I went into the Bao Shoppe a newish Astoria restaurant with a skeptical attitude. After all Astoria is home to almost as many bad restaurants as good ones, places like Mexican hookah lounges and the like. But the décor, a giant graffiti mural of a Joe Cool Snoopy chilling beside the N train, and what I ate soon changed my mind. To get a base line of the place I started with The O.G. ($3.50), a braised pork belly number. Dressed with little more than a carrot daikon slaw more commonly seen on Vietnamese sandwiches and a fresh pickle, the O.G. is more stream-lined than a traditional Taiwanese gua bao. It’s a tasty two or three bite sandwich and the pork is braised to wobbly perfection.
That braising is a technique that chef-owner Johnny Shek honed at home. Shek who has a name that sounds kind of O.G. to me added his own twists to the traditional recipe, namely some Southeast Asian spices he wouldn’t divulge. I was less impressed with the Texan ($4), a sandwich of smoked brisket, coleslaw and fresh pickle—but only because I’m among the pickiest of barbecue eaters in Queens.
Shek says his goal at the Bao Shoppe is to create “food that’s fun, nothing that’s too straightforward.” That includes specials like a fried oyster bao with avocado cream. While I’m very curious to see what else he has in store I’m just glad he chose to go with his gut and not open a jivey concept like a Thai hookah lounge.
The Bao Shoppe, 30-66 Steinway St., 718-777-1883