Dining Outside At Bao Bei Inside State Street Market

A trio of baos from Bao Bei. (Front to back: pork belly, fried chicken, and smoked mushroom.)
A trio of baos from Bao Bei. (Front to back: pork belly, fried chicken, and smoked mushroom.)

When a friend and I met up recently to finally check out the massive food hall in downtown Los Altos known as State Street Market, we made a beeline for the one vendor we’d been most wanting to try: Bao Bei by the former husband-and-wife team behind the Michelin-starred, upscale Korean restaurant, Maum in Palo Alto, which shuttered during the pandemic.

Chefs Meichih and Michael Kim named this casual spot after a Mandarin term of endearment they lovingly call their young son. It specializes in a blend of Korean-Taiwanese street fare. With a dearth of progressive Asian restaurants in Los Altos, it’s a welcome find, too.

The 33,000-square-foot space has plenty of seating, both indoors and out. Inside, you’ll find half a dozen vendors to choose from. More are on the way, too.

The bear that greets you at the front of State Street Market.
The bear that greets you at the front of State Street Market.

Bao Bei is located inside on the left-hand side. You order at a touch-screen kiosk, choosing your items, paying with a credit card, and then entering your phone number to receive a text alert when it’s all ready.

Given the name of the place, you’d be remiss not to order at least a couple of baos from the concise menu. The clam-shell baos are pillowy-soft yet still have enough heft to hold all the fillings tidily.

The timely mural that decorates the outdoor dining space.
The timely mural that decorates the outdoor dining space.
The food hall's interior.
The food hall’s interior.

The spicy pork belly bao ($9.50) holds a big, neatly cut slab of pork belly, glazed in gochujang for a sweet-spicy stickiness. It’s embellished with crunchy chopped peanuts, pickled cucumbers, cilantro, and crisp threads of shredded chili the hue of deep red beets. It all makes for a substantial mouthful with richness, moderate spiciness, and a load of textures.

Look for it inside on the left-hand side of the food hall.
Look for it inside on the left-hand side of the food hall.

Speaking of textures, the smoked mushroom bao ($9.50), features maitake mushroom, whose frilly edges get delightfully crisp all over. It’s an inspired pick for a mushroom bao that holds far more variations in each bite than a portobello or shiitakes would. It’s garnished similarly as the pork belly bao.

Another view of the baos (left to right: smoked mushroom, fried chicken, and gochujang-glazed pork belly).
Another view of the baos (left to right: smoked mushroom, fried chicken, and gochujang-glazed pork belly).

My favorite might have been the fried chicken bao ($9.50), with its very crisp yet light panko crust and tender, juicy flesh. Pickled Korean radish adds crunch and tang while a smear of hot honey mustard offers a burst of sweet piquancy.

Dan dan mein with a sous-vide egg at the center.
Dan dan mein with a sous-vide egg at the center.

The thin wheat noodles in the dan dan mein ($15) are custom-made for the Kims, and they ensure that the cubes of Berkshire pork in their thick, velvety sauce made with peanut sauce, oyster sauce, and chili oil cling to each and every noodle. This is a saucy dish made even richer tasting with the sous-vide egg on top that you burst, then mix into the noodles. A little pipette of Taiwanese black vinegar comes with for you to add as you like. This is a stick-to-your-ribs kind of dish.

Made with aged soy, this silky dessert is reminiscent of coffee panna cotta.
Made with aged soy, this silky dessert is reminiscent of coffee panna cotta.

For dessert, there’s aged soy bu ding ($7.50). It’s described as a pudding, but it’s more like panna cotta in texture, silky and jiggly, and made with Korean aged soy. It’s topped with a Taiwanese black sugar syrup, which tastes remarkably like coffee with its smoky, caramelized, bitter edge, as well as a fluff of roasted rice whipped cream. Enjoy it spoonful by spoonful outside on a sunny afternoon, and any stress or troubles will surely seem miles away.

Don’t forget to peruse the shelves right around the corner from the Bao Bei ordering station. There, you’ll find for sale all manner of gourmet chili sauces, miso sauces, and even a specialty fig vinegar that’s apparently a favorite of Alain Ducasse.

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