A Ranking Of Baocos' Taco Bao Fusion, From Bad To Worse
By Melissa McEwen in Food on Aug 26, 2015 5:12PM
After a new tacos- and Asian bao-inspired restaurant opened up in Logan Square under the Blue Line tracks, we were wondering whether the next fusion food trend was afoot.
We initially believed Baocos, the name of the restaurant, meant tacos on steamed bao buns. If you're not familiar with these buns, they are round fluffy white bread that New York City's Momofuku and its many offshoots popularized. But as Baocos' menu clarifies, it's "a fusion of words meaning Burritos, Bao, tacos and much more."
Fusion is a term in cuisine that, while once fashionable, has kind of gotten a bad reputation for describing thoughtless and low brow mish-mashes of trendy ingredients from around the world. And unfortunately, that's exactly what we have at Baocos.
Not everything was bad though. But what was bad was extremely bad. Here are the dishes we tried, in order from Not Bad to very very very very very very very very very bad:
Cape May crab cake baocos: one of the most confusing aspects of the baocos is that most contain fillings you wouldn't find in either a taco or bao. We've never had crab cakes, for example, in either. But the crab cakes were really pretty solid, and the fluffy bao was a good vehicle for the chipotle mayo. Not bad.
Pork belly baocos: How is this a "baoco"? It's just the normal filling for a bao, the exact dish Momofuku made famous. But the Momofuku buns are far better balanced with acidic and savory elements, whereas sweet dominates the belly here, which also suffers from a gummy texture.
BLT baocos: This item featured the same pork belly as the pork belly baocos, topped with maybe the five total morsels of decent vegetables the restaurant seemed to have on hand.
Crispy mochi: While not very photogenic, it was pretty tasty with the contrast between the gooey mochi, creamy ice cream filling and crispy cornflake crust.
BBQ baocos: You can't just put mediocre sauce on some steak and call it BBQ. That's not BBQ. That just sucks. But good luck finding the BBQ hidden in the mess of over-sweetened slaw.
Shanghai salad: Enjoy, sad flavorless iceberg lettuce that looked like it was cut the day before covered in a cloyingly sweet dressing. (Editor's note: I actually thought this was the worst item we tried...until I read further and remembered the items that were in fact even worse.)
Wasabi tuna tacos: The combination of tuna and wasabi was one of the major highlights of fusion cuisine's heyday in the early '00s. At its best, it was perfectly seared tuna with a browned sesame seed flecked crust and a creamy zesty sauce. Unfortunately, that's not what we got here. Instead, we got mealy, overcooked tuna covered with an artificial-tasting sauce that reminded us more of Slimer from Ghostbusters than Japan.
Cookie skillet: It's pretty hard to mess up a cookie skillet. It's a staple at mall chain restaurants across the country and it's not that hard to make at home either. One easy way to mangle it is to put it in a disposable pan rather than an actual skillet. Instead of being a cookie dough and melted chocolate delight, this dish was grainy and tasted of artificial flavors. I was forced to make a cookie skillet at home (with yes, a real skillet, because real skillets are awesome and brown things really nicely) in order to clear my mind of this disappointment.
Queso fundido: Sorry guys, you can't make queso fundido by just melting cheap cheese with some peppers. It was a gluey, oily texture, and we couldn't really even figure out how we were supposed to dip the stale chips in it.
Heirloom hot pot: Not a hot pot by any stretch of the imagination—more like an abomination from an abyss. It's just like a bowl of sad microwaved glop mixed with quinoa. If you're going to "fusion" foods, at least have some respect for the heritage of the foods you're fusing. I can't see how there is any respect for the hot pot tradition or heirloom tomatoes in this dish. It was so terrible that I issued everyone who survived it this custom badge:
If you want to pick up some food with a variety of cultural influences, you can find it executed better right next door at Belly Shack, where they avoid the word "fusion" entirely. And if you love the idea of bao bread with interesting fillings, you can get really good baos at the Yum Dum Food truck.
We will note that they just opened. With a convenient location and seemingly good intentions, we hope they will work out the kinks, but they'd have to really refine their ingredient sourcing and menu to do so first.