Bao Factor

Marilyn HawkesDecember 20, 2019
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Photo by Angelina Aragon
Photo by Angelina Aragon

Steam the bun, supercharge your appetite with this addictive Asian hand-food.  

Deez Buns

1158 W. Washington St., Tempe
Traditionally, Chinese steamed buns – known as bao – are soft, doughy pillows filled with meat and vegetables. But at Deez Buns, owners Justin Park and Kevin Rosales (previously of Drunken Tiger and Good Fortune Kitchen, respectively) have transformed them into “burgers” by slicing and griddling the buns and then packing them with goodies ($6 each, pictured). The menu sports seven offerings, from what Park dubs the “gateway” buns – KFC (Korean fried chicken with pickled radish and cabbage slaw) and BTS (bulgogi beef) – to an eerily spot-on pho-like bao (topped with secret herb aromatics and crunchy Vietnamese slaw) and Longsilog (spicy Filipino sausage patty topped with a fried egg nestled atop pickled papaya salad). For those who want to play it safe, there’s a straight-up American hamburger bao.


214 W. Roosevelt St., Phoenix
Served three to an order, SoSoBa bao ($13) are soft and steamed inside and griddle-seared on the outside with a hint of sweetness. The pork belly bun, anchored by sweet pork edged with fat, goes down easily in a couple of bites, as does the bulgogi beef bun stuffed with tender outside skirt steak marinated in bulgogi sauce, a sweet hoisin treatment brimming with garlic and sesame oil highlights, and then garnished with sliced carrots and greens dressed with house-made ponzu. Other bao include panko chicken, pulled pork and soy-braised mushroom for vegetarians. The crusty buns, seared in rayu, a Japanese chile oil containing bits of garlic, onions and chile peppers, steal the show.

OBON Sushi + Bar + Ramen

Two Valley locations
OBON’s bao (2 for $10; 3 for $14) closely resemble the “classic taco-shaped” Taiwanese buns that became popular in the United States in the mid-2000s, says OBON chef/partner Paulo Im. OBON features four to five varieties of the supple little snacks, depending on location. Customers gravitate to the Bird (Sriracha buttermilk fried chicken splashed with hot sauce laced with Chinese chile paste and topped with pickles and scallions to cool things down) and the pork bao, an enticing combo of sweet, sticky pork belly and pickles with a hit of Chinese-style spicy mustard. Im favors the Spam bun, a slice of the eponymous pork lunchmeat fried on the grill and layered with tangy kimchi and spicy mayo. “It tastes like a really great Asian hot dog.”

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