A variety assortment of bao from Bao Bao.
A variety assortment of bao from Bao Bao. Suzette Smith
Top point of order: If I impart one tip to you, in this week's Takeout Club, it is that you must order Bao Bao's little 6.5 oz jar of Chili Oil with your order of bao, noodles, or any of the other delights the inner Northeast restaurant has on its menu. The chili is simple, spicy, and a little goes a long way. The flavor combination of a couple drops—mixed in with juicy bao filling—is just perfect.

Bao are pretty plentiful in the Portland area thanks to the city's integral and diverse Asian community. You'll find similar versions of light, spongy, steamed buns with filling inside under different names, because the bao is a popular to-go food across Asia. A fun note on the word bao is that, in this context, it essentially means "bun." So saying "bao buns" is like saying "buns buns." It's the ATM machine of the food world.

Co-owners Sabrina Zhang and Randy Richardson started Bao Bao in a food cart at Southwest 10th and Alder, selling their beautiful little handmade buns for $3 a pop. They opened their brick and mortar on Northeast Couch just in time for society's massive pandemic-related shutdown, but their base of food cart fans clamored hungrily for the flash frozen bao the restaurant began to offer. Now Bao Bao sells frozen bao and frozen dumplings, as well as steamer baskets to steam them up in. They even keep the reheating instructions handy on their website.

Interior: chicken curry bao
Interior: chicken curry bao Suzette Smith

The hip thing to do is pair a couple bao with one of the restaurant's entrees—the cold noodles are a personal favorite, as they come loaded up with refreshing slices of cucumber, carrot, Chinese pickled vegetables, scallion, and cilantro. But looking at that incoming rain forecast, I also recommend the congee: a rice porridge that is dynamite for hangovers. Bao Bao makes their congee with a veggie and mushroom broth that's vegan. Many of the restaurant's bao are also vegan, like the spicy tofu, mushroom, red bean, and lotus.

The lotus and red bean bao are sweet-tasting buns, which could put them in a dessert category bao to some. The chicken curry bun is absolutely perfect and needs nothing, only to exist in this world. Spicy tofu wasn't joking around, but was worth the nostril burn. At Bao Bao you can tell the different bao apart by the deliberate folds that top each one. Practically speaking, you'll tell them apart because you'll simply order them, but at home when you're fighting over the remaining bao, the little folds hold the clue as to what filling is inside.

Bao Bao, 545 NE Couch, (503) 477-8911, baobaopdx.com