Bao's Castle - South Orlando
Art by C. Stanley Creative
Welcome to Bao's Castle. Some strange amalgamation of influences that feels like it's trying to pay homage to Bowser from the Super Mario series, without risking copyright infringement. Sadly, all traces were removed by my first visit, but there are various photos on Yelp of a Bowser statue and mural inside the restaurant. Nevertheless, the murals on the walls in here are massive, and beautifully executed. The inside of this place has character, and the food reflects that. Although they primarily serve bao buns and churros, they have a late night menu with some great bar food, like fried chicken bites and gyoza.
View looking towards the bar and back dining room of the restaurant
If you're a drinker, Bao's Castle has you covered. They're open until 3-4 a.m. every day. If you're sober, like me, you're here solely for the food. Don't worry, they've got you covered there too. To start with, they're low frill here. You order at the counter, you get a number for your table, it's run out to you, and goddamn, they're fast. My partner and I ordered some of the fried chicken baos, as well as The Mad King (pork belly, daikon, cilantro) and The Baoser's Buddy (Korean short rib, kimchi, scallions). On top of that, I ordered "The Perfect Snack". In essence, a thinly sliced Chicharrón, delicious. For dessert, we got Nutella churros and dulce de leche churros. Everything was good, and very reasonably priced. The baos range from $4-4.50, and the churros and the perfect snack were all under $4.
The Perfect Snack. Great little app. Crispy, fatty, salty, lemon for a little bit of acidity if preferred.
From left to right: Pork belly, Korean short rib, fried chicken
As is expected, and in my opinion desired, the garnishes are relatively minimal, letting the protein shine in each bun. Bao buns themselves, to me, are like pizza. Even if they're not great, they're still pretty damn good. In this case, I feel there was a tradeoff happening. The buns were not as pillowy as I'd anticipated, and had more of a chew, but because of this, there was no frustrating moment of trying to detach soft bun from the roof of your mouth with your tongue. I personally loved all three, each one was a different experience in terms of flavor, texture, and mouthfeel. The pork belly was a standout to me, it's hard to sous vide pork belly without it becoming almost jelly-like if the fat content is too high, but the bite on this was just right, a light sear on the outside giving a little variation in texture. The fried chicken, great as well, a healthy bit of heat being balanced with the white sauce and arugula. As someone still hesitant of kimchi, the short rib was my least favorite, but not because it was bad, just not exactly my preferred taste.
Nutella churros, came out piping hot and golden brown, just right.
Simply put, check this place out if you're in the area. The atmosphere is dope, and the food is great. There isn't much left to say, as the pictures of Bao's Castle somewhat speak for themselves. Outside the expected, the murals are sweet, the tables have Connect Four on them, and there's a mini Mortal Combat arcade machine at the bar. If you drink, this might be the place for you. Everything supplied is certifiably solid drunk food, or late night munchies. Finally, they have Squid Game biscuit cookies available in the show's iconic shapes. They've worked hard here to create something different, and I think it succeeds in that, I've definitely never eaten somewhere just like this. I tip my hat to any restaurant that commissions artists to paint murals in their space, it immediately gives the restaurant something that sets them apart, and something that adds to the overall sense of identity that it carries. Bao's Castle may appear a little confused about that identity at times, with the prior presence and current absence of the Super Mario character it partially lends its name to, but Bao's manages to create something all its own. However, if you're planning to go, just be aware that yes, your princess is in another castle.