting to expand the menu, offering breakfast bao in the morning.

"We have an egg bao, and we now have this keep-a-bowl, which is an egg dish, we're gonna let people keep the bowl, and also, it expands our breakfast options," Brown said.

Lighter meals include a pad thai salad that arrives with an assertively seasoned dressing. And for dessert, some tasty little mochi from Japan. Ice cream is surrounded by glutinous rice: there's both mango and chocolate; the latter is filled with coconut ice cream.

Brown says it's not exactly the most authentic Chinese representation of bao, but the fillings are more mainstream, which appeals to a wider population.

"We do curry, we do kung pao, we do Mongolian beef, we do flavors that might be more familiar to the average diner, similar to what they might get in a Chinese restaurant, but we do them in a bao," said Brown.

The hours vary for each location. While the new location is open all day on weekends, the South Loop location is closed on weekends, so call ahead.

Wow Bao
1 W. Wacker Dr.

175 W. Jackson

835 N. Michigan Ave.