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A saucy bao bun at Chaplin's.
A saucy bao bun at Chaplin's.
Chaplin's

16 Essential Bao Buns

Local restaurants embrace the stuffed and steamed delicacy

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A saucy bao bun at Chaplin's.
| Chaplin's

Gua bao, or split bread, is a relatively new dish, popular in Taiwanese cuisine, even though the concept of bao has been around for centuries.

For gua bao, a round of flat dough is folded in half, steamed, and then stuffed, most commonly with braised pork belly, pickled vegetables, cilantro, and sugared peanuts. The combination of soft, warm, slightly sweet bread works well with the fatty meat, while the pickled vegetables cut through the fattiness and work with the sugared peanuts to add a slight crunch.

The term bao is often used interchangeably for gua bao and baozi buns, which feature assorted fillings steamed or baked inside the bread. So take care when ordering: the two options are very different.The sandwich-like nature of gua bao lends itself more easily to adaptation. Filling the buns after cooking allow the fillings to maintain their original integrity, really opening up the playing field for chefs.

Washingtonian recently listed bao among the food trends it's sick of spotting on D.C. menus. Perhaps by looking at the concentration of locations in the city proper, rather than in enclaves filled with Taiwanese and Chinese restaurants, a case could be made that the dish appears to be more popular among the Instagram crowd than with traditionalists. Recent developments — including the addition of Wow Bao at Ronald Reagan National Airport, and newcomer Bao Bar in Clarendon — suggest that the business community seems determined to mine this phenomenon for all it's worth.

But just because something is trendy or ubiquitous doesn't mean that it should go away. With spots such as Bun'd Up incorporating delicious and unique ingredients like its pineapple-heavy fruit kimchi, there's still plenty of room for gua bao in D.C.

Know of any other must-try bao?. Share in the comments below or sound off via email (dc@eater.com).

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Note: Restaurants on this map are listed geographically.

1. Absolute Noodle

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772 NW 5th St
Washington, D.C. 20001
(202) 789-0022
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Absolute Noodle's bao features pork belly with pickled jalapeño and hoisin sauce.
Photo by Tommy C. / Yelp

2. Bun'd Up

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7600 Arlington Rd
Bethesda, MD 20814
(301) 646-5790
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Bun'd Up serves its bao at area farmers' markets. The homemade buns come in regular and whole wheat with fillings like Korean BBQ, braised pork belly, and marinated tofu. One distinguishing feature is the fruit kimchi, in the form of spicy pineapple, and wasabi guacamole. There's also a sweet option with peanut butter, banana jam and granola.
Photo: Bun'd Up

3. Chaplin's

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1501 9th St NW
Washington, D.C. 20001
(202) 644-8806
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Chaplin's bun features braised pork, cucumbers, carrots, and spicy teriyaki. For vegetarians and vegans the buns are available with tofu.
Photo: Chaplin's

4. Maketto

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1351 H St NE
Washington, D.C. 20002
(202) 838-9972
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The bao at Maketto feature roasted duck, local vegetables, and various pickled vegetables.

5. Marumen

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3250 Old Pickett Rd
Fairfax, VA 22031
(703) 352-6278
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Along with a full menu of ramen, find bao with pork belly, cucumber, scallion and ginger hoisin sauce.
Photo by Vicky N. / Yelp

6. Masa 14

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1825 14th St NW
Washington, D.C. 20009
(202) 328-1414
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Masa 14 offers two kinds of bao: pork belly and shiitake mushroom. The pork belly contains achiote paste, sweet pineapple sambal, cilantro, and serrano peppers. The shiitake is flavored with truffle, and cucumber.
Photo by Phi N. / Yelp

7. Momofuku CCDC

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1090 I St NW
Washington, D.C. 20001
(202) 602-1832
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Carnivores, pescatarians, and vegetarians alike will find suitable bao options at Momofuku CCDC. There's shiitake with hoisin and cucumber, chicken meatballs with jalapeno and paprika mayo, shrimp with pickled red onion and mayo, and brisket with horseradish and pickled red onion.
Photo by Karen W. / Yelp

