Of dumplings and disappointment
Hao Bao Dumpling House
Sacramento, CA 95823
Why do non-chain restaurants that aren’t fast-food franchises strive to look and feel like a fast-food franchise? Why is that a thing?
It’s decidedly a thing at Hao Bao Dumpling House, despite there being only one, and it extends to the glossy, generic-looking website as well. The website oddly states that Hao Bao “brings authentic Hong Kong-style dim sum to the west-side,” despite it being located in South Sac. This statement appears to be lifted verbatim from a website for Bao, a dim sum restaurant in West Hollywood with a suspiciously similar-looking website and a vastly more extensive menu. This small bit of apparent plagiarism is a signifier of the lack of character and passion of this sleek and sterile café.(The Hao Bao website has been updated since this article was originally published.)
The menu at Hao Bao is claustrophobically small: choose a filling (beef, chicken, pork, veggie), a cooking style (boiled, pan fried) and a dipping sauce. Six dumplings range from $3.99-$4.49. A few starchy sides, such as meat pies ($1) and steamed buns ($3.99 for five) are on order as well.
On a visit weeks later, the “soup dumplings,” which seemed to promise xiao long boa (soup-filled dumplings), were on offer, but were revealed to be boiled dumplings with your choice of meat in a delicate, cilantro-laced broth with lumpy, hand-pulled noodles ($6.49). Although the broth was comforting, the overall effect was too starchy.
When choosing from the dumpling menu, the oily pan-fried option is always a superior choice over the thick, doughy boiled specimens. The chicken filling tastes mostly of mushroom, as does the veggie. The minced pork filling lacks salt and is just not porky enough. Juicy pan fried beef is the clear winner of all fillings and combinations.
The sauces range from underwhelming (house: mostly tastes of sweet soy) to weird (teriyaki and … cream?) to overly dessert-like (thick, sweet sesame paste). They are given as sides in small plastic cups, but forgo those and head for the condiment station for red vinegar to add tang and bite.
Also pass on the steamed buns with their tiny lump of meat filling amid a large cloud of bland dough. One of them lacked any filling at all, and it barely made a difference in the taste. Much better are the meat pies, which are crispy and chewy outside and piping hot inside. With the pies as with the dumplings, beef is more flavorful and preferable to pork.
Our party of four was able to feast for $28 total, with a few of the unwanted steamed buns left to spare. We left craving a side of greens, or something pickled to awaken our carb-numbed palates.
One in my party mentioned that Dumpling & Tea House on Freeport Boulevard is much better, and, on a later visit, one juice-squirting bite of its pork and chive pan-fried dumpling is enough to erase all memories of the dumplings at Hao Bao.
If you are on the west/south side, and need something super cheap and filling, get a few beef meat pies at Hao Bao. But for now, there are better dumpling house choices in Sacramento.