Customers are bao-ing down to this food truck’s delicious buns.
Hoping to add to its selection of five buns, The Chairman changed its name from Chairman Bao in 2011. The menu hasn’t expanded yet, but the crowds definitely have.
As I took my first bite out of the pork belly and daikon bun, I understood why 7x7 added it to the 2012 list of “100 Things to Eat Before You Die.” I realized why The Chairman was voted San Francisco Magazine’s Best Food Truck. It was the best bun I had ever eaten. And since I’m Chinese, that’s saying a lot.
The pork belly is undoubtedly the fan favorite -- juicy, tender, melt-in-your-mouth meat paired with fresh, crunchy pickled daikon slices. The Coca-Cola braised pork bun is also incredible. Preserved yellow mustard seeds add a subtle but unexpected spiciness to the flavorful (and plentiful!) meat.
Enjoy your dinner – actually, I wouldn’t mind eating this for all three meals – on either the baked or steamed buns. Baked buns, which are shaped like dinner rolls, provide a larger portion for $6.75, or $6.00 for the vegetarian tofu option. Steamed buns, which cost $3.75 or $3.25, are softer, fluffier, and much smaller.
The Chairman’s website “recommends that you get whatever tickles your buns,” so I tried both. I preferred my buns steamed, because the baked bun eventually got soggy from the plethora of meat and sauce. No matter your order, service was very efficient, and I picked up my box in exactly two minutes and 53 seconds.
I asked self-proclaimed “bun hustler” (seriously, that’s what it said on her business card) Devon Desautels about the heated baked vs. steamed debate. “What you’re tasting most is that pork belly and the spice, the acid of the daikon. The bun is just a vehicle,” she said.
Devon also provided a history of The Chairman: in May 2010, Chef Hiroo Nagahara first developed the mouthwatering menu and partnered with Mobi Munch, a group of entrepreneurs who jumpstart food truck businesses. Current owners Curtis Lam and Kevin Kiwata bought the truck in March 2011. According to Devon, it’s more of a “family business,” involving almost 25 staff members. Friendliness is key when connecting with customers from a truck, and employees at The Chairman love chatting with the hundreds that they serve daily.
I finished my meal with one more bun, spicy chicken with toasted sesame puree and pickled carrots. Emotionally, it was a painful experience -- my brain thought the bun fantastic, but my taste buds couldn’t handle the spiciness.
The Chairman has mastered the contrast between flavors and textures. The marinated vegetables are well-seasoned, balancing out the smokiness of the pork belly fat or the crispy chicken skin. Chewy buns provide the perfect platform for crunchy daikon or carrots and impossibly tender meat.
The food is what makes The Chairman so special. It’s unique, easy to eat, and you can’t find it at any restaurant or any other truck. Especially in the Bay Area, Asian customers are intrigued by this savory spin on the ordinary bun.
Just as unique as their Asian-fusion cuisine is the hilarious Chinese revolution theme. It extends beyond the Chairman Mao pun. Their website says: “Using secret recipes from the Little Red Cookbook, The Chairman Truck is leading the Great Culinary Leap Forward.”
Maybe it’s a Chinese thing.
The Chairman’s schedule changes weekly. Find them at Off the Grid, Moveable Feast, and throughout the Bay Area. They also cater, so I’ve already decided what my wedding guests will eat at the reception.