Wow Bao restaurant
Wow Bao Restaurant
46 East Chicago Avenue by Dan Zeff
Chicago–If you a foodie specializing in Asian food, you likely will fancy pan-seared dumplings, Asian steamed buns, rice and noodle bowls, potstickers, and seasonal items like Pumpkin Bao, Blackberry and Guava Ginger Ale, and Thai Herb Bone Soup.
Those are the specialties on offer at Wow Bao, an Asian food chain that has brought the fast food concept to ethnic dining. Wow Bao is a Chicago-centered operation that began in 1993 in a 386 square foot kiosk at Water Tower Place on North Michigan Avenue, expanding to seven company owned locations, a food truck, airport locations, college campuses, baseball and football stadiums, hotels, and more than 70 grocery stores that carry a frozen food line. You can now find Wow Bao outlets in Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, and Washington, D.C., as well as Illinois.
I was introduced to the Wow Bao experience at the opening of a new restaurant at 46 East Chicago Ave, footsteps from the Magnificent Mile. It’s an unobtrusive establishment easily missed, especially from an automobile. The interior consists of several tables along with standing room for customers waiting for their orders. The site doubtless does a vast carry out business for workers in the crowded commercial district as well as tourists who want to picnic on the cuisine, weather permitting, on a nearby grassy area.
If you are of a certain age and can remember the old Automat in New York City back in the day you will recognize the Wow Bao setup. The food is prepared and placed in compartments behind glass windows. The names of the buyers are posted on an elevated electronic sign. When your name reaches the top of the list, you simply open the door of the compartment, take possession of the bag with your order, and carry on, either inside the establishment or elsewhere.
You first order from the menu posted on the wall and give the order to an employee. I was able to navigate the ordering process with the invaluable assistance of a young lady who answered questions about each individual dish, kept track of my order, and took it back to the preparation area, which must be have been humming like an overturned beehive.
The size of your bill depends on how many items you order. It’s all a la carte and each item by itself is modestly priced, but if you are with a number of friends or family members who are all hungry, it’s possibly to run up a considerable tab. But our young lady kept a running score of the charges and our final bill came to about $40, pretty reasonable for the amount of items I ordered. The steamed buns are the most popular item on the menu and customers buy bags of them to eat as a snack.
There are a couple of nits I could pick. One was the availability of only one restroom. And if you are driving to the restaurant, be prepared for bumper-to-bumper traffic and a paucity of on-street parking. This is an establishment best reached by foot. But if you like Asian food or are open to new tasting sensations, Wow Bao has much to offer, not only in novelty but in convenience. The service is great and there is no need to tip, so you can save the gratuity to buy a half dozen steamed buns to eat at your leisure. For information call (773) 279-5217.