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Mean Bao

Posted by Anders Whist / Reviewed on September 26, 2013 / review policy

Mean Bao TorontoMean Bao (literally: bread/buns in Cantonese) has set up shop in the Village by the Grange food court and has been serving up sandwiches and dumplings since late summer. The kitchen is tiny and the menu correspondingly small, but what Mean Bao lacks in stature it makes up for in savouriness. It's good - and not just for a food court.

The Bao ($3.20/2 for $6) are the main attraction at Mean Bao, naturally, with five on the daily menu and rotating specials; cuttlefish is the additional choice at the time of our visit. These steamed bun sandwiches are reminiscent of David Chang's signature pork bun at Momofuku (in composition at least - let's not go nuts here), with meat or tofu accompanied by cilantro, peanuts and thinly sliced cucumber and carrots, plus hoisin and other sauces as dictated by the composition of each particular bao.

Mean BaoThe bao themselves are freshly steamed, light and with an almost pillowy quality. Though all the sandwiches are good the best one we try might actually be the tofu and mushroom with peanut sauce. The sauce is present but not overwhelming, and the fried tofu and soft mushrooms have an airiness that is a perfect compliment to the bao.

Mean BaoThe pork belly and beef baos are also strong, with the beef standing out in particular. It has the developed texture that comes with extensive braising, and the meaty sauce it's paired with is rich and savoury. The pork belly is similar, but relying on hoisin alone for additional flavours means the meat has to stand out on it's own, which it does to modest effect.

Mean BaoThe other specialty at Mean Bao is the steamed dumplings ($3.80 for an order of for dumplings, two orders for $7.20), with shrimp cake and shrimp and pork siu mai coming especially recommended by the folks behind the counter. The dumplings come out steaming hot, either in a takeaway carton or little bamboo steamer, depending on one's travel plans. The shrimp cake is plenty shrimpy, which is to say that there is a healthy quantity of shrimp, subtly augmented with chive. This classic pairing works to strong effect here as well.

The thin translucent dumpling skin is a little thick in parts, making a half bite a little gummy, but that's worth mentioning only in passing. The shrimp and pork siu mai is mostly pork with a little speck of shrimp on top, but the pork is juicy and delicious, with the shrimp providing the cherry on top, so to speak.

Mean BaoThe third main menu item is the mean bowl ($6.00) - quinoa and an assortment of meat and/or vegetables - which is a bit more ordinary than the other dishes on offer. The quinoa is well cooked, and the vegetables definitely lean towards the crunchier side of the equation (much better than the opposite, at least in my opinion). The soft eggplant in the eggplant bowl forms a sauce that mixes with the quinoa, and the tofu is again great, though one wishes there was a bit more of it. Though the mean bowls lack the pizzaz of the other items on the menu they are a solid and hearty lunch, and there is a side bar of hoisin, siracha, vinegar and soy sauce for one to augment one's food as required or desired.

In addition to being delicious the food at Mean Bao is also very affordable, as a bao and an order of dumplings will set you back $6.65 (helpful I'm sure with a large student population next door at OCAD). Food court seating can leave a little to be desired, and as word starts to spread a lunch rush is beginning to form, but don't let these things stop you - food court or not, Mean Bao is worth a visit.

Mean BaoPhotographs by Miranda Whist.

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kstop / September 26, 2013 at 09:03 am
If steamed bao are the next fad, that would make me so happy...

Banh Mi Boys' baos are also worth eating.
Benedict / September 26, 2013 at 11:33 am
That corner is so interesting. It's changed more than any other, I'd bet. The bao in the picture made me the hungriest person IN THE WORLD.
Brian / September 26, 2013 at 01:33 pm
that shit looked gross
kstart replying to a comment from kstop / September 26, 2013 at 06:02 pm
The Bao trend has come and gone, my good man/woman. Tacos are on the way out. Next? Arepas? Who knows!?
Chacha / September 26, 2013 at 11:42 pm
This place is so right it's so right
I ordered the combo bao & mean bowl, it was fantastic

my bao kind of rolled over in the box
and they gave me free pork & shrimp dumplings (4 pcs)
because they felt bad!
That's so right.
Za-Moon-Da / October 1, 2013 at 09:21 pm
@kstop Trend? You do realize that one has been able to get steamed buns in Chinatown since, I don't know, the Chinese arrived?
V / October 2, 2013 at 01:15 pm
I ordered the mean bowl with chicken, which looked fantastic until i bit into the chicken and saw that it was completely raw. So disappointing.
ELF / October 4, 2013 at 10:57 am
Couldn't have had a cooler fast food experience.
Great food, cool team and all at a good price.
Recommend it strongly.
cc / October 6, 2013 at 06:36 pm
Been back a few times and love the siu mai and pork belly Bao! Everything comes out steaming hot and very fresh - serving the dimsum in bamboo baskets is too cute!
Erin replying to a comment from V / October 30, 2013 at 07:51 am
Hi V,

Sorry you had a poor experience at Mean Bao. We try our best to keep quality up to our standards and we apologize that your latest meal was a disappointment. We would love to make it up to you. Please give us another try and ask for either Jones or Scott upon your next visit. They will love to hear more about your experience.

Your next meal at Mean Bao will be on us! :)

Mean Bao.
Shawn replying to a comment from Za-Moon-Da / November 12, 2013 at 11:39 am
Where would you say the best ones are? I really liked the fried chicken ones I had a BMB and would like to try some other varieties.
Mesonto / January 28, 2014 at 10:34 pm
Had the tofu and mushroom bao this evening... I am officially addicted. Absolutely delicious. Will be back.
M / August 12, 2014 at 09:22 pm
Went to Mean Bao tonight for some dim sum. Overall Fabulous experience! I would certainly recommend this place to anyone and will be going back. We ordered the pork belly bao, pork and shrimp sui mai, pork and shrimp dumplings and lotus leaf wrapped sticky quinoa. All of the food was outstanding- the sticky quinoa was a nice change from banana leaf steamed rice as it wasn't as filling. The guys working here are super friendly and provide awesome recommendations on food. We were treated to some delicious house made popsicles which were also super tasty! Not to mention to awesome prices for great tasting food. Awesome pop -up Mean Bao. Keep up the great work- looking forward to seeing this turn into a permanent restaurant.

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