8. NaiNai's Noodle & Dumpling Bar

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1200 E West Hwy
Silver Spring, MD 20910
Nainai's has the largest variety of bao with six options. They offer a braised five-spice duck with daikon carrot slaw; ground beef bulgogi with kimchi; seared teriyaki spam with mango salsa; tofu with cabbage, mushroom and egg; smoked pork belly with peanut sauce; and crispy chicken tenders with chili sauce and daikon carrot slaw.
Photo by Danny N. / Yelp

9. People's Bao

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This roving food truck sells three varieties of bao: pork, duck, and portobello mushrooms. Order with a single filling, or combine two or all three fillings in a single bao.
Photo: People's Bao

10. Sakerum

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2204 14th St NW
Washington, D.C. 20009
(202) 518-2222
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Along with all the sushi served at Sakerum, get a pork belly bao with Korean gochujang, pickled red cabbage, shiso leaves, and hoisin sauce.
Photo: Sakerum

11. Sakuramen

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2441 18th St NW
Washington, D.C. 20009
(202) 656-5285
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Choose from four types of bao at Sakuramen. Opt for a spicy sweet pork with marinated mushrooms, slice rib eye bulgogi, chashu pork, or soy-marinated mushrooms.
Photo by Alida H. / Yelp

12. Taipei Cafe

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802 Hungerford Dr
Rockville, MD 20850
(301) 838-5998
The gua bao, listed on the menu as a Taiwanese hamburger, is as close to the ones usually found in Taiwan. This one features pork belly, pickled vegetables, and crushed sugared peanuts.
Photo by Esther W. / Yelp

13. The Source by Wolfgang Puck

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575 Pennsylvania Ave NW
Washington, D.C. 20565
(202) 637-6100
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At The Source, Peking duck is served in open-faced steamed buns, rather than the traditional flour pancakes. Crisp duck skin and meat is tucked into the buns with cucumber, scallion, and garlic hoisin.

14. Toki Underground

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1234 H St NE
Washington, D.C. 20002
(202) 388-3086
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Most spots default to pork belly gua bao. At Toki Underground the filling is fried chicken, Japanese mayo, sweet chili sauce, and seasonal pickles.

15. Reren Lamen & Bar

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817 7th St NW
Washington, D.C. 20001
(202) 290-3677
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Accompanying the many flavors of lamen at Reren are the options of chicken and pork belly buns.
Photo by Heidi L. / Yelp

16. Jinya Ramen Bar (Multiple locations)

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1336 14th St NW
Washington, D.C. 20005
(202) 588-8560
Visit Website
The California-born noodle chain, which recently opened a second area location in Logan Circle, serves steamed buns — featuring braised pork belly, cucumber, mixed greens, kewpie mayo, and house sauce — on the regular menu and during weekday happy hour.

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1. Absolute Noodle

772 NW 5th St, Washington, D.C. 20001
Photo by Tommy C. / Yelp
Absolute Noodle's bao features pork belly with pickled jalapeño and hoisin sauce.
772 NW 5th St
Washington, D.C. 20001

2. Bun'd Up

7600 Arlington Rd, Bethesda, MD 20814
Photo: Bun'd Up
Bun'd Up serves its bao at area farmers' markets. The homemade buns come in regular and whole wheat with fillings like Korean BBQ, braised pork belly, and marinated tofu. One distinguishing feature is the fruit kimchi, in the form of spicy pineapple, and wasabi guacamole. There's also a sweet option with peanut butter, banana jam and granola.
7600 Arlington Rd
Bethesda, MD 20814

3. Chaplin's

1501 9th St NW, Washington, D.C. 20001
Photo: Chaplin's
Chaplin's bun features braised pork, cucumbers, carrots, and spicy teriyaki. For vegetarians and vegans the buns are available with tofu.
1501 9th St NW
Washington, D.C. 20001

4. Maketto

1351 H St NE, Washington, D.C. 20002
The bao at Maketto feature roasted duck, local vegetables, and various pickled vegetables.
1351 H St NE
Washington, D.C. 20002

