100 Favorite Dishes

100 Favorite Dishes 2013: No. 87, Crab Daddy Bao at Fat Bao

This year, leading up to our annual Menu of Menus issue, Kaitlin Steinberg counts down her 100 favorite dishes as she eats her way through Houston. She'll compile a list of the 100 dishes she thinks are the most awesome, most creative and, of course, most delicious in town. It's a list of her personal favorites, things she thinks any visitor or Houstonian ought to try at least once and dishes that seem particularly indicative of the ever-changing Houston food-scape. It's a list to drool over.

Admittedly, I haven't tried every bao there is to bite in Chinatown. I'm sure there's some great bao to be had in a little hole-in-the-wall mom and pop joint on Bellaire. It's probably the best bao in Houston.

But Fat Bao is right around the corner from my apartment, and I'm newly obsessed. It took me a while to finally stop there and try one of the beautiful little pockets of steamed dough wrapped around anything from smoked salmon to Nutella, but when I did, it was like we were old friends. Like the bao and I had known each other forever, and these little meals were a daily ritual.

I've tried a number of different bao fillings at Fat Bao, and my favorite is still the first one I tried: the Crab Daddy. It's a small, fried soft shell crab nestled in a bed of Asian-inspired slaw and topped with spicy mayo. The crunchy crab is warm and textural against the puffy, yeasty bao, which also serves to temper the hint of heat in the slaw and mayo.

One reason that the Crab Daddy is so stellar is that the individual ingredients that comprise it can be easy to mess up. The bao, for instance, can turn gummy or fall apart when steamed too long, but this one held up to the heft of an entire (albeit small) crustacean. Soft shell crab can turn chewy or tough, but this little guy was perfectly crispy with a still-intact seafood flavor even after being deep-fried.

The slaw and mayo are a spicy complement to the savory crab and ever-so-slightly sweet bao. Together, they reminded me a bit of Cajun food with an Asian twist, and no single ingredient overwhelmed the others.

I'd also recommend the Memphis Bao, with braised pork belly, or the Bigbyrd Bao, with fried chicken and basil, if you're feeling super hungry. But if you're looking for a light but filling meal, look no further than a Crab Daddy bao or two.

Or three.

The list so far: No. 100: Bangkok Fries at Boheme No. 99: Almond Croissant at Phoenicia No. 98: Bulgogi Tacos with Kimchi at Chi'Lantro No. 97: Soft Pretzel from Mongoose Versus Cobra No. 96: Chicken and Waffles at Adair Kitchen No. 95: Sweet Potato Gnocchi at Brooklyn Athletic Club No. 94: Foie Gras Mac & Cheese at BRC Gastropub No. 93: Vuelve a la Vida Soup at Connie's Seafood No. 92: Homeroom at Bernie's Burger Bus No. 91: Lobster Cake Benedict at Sorrel Urban Bistro No. 90: Uncle Daryl's Cake at The Chocolate Bar No. 89: Porchetta e Fagioli at Giacomo's Cibo e Vino No. 88: Sesame Soft Balls at Golden Dim Sum

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Kaitlin Steinberg