I love the small spots. Like the physically small ones. In a way I relate to them, because they only have a small space to create something that comes correct every time, and they're against big up restaurants that have a ton of space and a huge menu that can probably deliver the same item they're offering. It's like when I was an athlete and I was tied for second shortest on a team of giants. They don't get as much of the shine, and they're often in the middle of streets that if you didn't directly pass them and acknowledge that they're there you might miss them entirely. But, your boy always loved taking down the bigger and badder. I had a craving for bao's, and I've had this spot in my mind for a while. Mean Bao gave me what I wanted, and if I'm in the area I'll definitely reach back for more. If I remember it then it was successful, and I'll be thinking about this. Let me break it down.
Bao's are the little pillows of the bread world. The best kind are the ones that are just steamed, light, and airy. These aren't meant to be dense. For the most part you're not eating a carb bomb. It's delicate, soft to the touch, pale in color. You know how when you see sourdough and it's jagged and crunchy and dark brown. It looks hard and feels like a full meal. These baos are soft and springy, which passes the first test.
Seeing as when I eat I require ample sustenance or I blow away in the wind I opted to get three baos. I wanted variety, I wanted a good general picture of what the spot was about, and they all looked bomb on the wall so I wanted three anyways.
I started with the pork belly, which in my mind is a staple for any bao selling place. I've seen it every single time, and for good reason. A soft steamed bun is the perfect vehicle for pork belly that can be prepared an infinite amount of ways. Mean Bao braises their version, topping it with hoisin, peanuts, black sugar, cilantro (same toppings are featured on each bao).
It was a good first offering. To be honest, I wanted it to be a little more pork forward. In my mind pork belly is unctuous, fatty, and has a delicious mouth feel. It's decadence in pork form. I missed that a bit here because the hoisin drove the car, when they needed to be in the back seat. Ya feel? Makes sense? Still tasted real good, and I wouldn't be mad at another, but kept me wanting more.
I'll be straight here, this one was hard to photo. The apple slaw covered all the pork, and I didn't care enough to dig it out for the gram. Ya, no. And it looks like something else, which, again, makes it hard to keep in the write up. But we raw out here. Gritty. Gotta report on the findings.
Pulled pork bao with apple slaw and the same toppings as the one before. This one probably comes in last when thinking about the ones I head. Not because it was bad, but because it was least memorable. I don't really take notes when I try spots. I go by how something feels, and if it elicits a response from me, then it becomes memorable. I remember that it tasted like a pulled pork bao. I remember that I didn't care for the slaw, and it tasted like ginger. It's pulled pork mixed with some kind of barbecue sauce something. Again, it's hard to make this not work, so I understand why I didn't have bad feelings about it, and it tasted good. I just didn't have any memorable ones.
The star pupil. The leading actor. I have memories of the braised beef bao (quick aside, I understand and accept that all the baos kinda look the same because they have the same shit on top, but that's the name of the game this week). Braised beef, bok choy, taiwanese pickle, toppings. The beef especially stood out for me because it instantly tasted like it had been braising for hours. You know that deep beefy taste? Hell ya. The sauce that it's dunked in is savory and rich. Like the kind of sauce that sticks to the back of the spoon. I'm on that gravy train baby.
The bok choy was a bit of a miss here, only because I don't think it needed to be there. Here's where I tasted the brown sugar the most, as it was that sweet to the rich and savory. The bao was deep in flavor, meat pulled apart when I bit in nicely, and it made me think about it for longer than I ate it for.
Mean bao scratched my bao itch. It gave me what I required, and it did so in delicious fashion. The pork belly was pork belly, the pulled pork was as pulled pork as you can get, and the braised beef hit the spot so much so that I'll now remember Mean Bao for that dish in itself. I've got a new braised beef bao spot, and it feels good supporting, as we all know how important it is.