Thursday, April 28, 2016

Making Pigs of Ourselves at Baos Hog

Baos Hog
13918 Brookhurst St. 
Garden Grove, CA 92843

Sometimes you eat at a restaurant, and you just know that within a short matter of time, there's going to be a bunch of copycats out there. That was the feeling that I had once I saw the menu at Baos Hog in Garden Grove. Just like all the poke places, liquid nitrogen ice cream spots, and the build your own pizza joints, which are dominating the restaurant landscape these days, I can definitely foresee a bunch of these bao sandwich spots opening up all over. For now Baos Hog seems to be the only game in town though, but look for that to change.

Baos Hog opened its doors over 10 months ago, and has gotten some great praise from the local food media. OC Register Restaurant Critic, Brad Johnson put this place on his list of top 75 restaurants in OC this year. The OC Weekly has written numerous articles about his place, including their most recent, which was a glowing review of the food here. All this praise, plus the fact that my aunt Hiroko knows the owner here, had us all very excited to make a rare trip to Garden Grove for dinner on a recent Saturday night.

When the owners of the famous Lien Hoa BBQ wanted to expand their kitchen, and the place next door became available, they not only got more room to operate, but also let their daughter open up her creative new adventure, Baos Hog. According to Edwin Goei, restaurant reviewer for the OC Weekly, and later confirmed by their Instagram page, the original concept for this restaurant was hainan chicken, but the baos quickly took on the more prominent role.

For those of you new to baos, like me, they are steamed buns, kind of reminiscent of what you would get when eating dim sum, and they are traditionally stuffed with pork. At Baos Hog they have expanded their offerings to include duck, beef, chicken, and fish, along with a few selections that include pork. We got to this small, five table restaurant at about 6pm, quickly ordered and grabbed a table out in front of their restaurant. We'd heard that this place gets a little crazy near meals times, and based on our trip here, we can verify that this is true. Let's see how our first experience having baos went for us.

Our order was pretty good sized, so things came out in stages, the first of which was this Roasted Pork Cha Siu Bao ($3.50). When this was sat in front of me I was immediately struck by how nicely presented this was. The honey barbecue pork had a pleasing red ring around it, and was topped with cucumber, fried shallots, green onion, and a house made sesame hoisin sauce on the side. The pork was flavorful and tender, while the fried shallots added a nice crunch to this. I was a little too reserved with the hoisin sauce, but will not make that mistake next time.

Also included in this round of baos was this Boss Bao ($3.50). The base of this one is a five spiced pork belly that was joined in the soft and fluffy bao with pickled red onion, cucumber, green onion, fried shallot, crushed peanuts, hoisin, and a sriracha garlic mayo. I'm usually a big fan of pork belly, but this one seemed off to me textually. It did not have that fatty bacon kind of feel to it. I really enjoyed the sriracha mayo though, and the rest of the insides of this.

We got our next round of four baos out next, and one of my favorites on this evening was one of the simpler ones, the Cow Bao ($3.50). They use chopped grilled ribeye here, along with fried shallot, and green onion. Kind of like Mongolian beef, but in sandwich form. The ribeye was flavored well, and the green onion added just the right amount of flavor as to not overwhelm the ribeye. I'll get this one again for sure.

Another winner for me was this Duck Bao ($4.00). It really should not be surprising that this was good, as they use the same roasted duck that they famously serve next door at Lien Hoa. The duck was delicious, probably one of the best I have had in a long while. I was happy that this one was simply dressed with cucumber, green onion,fried shallots, and duck sauce on the side, as it really let the duck shine. This is another bao that I will return to.

The online buzz is probably the greatest for this Bolsa Bao ($3.50). This one was pretty solid as well, with its crispy pork belly, pickled carrots and onion, cucumber, hoisin and sriracha garlic mayo. The pork belly on this one was a lot more to my liking, and it's easy to see why so many people enjoy this one. Katie's not into pork belly, so I had this one all to myself, which is never a bad thing.

 A new addition to their bao lineup is the Fish Bao ($3.50). A fried basa fish is the centerpiece of this, with a cabbage medley, crispy wonton chip, red onion, and honey mustard sauce playing a supporting role. I was not in love with this. The fish got lost here, and the wonton chip was a little on the hard side. I can see what they were trying to do with this, but I wasn't feeling it.

It's not all about the baos here at Baos Hog, they do have a limited number of side items, one of which is the much heralded Salt and Pepper Wings ($4.50). These wings were more on the peppery side, which I enjoyed. Not the biggest wings we have had recently, but I like that they were fried well, the skin was crisp, and the sriracha dipping sauce actually complimented these, not that it was actually needed. Good wings, and something for people to get that do not feel like a bao sandwich.

I had a feeling that the wings were going to be good, but they may have been overshadowed by these Cauli Fries ($3.50). There's not too much buzz about these, but trust me, you are going to want to try them. Mediterranean inspired, these fried pieces of cauliflower were delicious, and fried to perfection. Not too greasy, and they came with a wonderful dipping sauce, which was part ranch, but with some garlic notes present. Delicious, and you almost think you're eating healthier since it's cauliflower and everything.

Leaving Baos Hog, I was struck by how this was such a simple idea of making baos into sandwiches, and how it just feels that this might be the next thing to be mimicked by other restaurants. Yes, not all the bao sandwiches were winners in my book, and to be truthful, I really enjoyed the simpler ones, like the beef and duck versions better than the more elaborate Bolsa and Boss versions, which reviewers love on Yelp. The sides are not to be overlooked here either, and definitely give some love to the cauli fries. Service was spot on, as the people behind the counter were very helpful answering questions. The food came out staggered, but we eventually got everything, and it came out hot, especially the sides. Glad my aunt Hiroko could introduce this place to us before there are many imitators.

Out of five white Cadillac's, (because this restaurant is of course named after Boss Hogg from the Dukes of Hazzard TV show, and he used to drive a 1970 triple white Cadillac), five being best to zero being worst, Baos Hog gets 3.5 white Cadillac's.

For more information about Baos Hog, head to their website here:

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