Philadelphia’s Bao Nine is a newish venture from the team who developed the Sweet Charlie’s rolled ice cream chain. Bao Nine sells Taipei street-food style Gua Bao, which are flat steamed buns wrapped around a filling which is traditionally pork belly. In Taiwan Gua Bao are sometimes referred to as Chinese hamburgers and were introduced into Taiwan by Fuzhounese immigrants and these buns were largely popularized in the U.S. by David Chang’s Momofuku restaurants, although in cities with Chinatowns they were well known before Momofuku hit the scene. Bao Nine also sells pick and mix rice bowls with choices for protein of crispy chicken, roasted chicken, grilled shrimp, short ribs, or Beyond meat balls – I wish Beyond was a option for the Bao filling. They also serve charred brussels sprouts with gochujang sauce and crispy rice, which sounded good.
The Dumplings: As the name suggests Bao Nine serves nine varieties of bao, six of them are filled with beef or chicken which I don’t eat, so I skipped them. Of the other three one is filled with tempura shrimp, spicy aioli, pickled slaw, and jalapeno, which didn’t excite me. So I tried the “pork belly” and the falafel filled buns. I thought the steamed buns were excellent, slightly sweet and very light and fluffy in texture. I was less impressed with the fillings, I put the quotes around pork belly because it did not appear to be pork belly but rather a slow cooked pork shoulder. The other fillings were green chili sauce, radish, and pickles; but the green chili sauce lacked any real heat and the pickles seemed to be kosher dill pickles, which struck a wrong note with me. The falafel bao had a traditional filling of a single falafel ball with tahini labneh, pickled chili and onion. My go-to falafel is from Mamoun’s in Greenwich Village and so maybe I am biased or a traditionalist, but I didn’t think the sweetness of the Bao went well with the falafel fillings. The falafel bao is vegan. For me, three bao made a filling lunch.
Location: Bao Nine is in the Rittenhouse square neighborhood of Philly, it is on 19th street about a block north of Chestnut street.