Food Truck Bite of the Week: Bao to the Chairman
Our weekly bite explores the city's food trucks, one at a time, highlighting our favorite mobile dishes and snacks.
Lou Bustamante Spicy chicken steamed bao with sweet-tart pickled carrots
The Truck: The Chairman
The Cuisine: Asian Street Style Snacks
Specialty Items: Steamed rice flour and baked wheat bun sandwiches
Worth the Wait in Line? Mostly, but the lines can get insane, even with the speedy service.
You can't discuss food trucks without talking about the panda in the room -- the bold red Chairman food truck. Between the bicoastal dispute about the name and the controversy over the corporate-nature of the business driven by national food truck managing partner Mobi Munch, the Chairman (formerly Chairman Bao) truck has still maintained its popularity. It is a staple of the food truck rallies and well known for the steamed rice flour and baked wheat bun sandwiches, with fillings as bold as the graphics on the truck by artist James Jean.
The star of the menu is the Pork Belly (steamed bun $3.75, baked bun $6.75; turmeric pickled daikon, green shiso), a braised and seared square of rich porky goodness, topped with bright yellow daikon that has enough acidity to keep the fat from becoming overwhelming. As indulgent as it was, the Spicy Chicken (steamed bun $3.75, baked bun $6.75; toasted sesame purée, pickled carrots, cilantro) was packing heat and umami richness that had us sweating and head-bobbing in approval. The tender braised chicken gets laced with sesame sauce that is more Asian than Mediterranean tahini, giving it a nutty, mushroom-like splendor. It was dressed with a generous mound of perfectly pickled crisp, sweet, and tart carrot discs that almost disappeared before we took our first bite of the bun, which add spot-on texture and contrast that made this my favorite of the four fillings available that day (other options: cola-braised pork, pork belly, spicy chicken, and tofu).
I had high hopes for the Crispy Miso-Cured Tofu (steamed bun $3.25, baked bun $6; garlic-tofu mayo, baby choy sum) especially after reading John Birdsall's post from our archives, but the tofu was neither crispy nor infused with any particular seasoning -- the worst case scenario for something so mild. Perhaps I hit it on an off day, or maybe things changed in the past two years, but it was really hard not to compare it to the outstanding tofu at KoJa Kitchen.
Lou Bustamante Pork Belly steamed bao with turmeric pickled daikon
Still, the Chairman shows it has plenty of moves worthy of the accolades and its pickles alone are worth seeking out.