Restaurant Review: Fat Bao

In each Houstonian’s search for the best restaurants around the city, we encounter many locations that make similar food. We end up asking ourselves, “Which place has the best burger? Who makes my favorite Mexican food? Where do they have the right style of pizza?” but every once in a while emerges a restaurant so unique that they stand in a category of their own. Fat Bao is one of the few restaurants in Houston that sell Gua Baos, which refers to a steamed bun with a fold or slice that allows them to wrap around a filling similar to a taco. There are many styles of steamed buns across different Asian cultures, but Gua Baos are among the least common found across the city.

Luckily in 2012, two high school friends embarked on a journey to find out “what is the tastiest ingredient we can stuff inside these steamed buns?” Several months later, they had crafted the unique Asian fusion menu that they would use to launch their business. Now over 10 years later, Fat Bao on Kirby is still one of the only places in Houston to find this kind of cuisine, and nobody else does it quite the same way.

Experience & Ambience

From the outside it looks relatively unassuming, as just one of many small shops in the larger strip center. What you don’t know is that behind the door lies a cozy little spot that is surprisingly memorable. The interior is fairly simple, mostly decorated with stained wood and only a few tables, which can make the restaurant prone to overcrowding during the most popular hours of the day. At most times there will be a small table available, but this location is not ideal for larger parties. Fat Bao is a counter service restaurant, meaning that after ordering at the counter, you receive a number and take your choice of open tables where your food will shortly be brought out to you. Service is typically very quick if the location isn’t overly crowded. The food is brought out on simple paper trays which the patrons are expected to dispose of at the trash can by the door as they depart. If you order loaded fries a fork will be provided to you although the baos, which are the signature dish at the restaurant, are typically eaten by hand.

Prices & Rating

The price for a full meal can range from 10-20 dollars per person depending on your order, with some options being more expensive than others. The average person will order 2-3 baos for themselves which are small, but filling. Many customers also enjoy splitting the enticing appetizers labeled as “munchies” with their friends or family. Each one of these range in price from 4-10 dollars, but all come with a decent portion of food. On the more expensive end, the “Fat Fries” topped with bulgogi, chopped onions, and cilantro come with enough food to split or make a light meal for one. Overall the prices are very average, with a few more expensive items that still won’t break the bank. The signature baos are consistently soft, fluffy, and come in many forms varying from more traditional styles to a number of fusion options. Each one has its own unique flair that sets it apart from the others baos on the menu. This makes it a great restaurant for those of us who like to mix and match a few of our favorite choices each time we go. There are enough good options between the baos and appetizers that even after a few trips you will likely still find something new to try. They may be a small location, but they have quite a lot going for them, including my recommendation.

What To Order?

Fat Fries
These loaded fries are one of the most popular appetizers on the menu. There are a few different meat options to choose from, which are paired with thin, crispy fries and topped with chopped onions and cilantro. Bulgogi is a popular choice, but the other options include tofu, tempura fish, pork belly, chicken, or curried beef.

Yummy Fries
This dish consists of the same thin, crispy fries tossed in their “Yummy” sauce which is a cheesy and herbaceous mixture made from parmesan and rosemary.

Fried Avocado
These avocado wedges are crusted in panko and then fried for a crispy vegetarian option, served with jalapeno sauce for dipping.

This is a traditional Japanese dish of steamed and salted soybeans still in their pods, making for a simple, but nutritious snack.

Pork Belly Bao
One of the more traditional options, featuring thick slices of braised pork belly, pickled cucumbers, green onions, and hoisin sauce.

Pork Katsu Bao
Fried panko crusted pork belly topped with Asian slaw, avocados, and tonkatsu sauce.

Duck Bao
This is the priciest bao on the menu, but it is quite good, consisting of roasted duck, pickled cucumbers, and hoisin sauce.

Yummy Bird Bao
This is one of the popular fusion options that uses a fried bao to wrap a piece of fried chicken coated in their signature “Yummy” sauce.

New Yorker Bao
A simple cut of house smoked salmon with slices of avocado and a cream cheese sauce.

Honey Walnut Shrimp Bao – Off menu item
This off menu bao might not be available forever, so try it while you have the chance! It features fried shrimp coated in a sweet, white sauce, and topped with crushed walnuts.

Chicken Tikka Masala Bao – Off menu item
This is another off menu item, recommended by an employee on my most recent visit, that uses a curried, tikka masala chicken to fill their classic steamed bun. To learn about their current secret menu items, be sure to ask on your next trip.

Sweet Baos
In addition to the savory alternatives, they also offer a few sweet options that all feature their crispy, fried baos. You can choose from a few options to top your fried bao including banana Nutella, a scoop of ice cream, or marshmallow fluff, but if you ask me, the beignet bao fingers are the go to option for a splittable sweet treat.

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