Photo Credit: Eater SF

Spring is here, and for those of us culinarily inclined and on a budget (or just like it dirty), that means one thing– Off The Grid Ft. Mason is back!

If you live in San Francisco and don’t know what that entails, 1) remove head from sand, and 2) get down to Ft. Mason on Friday nights for a veritable Food Mecca. 30 (count ’em-THIRTY) different food trucks- from the ranks of Japa Curry, Brass Knuckle, and The Rib Whip all the way up to higher echelon establishments like Namu. They come in different sizes, shapes, and ethnicities. Tacos? Korean? BBQ? You can have it all, baby.

One of these days, I’ll try them all (mark my words). But in the mean time, I pick strategically. I tried Namu‘s Korean taco. I tried Pica Pica Maize‘s Arepas. And then… I tried Chairman Bao‘s Buns. Those tiny Asian pillows worked us all right up. Yes, there was an insanely long line. Yes, it was forking cold out. But those soft little buns made it all worth the wait.

At the time, they had three carnivorous options with choice of baked or steamed bun- Pork belly with pickled daikon, braised pork with savoy cabbage and preserved mustard seeds, and red sesame chicken with pickled cucumber and carrot. We obviously had to get one of each. Note: I have since learned their tofu is out-of-this world amazing, so don’t discount it just because you enjoy eating animals.

We went the baked route for our belly bun, which is burger-sized. The airy baked bun was light and soft, slightly sweet, made fresh daily from Chef Curtis Lam‘s family’s bakery in Inner Richmond. It was a perfect match for the large, meaty, slightly sweet hunks of belly, which Curtis said was braised for 3 hours and glazed in a secret miso concoction, although the day I went it was quite toothy. The crunch of the pickled daikon was a beautiful¬† addition to the rich belly and breaks up any heaviness with a burst of acidity. Daikon, in the radish family, is more mild than a radish and typically resembles a large white carrot. Bao’s is pickled in a rice wine vinegar solution for a traditional Asian tang.

 

Steamed buns are small- taco sized. The steamed bun yeast culture was brought here 30 years ago from Hong Kong by Lam’s family which makes their flavor unique… and totally retro. The braised pork was so tender, moist, and flavorful I almost cried. Paired with a beautiful white, doughy, steamed bun, savoy cabbage adds a nice crunch to the otherwise delicate components. Preserved mustard seeds (rehydrated in the pork jus and then pickled) give just a little kick and funk. All that gooey, moist, salty and slightly sweet goodness was everything I wanted in a bite.

Frequently the longest line at Off The Grid, owners Ray Villaman and Josh Tang of the MobiMunch corporation are hoping to roll out a brigade of Bao’s all over the peninsula and East Bay in coming months with all the success and demand. But until they do, you can get your Bao on at these locations or on Eat Street, a show all about Street Food on The Cooking Channel at these times. And definitely go in for their 5-spice duck confit bun with green papaya salad. They’re planning on bringing it back as a special next month.