Hey food fans, this week I sought the gritty realism of Waterloo’s dark underbelly, journeying east along a frosty University Ave., past black-market stationary peddlers, to the border where calculus stopped, and Laurier began.
My lunchmate and I cautiously picked our way through Waterloo’s backstreets, completely devoid of boys.
At last we arrived at my one desire: Bao Sandwich Bar.
The journey to reach Bao’s was harrowing. Famished travellers must possess a keen sense of direction in order to stumble upon its somewhat nebulous geographic location next to a residential parking lot off Larch St.
Upon arriving at our sandwich speakeasy, a visual feast was presented.
Dark wood counters and tables, black walls, bright green vegetation, and a chalk-paint menu, vivid enough to entertain its own art exhibition, cultivated a clean and stylish appeal with an obvious investment of creative effort.
The restaurant was bustling and possessed a surprising amount of seating for its size.
I ordered a Chicken Katsu Bao, a Spicy Pork Bao, and a Thai Tea while my compatriot ordered a Seoul Beef Bao, and a Crackle Belly Bao.
The Chicken Katsu, Spicy Pork, and Crackle Belly Bao sandwiches were $4.89 each while the Seoul Beef Bao was $5.49. The Thai Tea was $2.49.
The ordering process was an emotional rollercoaster as Bao’s most popular sandwiches can sell out even before lunchtime.
Bao’s offers two configurations for their sandwiches: Gua Bao and Bánh Mi. Gua Bao envelops the sandwich’s contents in their house-made steamed buns while the Bánh Mi uses a French baguette and handles more like a Vietnamese sub.
Bánh Mi sandwiches are larger and cost nearly double compared to the Gua Bao.
While waiting for my order to be filled, I sipped on the Thai Tea.
The beverage promptly revealed a full-frontal green tea flavor, with a somewhat diminutive sweetness and a color suggesting the use of carrot juice. Maybe it was Schrödinger’s carrot juice, but I don’t know for sure.
After a short wait time, the sandwiches made their entrance, bedecked in garnished refinery.
The presentation was excellent, clearly showcasing each sandwich’s contents, but still retaining a rustic street-food appeal via wax paper and a plastic red serving basket.
The Spicy Pork Bao was satisfyingly orange and had an intense and varied flavor profile.
However, the protein was slightly dry and two-dimensional, lacking any true heat.
The Seoul Beef Bao threw down a solid performance with a hint of spice and a creamy sauce.
The Crackle Belly Bao, featuring pork belly, was built asymmetrically and required a completely horizontal attack to avoid any pork paucity. However, unlike a Muskoka campfire, there was no crackle.
The day belonged to the Chicken Katsu Bao. The chicken was fried to perfection in a flavorful batter, retaining a satisfying crunch, but still allowing the consumer to keep the roof of their mouth intact.
Underneath the crunch, a supremely tender and juicy piece of chicken waited to pounce on my senses.
A phenomenal barbecue sauce and mayonnaise duet was also employed, and gladly sung the sandwich’s praises.
All of these sandwiches had a common shining success: their ascendance to texture Nirvana.
Each sandwich utilized a steamed bun with a cloudy feel, yet still firm enough to sink your teeth into.
Supported by the bun, each sandwich contained bright and crunchy greens to provide a refreshing break from their protein.
The result was a cornucopia of tactile variance that precisely portrayed the attention to textural detail found in Southeast-Asian cuisine and its related fusions.
The crafters of these delicious delights had obviously put in the time and effort to make sure each element worked in harmony.
Overall, the style and substance of Bao’s is not to be underestimated.
With snappy service, a vibrant atmosphere, and food that takes the cake, they are definitely worth braving Waterloo’s dark underbelly.
Unfortunately, their portions reflect the trendy street-food vibe a little too well, making it a little expensive.
However, if your palate seems to be stuck in a dead-end job and wants to break free, this is the place to do it.
Until next time, stay hungry food fans.