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 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.
Grill N' Bao
Grill N' Bao is a tasty little hideaway on Eight Street in Westfield Garden City – a makeshift laneway that appears to have been dropped in straight from the back alleys of Hong Kong. This ain't your regular soul-crushing food court.
The Taiwanese-style burgers are absolutely crammed with flavour. Fill a fluffy bun with protein of your choosing (spicy crumbed chicken, grilled pork belly, tofu, ramen etc), add sauce, and slap on some salad and rainbow slaw. And yes, we said ramen.
Bao Down Now
How now, tasty bao? Flinging their doors open this week, Bao Down Now are the latest addition to Brisbane's gua bao gang. They've set up shop in Chinatown and, in true Fortitude Valley style, will be trading well past bedtime.
Teapot cocktails, rice bowls, live DJs and namesake bao will be the order of the day at the Wickham Street newbie, which is already boasting the best bao you've ever had. Tasty fillings range from pork jowl and smoked butter emulsion (!!!) to karaage chicken.
Kwan Brothers know all a-bao-t Asian burgers. Their smiling buns are stuffed with pork belly, finger-lickin' fried chicken, slow-cooked beef, and soft shell crab. Vegetarians are catered for too, with a Sriracha mayo loaded Tougarashi Tofu Bao. But seriously, Sriracha could make a shoe taste good.
You're guaranteed a happy ending at Kwan Brothers if you save room for the 'Too Bao to Handle Too Cold to Hold' ice cream sandwiches – golden fried bao buns wrapped around pandan, palm sugar and ginger ice cream.
Lord of the laneways, LONgTIME is your destination for a post-party feed that doesn't come in a paper bag. Their bao-based bar snacks include soft shell crab and apple slaw, pulled pork hock with egg and pickled greens, and fried tofu bao with mushrooms and a smack of pickled chilli. Take a bao, LONgTIME. You've nailed it.
LONgTIME is open 'til the wee hours if you've got a late-night hankering for the pillowy burger. Order a zinger spring roll too. Just 'cause.
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 sharable eats are a daily offering of bao sliders, filled with simple yet tasty combos like roast pork with a kick-in-the-pants Korean sauce, and pulled curry beef. The bao game is strong in this one.
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. When the planets are aligned, you might even be lucky enough to sample a special Louisiana chicken or lamb with haloumi and salsa verde.
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Image credit: Lisa Brooke