You may not be shocked to learn that a series of random and highly unusual events yesterday combined to lead me to perhaps the single best taco I've ever eaten. You will be surprised, however, when you learn that I found this particular taco at an Asian Bao restaurant in the Loop. Quite frankly, the Miso Beef Short Rib Bao Taco at Saucy Porka (400 S. Financial Place) is one of the best things I've ever tasted. Without a question this is the best new lunch spot in the Loop.
First thing you're inevitably going to ask is WTF is Saucy Porka? Saucy Porka is the new brick-and-mortar Asian-Latino love-child of two of Chicago's most talented food truck chefs: Amy Le, the culinary genius behind former Merc favorite DucknRoll, and Wagyu Wagon's Rafel Lopez.
Through Saucy Porka, the two aspiring chefs have recreated their childhood memories in blended dishes like the pork carnitas pho soup and arrozo con edamame. The recipes have been passed down from their grandmothers and mothers, but the most valuable lesson passed down is that a recipe is nothing without the spirit and soul one puts into it.
In conceiving the menu, Le and Lopez wanted to pay homage to the home-style cooking rooted in their Latin and Asian cultures.
Blending the bold flavors and spices found in Puerto Rico, South East Asia, China, Japan and Korea they are dishing up comfort foods they grew up with, adding a touch of modern technique to fuse the cultures.
Saucy Porka is just one stop along owners Michael Yousef and Amy Le and executive chef Rafael Lopez’s continued culinary journey and they invite you along for the ride.
I'm convinced it was fate that brought the Miso Short Rib Bao Taco into my mouth. For the first time during my three years working in the trading industry I did something I previously thought unfathomable: I skipped lunch. I skipped lunch in part because I wasn't hungry - although in truth, not being hungry had never stopped me from eating lunch before. Realistically, I just couldn't decide where to eat.
I passed on neighbor Skrine Chops (400 S. Financial) because I didn't think an 8-oz pork chop sandwich topped with mash potatoes was the best idea on the day I had told myself I was starting Insanity. I passed on Billy Goat (330 S Wells St) because you just can't eat their burgers bunless and without fries. I passed on Chicken Planet (177 W Van Buren) because I only had my AMEX on me (which they don't take). I passed on another favorite, Benjyehuda (212 W. Van Buren), because the line was out the door as usual and I wasn't looking to miss out on Chicago's first 80 degree day of the year. Unable to make up my mind, I returned to the pit with an empty stomach.
Needless to say I was starving by the time the 3:15 bell came around. As I got ready to leave the CBOE floor one of my company's traders, Sal, overheard that I hadn't had lunch. "Go to Saucy Porka, right now, and get two Pork Carnita Bacos, an order Banana Nutella Donut Holes, and a sweet lemonade!" The intensity of his voice suggested this was more direct order than friendly suggestion. Sal takes his food seriously and I could tell he wasn't fucking around. Not taking his advice on this one would have been received as a personal insult by a guy who doesn't take too well to being personally insulted. Paleo-diet and Insanity be damned, my co-worker Pat and I were going to Saucy Porka for donuts and baos.
When we went to order two pork bacos and the donuts the cashier couldn't contain herself. "The pork are awesome but you' guys gotta try the short rib. I had it for the first time today and its ridiculous." So we took her advice, and we're glad we did. What awaited us surpassed even our wildest expectations...
What I ate:
- Pork Carnitas Baco topped with pineapple salsa and served on a steamed bao bun $2.75
- Miso Braised Beef Short Rib Baco topped with pineapple salsa served on a steamed bao bun $3.50
- Banana Nutella Donut Holes $3 (2 donut holes)
What I thought:
— The Mayor Daily (@THEMayorDaily) May 14, 2013
First things first, filleting a bao (hot asian bun) and filling it with artisan taco ingredients is a complete power move. The bao tortilla comes out hot and fluffy and tastes wonderful even by itself.
The Miso Braised Beef Short Rib Baco is so impossibly delicious and otherworldly it made the pork seem somewhat mundane in comparison. Don't get me wrong, the pork carnitas baco is fantastic and was the reason I came to Saucy Porka in the first place. I'm just imploring you not to make the mistake I made by eating the short rib first. If you order both eat the pork first so you can properly enjoy it for what it is, then prepare to have your mind blown with the short rib.
If you've got a sweet tooth you're going to be tempted by the Flirty Girl Cupcakes at the register. Keep your eye on the prize and order the Banana Nutella Donut Holes. The donuts come out pipping hot. They are sweet and crispy on the outside, covered with sugar. Only after biting into the fried dough do you get a taste for the gooey banana nutella goodness awaiting inside.
Other menu tips w/ commentary by owner Amy Le
Chorizo Egg Roll: Chihuahua cheese, sweet potato, red cabbage, onion avocado aioli $2.75 (2) "We came up with the Chorizo Egg Roll after a long night of drinking. Now its going to be featured in the Tribune."
Asian Style Paella: served with Chinese Lap Chang pork sausage, chorizo, edamame, scallions, and cilantro $10 "An Asian rice bowl featuring four different kinds of pork! Its incredible."
Other suggestions from guys in the pit
Pork Ramen Soup: served in a pho broth topped with bean sprouts, fresh basil and mint leaves $4.70 half $8.75 full cup
Thai Chicken Curry Baco: topped with pickled Asian slaw and coconut sriracha aioli served on a steamed bao bun $2.75
Sofrito Marinated Shrimp: topped with Asian slaw avocado aioli served on steamed bao bun $3.50
Specialty Lemonade (alcohol free) $3.50
Off Da Bone Tip: Call Ahead. The baos and donuts take a little while espeically if order after the lunch rush. Call your order in ahead at (312) 662-1351. Other essentials:
- Saucy Porka is only open Monday-Friday 8am-4pm
- Located on the SW Corner of Van Buren & Financial
- Full Menu Available Here
Bottom line: Check out Saucy Porka tomorrow for lunch. You'll thank The Mayor Daily later. Let me know what you think of Saucy Porka by tweeting with the hashtag #offdabone. Please like my Facebook Fan Page and be sure to follow @themayordaily and @offdabone on twitter and instagram for the latest. Tweets by @THEMayorDaily
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