The thing you need to know about Taco Bao is this: go with an open mind. And a sense of adventure. Oh, and if you tell people that you tried this new Asian fusion restaurant that serves Asian/Mexican food in a taco that’s not really a taco - be sure to pronounce it correctly. It’s Taco Bao. Bao rhymes with cow.
Never heard of a bao? It’s a traditional Chinese fluffy steamed bun stuffed with your choice of meat and vegetables, then eaten like a sandwich. The dough is snowy white and soft - and just a little chewy. At Taco Bao, the bao is cut in half and filled with a choice of meats and vegetables and presented like a taco.
The restaurant in Spartan Village II at 1101 W. Gate City Blvd., sits amidst UNCG’s newest campus housing. There are a handful of ground level restaurants, including Homeslice Pizza and Subs, Pita Delite and Tropical Smoothie Cafe. Although it’s part of UNCG’s campus, off-campus diners are welcome. Taco Bao draws clientele from the nearby Glenwood neighborhood and elsewhere.
The restaurant is unique in that it offers diners a contemporary fusion of global flavors, as well as a very traditional Asian menu that draws international students yearning for an authentic taste of home.
It’s reflective of what husband-wife owners Ken Huang and Ling Zhuo seek for themselves. The couple met while in college. Zhuo, whose family is from China, grew up in upstate New York. She graduated from Rutgers University, where she studied graphic design. She’s the design and decorative force behind Taco Bao.
Huang graduated from SUNY (State University of New York College of Agriculture and Technology at Cobleskill), where he earned a degree in restaurant management. She says her husband, who is from Taiwan, has always enjoyed cooking and eating. On his days off, he likes to scout different types of food at other restaurants. Then he comes home and tries to replicate what he had, she says. While he is a trained chef, he is self-taught when it comes to figuring out how to prepare the traditional foods of other cultures.
Huang and Zhuo moved to Greensboro in 2012 to open their first restaurant, Mimi Kitchen. The Battleground Avenue restaurant served your typical Japanese hibachi-style fast food fare. While Mimi Kitchen also offers a variety of sushi rolls, Huang didn’t want to to serve just Japanese food. He yearned for more creativity.
“He knows a lot about Asian, American and Mexican food. We wanted to have a fusion,” Zhuo says. “We wanted to create something special here in Greensboro.”
The opportunity to open such a restaurant on UNCG’s campus appealed to them. They thought it might be attractive to students who may be more open to trying new foods.
So they sold Mimi Kitchen and opened Taco Bao last September. Customers can build their own tacos with either a bao or traditional flour or corn tortilla.
Filling options include:
Bulgogi beef, Korean style BBQ beef with a spicy hot sauce.
Grilled chicken breast with Thai seasoning and peanut sauce.
Tempura fried fish with homemade tartar sauce.
Or how about braised pork belly with homemade hoisin sauce?
Toppings range from black beans and Pico de Gallo to kimchi and fried egg.
These can also be paired with a rice, salad or noodle bowl. A selection of wings (choose from six marinades) and sides also reflect both Asian and Latin flavors. They include Mexican rice, Asian dumplings, chips and salsa and fries topped with Nori (seaweed).
Don’t feel like a taco? Entree options include kimchi fried rice or a kimchi noodle bowl.
But then - there’s this other menu.
A menu that draws Chinese customers from Greensboro and High Point. There’s a network of Chinese living in the Triad who had spread the word that Taco Bao serves authentic Chinese dishes. It drew Lucian Li, a business studies major at UNCG. He’s been in Greensboro two years, and was missing food from home. Until he discovered Taco Bao, he said he mostly cooked for himself because local Chinese restaurants catered more to Americans. Li ordered pork belly and rice, and was hooked. He became such a fan, that he applied for a job there. He helps at the counter, makes deliveries and even watches Zhao and Huang’s nearly two-year-old daughter.
Zhuo says they kept tweaking their menu, based on customer feedback. The specials rotate, depending on the popularity of items. The Chinese menu evolved because international students kept requesting more authentic items. It includes Chinese noodle soups, hot and sour noodles and pork rib soup. You’ll also see more traditional Korean and Japanese dishes such as ramen and kimchi tofu soup. Like Li, Zhuo’s favorite on the menu is pork belly and rice. Huang also makes a small selection of Chinese desserts. You can find them with the drinks in the cooler in the dining room.
So if you’re feeling adventurous, check out Taco Bao. Start with their version of an Asian-style taco. Or if you’re really daring - ask for that special Chinese menu.