Bao on Spadina
Bao is the Chinatown outpost of a legendary Chinese restaurant serving baozi and immaculately-plated dishes from Tianjin.
Though it doesn’t carry the same name, Bao is an offshoot of Goubuli, one of China’s oldest brands dating back to 1858. It’s known for its baozi: steamed buns with signature crowns sporting exactly 18 wrinkle each.
Goubuli translates to “dog ignores” in mandarin, a reference to its historic owner’s name, Gouzi, and his tendency to ignore small talk during busy hours.
Owner Hongke Zheng, who runs this franchise along with the first location in Richmond Hill, says he changed the name to Bao to make it easier for non-mandarin speakers to pronounce.
Chinatown’s 21st century rendition of Bao, located on the ground floor of Spadina’s Dragon Condo, doesn’t seem to quite match the bustle of Goubuli’s past.
The restaurant is a beautiful mix of modern and traditional accents with tons of natural lighting. It’s elegant, but it’s not excessively fancy, and when we arrive, it’s quiet.
Don’t let the sophisticated interior fool you: Bao is, for the most part, no more expensive than many of the casual sit-down Cantonese restaurants on the strip.
An order of the baozi is obligatory. A list of options includes ground pork, ground chicken, beef and carrots, or veggie ranging from $5.49 for four pieces up to $12.99 for eight.
Eat baos fresh out of the steamer basket for the full experience of the fluffy, tender exterior and hot, juicy ingredients inside.
Jian bing, or Chinese crepes, are wrapped around crispy fried youtiao, or fried dough, for a big bite.
The rest of Bao’s dishes are immaculately presented. The Tianjin Wonton Soup ($5.99) is a generous portion made with chicken stock, seaweed, and egg drop and served with a giant spoon.
A jar of clear glass noodles ($10.99) comes with a sauce boat with spicy sesame oil on the side. Pour the oil in and shut the jar before shaking it to mix the oil, radish, coriander, and noodles together.
It’s not completely for show: Due to the bouncy nature of the noodles, the sauce could be a messy experience without a shut-in container.
The diced beef with black pepper ($14.99) comes with tender chunks of meat and whole cloves of garlic, covered in sauce and delectably near-raw.
A bowl of fish stew in chilli sauce with sour pickled cabbage, whole peppercorns, and pork bone broth ($16.99) is warming and abundant.
An order of Peking duck is always celebratory, but here, it almost feels casual without the tableside carving. The crepes are ultra delicate and tasty, with mandatory sides of hoisin, cucumber slivers, and green onion.
With affordable and pricier options, Bao is good at combining upscale and casual elements for a meal that hits that mark regardless of the occasion.