When is a burger not a burger? When it's a bao. Forget ‘traditional or panini’ where's our soft, steamed bread option, burger chain that shall remain nameless?
That doughy goodness stuffed with sweet barbecued pork? That's bao. Soupy dumplings you pierce with a chopstick and suck all the brothy juices out of? That's bao too. For the purpose of this list, we're specifically talking burger bao—a pillowy, c-shaped bun known in Taiwan as gua bao or 'cut bread'. These are the contenders we reckon bust out the best bao in Brisbane.
This West End spot is dedicated entirely to bao, and since they only do one thing, they do it well—very well. The buns are large, the fillings are hefty and you can pair them with sides like fries, lotus chips and crisp calamari. The hard part will be choosing between Bao Bar's flavours like panko prawn, karaage chicken, katsu chicken, teriyaki mushroom, buffalo fried chicken and soy braised pork belly—you may need to come back more than once.
Lord of the laneways, Same Same is your destination for a post-party feed that doesn't come in a paper bag. Their bao-based bar snacks are a Fortitude Valley icon from Longtime days, with soft shell crab piled with Asian slaw and hot and sour dressing, wrapped in a pillowy cloud. Take a bao, Same Same. You've nailed it.
Chop Chop Changs
Any venue named after an astronaut chimpanzee is alright in our books. While Chop Chop Changs has been part of the West End dining scene for two years, they're as fresh as the day they opened. Among their pan-Asian lunchtime eats are baos filled with simple yet tasty combos like fried tofu and spicy ginger sesame sauce and BBQ duck with hoisin.
Did someone say Asian Fusion craft beer bar? Zero Fox has been serving up Korean and Japanese bar snacks to pair with craft brews for yonks, and there's nowhere we'd rather chow down on the combination. There are a few bao options that are sure to satisfy, including spicy pork, bulgogi beef and soft shell crab. And if you’re meat-impaired, don’t worry: munch your way through the mushroom and sweet potato—you won’t regret it.
Oh Boy Bok Choy
Like to get a little hands on with your dinner? At Stafford’s new Oh Boy Bok Choy, you MYO (make your own) bao buns. You’ll get a basket of bao buns, fillings and sauces so you can stack your buns just how you want them. Choices include crispy mushroom, sticky pork and tempura prawn—order all three and have yourself a bao banquet.
Mr Mista—not just a good spot for a post-dinner and drinks boogie, but also one of our fave spots for a bao. While we recommend waiting at least 30 minutes after eating before you hit the d-floor, you shouldn’t wait to order a few of these bad boys. Switching things up a little, their bao menu features the likes of chicken karaage with caramelised pineapple, tempura bug with sesame slaw and crispy oyster mushrooms with eggplant and miso glaze.
The Balfour Kitchen
A secret spot known only to a few, The Balfour Kitchen is tucked inside Spicers Balfour, with an oh so romantic dining garden where you can feast by lamplight. Fancy it may be, but that just makes the bao even better. Choose from pork belly with kimchi and caramelised apple, tempura battered eggplant or crispy fried chicken with satay sauce and raspberry gel. Boujee, right?
Nom Nom Bao
As you’d expect from somewhere dedicated to the fluffy morsels, Nom Nom Bao dishes out some of Brisbane’s best bao. From tempura prawn to pork belly and seared salmon, these guys are easily one of our top picks when in need of a feed before hitting the bars in the Valley.
The Bun Mobile
All Over Town
Original bao-slingers The Bun Mobile were trailblazers when it came to introducing us to the novelty of steamed burger. The rolling bao factory never fails to draw a crowd, wherever it decides to chuck on the handbrake. Old faithful flavours include twice-cooked pork with hoisin and pickled cucumber, and slow-cooked wagyu with pickled shitake mushrooms and red dragon sauce.
No Thai feast at Ping Pong should start without a serve of bao buns. Kindly, because they know you’re definitely going to have trouble choosing dishes from the rest of the menu, they’ve only got two bao buns on the menu, sriracha and honey chicken or panko mushroom. You’ll probably still order way too much, so wear something loose fitting.
This is street food done differently. Located on Fish Lane, with a new, weather proof (but still featuring that shipping container kitchen we know and love) venue to enjoy your Asian feast in, Hello Please boasts a menu of scrumptious Vietnamese street eats, including a crispy roast pork belly bao with pickled cucumber and hoisin sauce worth writing home about.
Thought Hai Hai were only experts at ramen? You thought wrong—they also do a mean bao bun. To get with as an entree for your ramen of course, because who’s going to pass up a bowl of that noodle goodness. Order yourself either karaage chicken, katsu fried tofu or chashu pork and prepare to enter a food coma.
Southside Bistro’s bao buns take the prize for the most inventive—no ordinary chicken karaage fillings will you find here, instead it’s all about the likes of spicy prawn fishcake, Panko crumbed pork with Hong Kong-style tomato gravy and peanut butter tofu. There’s six different flavours in total, and you can even finish things off with a deep fried milk tea ice cream bao.
If you’ve not yet made the trek north to Black Tan, North Lakes' Asian-fusion gem then, simply put, you’re missing out. Start your journey with a serving of their deep-fried soft shell crab bao, move on to crispy pork belly bao and end with bulgogi beef bao. Are you drooling all over your keyboard yet? We thought so.
Prefer the OG burgers? Check out our list of Brisbane’s best here.
Image credit: Ranyhyn Laine, Hai Hai, Oh Boy Bok Choy, Grace Elizabeth Images