5. Marumen

3250 Old Pickett Rd, Fairfax, VA 22031
Photo by Vicky N. / Yelp
Along with a full menu of ramen, find bao with pork belly, cucumber, scallion and ginger hoisin sauce.
3250 Old Pickett Rd
Fairfax, VA 22031

6. Masa 14

1825 14th St NW, Washington, D.C. 20009
Photo by Phi N. / Yelp
Masa 14 offers two kinds of bao: pork belly and shiitake mushroom. The pork belly contains achiote paste, sweet pineapple sambal, cilantro, and serrano peppers. The shiitake is flavored with truffle, and cucumber.
1825 14th St NW
Washington, D.C. 20009

7. Momofuku CCDC

1090 I St NW, Washington, D.C. 20001
Photo by Karen W. / Yelp
Carnivores, pescatarians, and vegetarians alike will find suitable bao options at Momofuku CCDC. There's shiitake with hoisin and cucumber, chicken meatballs with jalapeno and paprika mayo, shrimp with pickled red onion and mayo, and brisket with horseradish and pickled red onion.
1090 I St NW
Washington, D.C. 20001

8. NaiNai's Noodle & Dumpling Bar

1200 E West Hwy, Silver Spring, MD 20910
Photo by Danny N. / Yelp
Nainai's has the largest variety of bao with six options. They offer a braised five-spice duck with daikon carrot slaw; ground beef bulgogi with kimchi; seared teriyaki spam with mango salsa; tofu with cabbage, mushroom and egg; smoked pork belly with peanut sauce; and crispy chicken tenders with chili sauce and daikon carrot slaw.
1200 E West Hwy
Silver Spring, MD 20910

9. People's Bao

Washington, D.C.
Photo: People's Bao
This roving food truck sells three varieties of bao: pork, duck, and portobello mushrooms. Order with a single filling, or combine two or all three fillings in a single bao.

10. Sakerum

2204 14th St NW, Washington, D.C. 20009
Photo: Sakerum
Along with all the sushi served at Sakerum, get a pork belly bao with Korean gochujang, pickled red cabbage, shiso leaves, and hoisin sauce.
2204 14th St NW
Washington, D.C. 20009

11. Sakuramen

2441 18th St NW, Washington, D.C. 20009
Photo by Alida H. / Yelp
Choose from four types of bao at Sakuramen. Opt for a spicy sweet pork with marinated mushrooms, slice rib eye bulgogi, chashu pork, or soy-marinated mushrooms.
2441 18th St NW
Washington, D.C. 20009

12. Taipei Cafe

802 Hungerford Dr, Rockville, MD 20850
Photo by Esther W. / Yelp
The gua bao, listed on the menu as a Taiwanese hamburger, is as close to the ones usually found in Taiwan. This one features pork belly, pickled vegetables, and crushed sugared peanuts.
802 Hungerford Dr
Rockville, MD 20850

13. The Source by Wolfgang Puck

575 Pennsylvania Ave NW, Washington, D.C. 20565
At The Source, Peking duck is served in open-faced steamed buns, rather than the traditional flour pancakes. Crisp duck skin and meat is tucked into the buns with cucumber, scallion, and garlic hoisin.
575 Pennsylvania Ave NW
Washington, D.C. 20565

14. Toki Underground

1234 H St NE, Washington, D.C. 20002
Most spots default to pork belly gua bao. At Toki Underground the filling is fried chicken, Japanese mayo, sweet chili sauce, and seasonal pickles.
1234 H St NE
Washington, D.C. 20002

15. Reren Lamen & Bar

817 7th St NW, Washington, D.C. 20001
Photo by Heidi L. / Yelp
Accompanying the many flavors of lamen at Reren are the options of chicken and pork belly buns.
817 7th St NW
Washington, D.C. 20001

Related Maps

16. Jinya Ramen Bar (Multiple locations)

1336 14th St NW, Washington, D.C. 20005
The California-born noodle chain, which recently opened a second area location in Logan Circle, serves steamed buns — featuring braised pork belly, cucumber, mixed greens, kewpie mayo, and house sauce — on the regular menu and during weekday happy hour.
1336 14th St NW
Washington, D.C. 20005

Related Maps