Words and Photos by: Sage Battad
Last week Wednesday I was invited to attend a secret tasting for the new food pop-up, Bao Boys. Unfamiliar with their name, I looked them up on Instagram. When I browsed through their feed, I immediately knew to take the opportunity.
Walking into their kitchen, I could smell the steamy scent of roasted meats and bao buns. Coming on an empty stomach, getting a whiff of these tasty looking foods got my verrrry excited.
Bao Boys was a concept created by co-owners Tony and Shaun back in early March this year. They both graduated from Moanalua High School, and during their time as students, they had one favorite after-school food spot – the manapua truck. Growing up with the manapua truck, they wanted to do something fun like that.
After months of planning and building, Bao Boys was something they turned into reality. Tony says a few words on their process of creating Bao Boys.
“It just happened one day and we’re like, ‘Okay, this is gonna work. We got this!’ So we just started docking it out and we’re really lucky that we did.”
Is it a taco or manapua? It’s both. Bao Boys serves something new to the table that easily catches the customer’s eyes. Bao Boys serve up tasty baos in a form of a taco.
“The mainland has street tacos. This is like our street tacos.” Tony states. It’s something easy for customers to eat on-the-go, especially for street events. I hate getting my hands messy, so that already added extra points to my review. For those of you who don’t know, bao is that very fluffy, white, Chinese bread. You know the manapua bun? That’s bao.
Bao Boys have a delicious array of ‘street tacos’ on their menu. Luckily, I was able to taste majority of the menu’s most popular dishes.
The first thing I tried was the kal-bi braised short ribs bao, which contains the short ribs, kimchi, and green onions. The kimchi added a little spice into the bao, which was a nice touch.
The next thing that I got to try was one that I really anticipated – Cheeto chicken bao. The Cheeto chicken bao is made up of cheeto-battered chicken, pickled onions, cilantro, and bao boys salsa.
This sounded freakin’ amazing so you could imagine just how excited I was to sink my teeth into this. The team did a good job of not overpacking too much cheeto flavor into the chicken. The cheeto flavor was slight, but it was a nice balance between the chicken. That little crunch you get from the Cheetos were music to my ears – I love that crunch sound. It was a little too spicy for me – I think that was due to the salsa – but that’s probably because I have a low-tolerance to spicy food. But for the spicy food lover, this will give you a great kick.
The last thing I tried was Tony’s favorite: the pork belly. He describes it as the ‘OG Taiwanese street food.’
The pork belly bao also consists of cilantro, crushed peanuts, and their Bao Boys sauce. Right when I bit into it, the juicy flavor of the pork belly surged straight into my tastebuds. Surprisingly, my favorite part was the crushed peanuts, and I am no peanut fan! But the blend of the pork belly and the crushed peanuts was savory and sweet. I can see why this is Tony’s favorite now. As much as I highly anticipated the Cheeto chicken bao, I would have to say the pork belly bao is my favorite too. I am honestly getting really hungry right now just remembering the taste.
Bao Boys not only serves bao, but also delicious bowls of your choice of meat over rice. They also carry a few sugary desserts, such as chocolate chip and walnut cookies and their ‘hichatta,’ local milk infused with their favorite breakfast cereals (Cinnamon Toast Crunch or Fruity Pebbles).
I tried the cookies and the Cinnamon Toast Crunch hichatta and let me tell you, it was AMAZING! The cookies had a crunchy exterior along with a fluffy, warm inside. Have you ever tried a Cookie Corner cookie before? It tastes just like that, but better! And eating that with the hichatta to clear the palate? Heaven.
Pricing is pretty moderate, ranging from $10 to $14. You can view their menu here:
But while Bao Boys knocks out some tasty foods, they are also very helpful within the community. The Bao Boys’ kitchen in located at the Oahu Veterans Center in Foster Village. As Tony’s father is a retired marine, it was important for the whole staff and himself that the kitchen is located there, interacting with the Wounded Warrior Project.
Bao Boys also stresses the importance of sourcing locally and being eco-friendly. The vegetables that they use in their dishes are actually hydroponically-grown greens in their food from MetroGrow Hawaii. “The biggest thing for us is we try to use GMO-free products. We wanna source locally.”
Bao Boys officially launched their business at their first street event this past Sunday, October 11th at Art + Flea’s Sunday Funday Market. Their next event will at Zombie Dash at Turtle Bay Resort on Saturday, October 17th from 2pm-8pm. They also have a few other pop-ups lined up, such as dishing out some food at Mori and Art + Flea’s Live Sessions as well.
Having a party? They got you covered. Bao Boys also manages a catering service.
“We’re not trying to change the food game, we just wanna have fun,” Tony says. “We wanna serve good food. We wanna get it locally. We wanna put as much love as our mom’s did when making dinner into making this [baos]. Hopefully you can taste that when you try it.”
Bao Boys is without a doubt, something new and fun. Check them out at their upcoming events for some ono grinds!
Salt Lake, HI
Check @baoboyshi on Instagram for locations on pop-up days and times