Taco Bao improves the UNCG foodscape
The replacement of Tate Street’s Indian and Thai restaurants with ones serving yet more pizza, subs and wings, described in my January 2017 article “From Desolation Row to Pizzaville,” drastically reduced the variety of the University of North Carolina at Greensboro-area foodscape. However, now there’s Taco Bao, a 10-minute walk from Tate Street (two minutes further than Yum Yum) via Spring Garden and the tunnel that runs from the South end of Forest Street to the campus police station on Gate City Boulevard.
This won’t matter to a couple of my College Hill neighbors, who regularly run for miles yet inexplicably refuse to stroll to Tate Street, much less a few blocks Southwest, but it’s good news for those of us who’d rather walk than drive. And area pedestrians are not the only ones to benefit from Taco Bao’s location, which is very accessible and has plenty of parking.
The little Asian/Latin fusion restaurant (which also has hibachi, Chinese and Korean entrées) is in the Spartan Village complex at 1101 W. Gate City Blvd. where that street meets Glenwood. It opened last fall, then temporarily closed this summer while owners Ling Zhuo and her husband Ken Huang visited Huang’s parents in Taiwan (Ling is from China). In August, it reopened with an expanded menu that’s brought more student foot traffic, but non-students may not realize how much parking is available.
They also may not realize how tasty the food is in a building owned by UNCG, which has inexplicably given it only a small sign invisible from the street (it’s beside Pita Delite). I say that as someone not enamored of the “taco bao” concept, which replaces a tortilla with the split steamed dumpling. I love a traditional Chinese bao with a savory or sweet filling, but despite my love of Mexican cuisine, I’ve temporarily burned out on anything resembling a taco.
I recently talked to Ling about the changes she and her husband made before reopening. Along with hibachi/teriyaki vegetables, tofu, chicken, shrimp and beef, they’ve added poke bowls (the Hawaiian word is pronounced PO-keh). While these traditionally include marinated raw tuna served over rice, Ling makes them with cooked eel or salmon, imitation crab meat, tofu, chicken, steak or tempura shrimp. To one of those ingredients is added furikake (a Japanese seasoning made from dried fish and seaweed flakes), edamame, seaweed salad, guacamole, sweet corn, cucumber and masago (the roe of the capelin fish, salmon’s smaller relative). The restaurant still serves its titular taco bao with meat, tofu or black beans garnished with red cabbage, pickled cucumber, scallion, and carrot. They also have regular tortilla tacos.
For my money, and I usually spend $7 to $10, the best entrées are the kimchi fried noodles, the eel rice bowl, the beef scallion pancake, the Thai-style chicken and the wonderful kimchi beef tofu soup, which is worth every bit of its $10 and is good for two or three meals. Stick to bao, tacos, wings, or rice bowls; you can get a very filling meal for $3.50 to $5.50. They also make excellent boba tea.
But wait, there’s more! Ling no long displays the “secret” authentic Chinese menu several reviewers listed last year (“it confused students too much”), but it’s all still available, and is listed on a Chinese-language social network. If you don’t have that app (which won’t do you any good if you don’t read Chinese), simply ask Ling what she can make for you that day. She’ll whip out her phone and show you a variety of options, and they’ve always been good. I don’t recommend doing this during the weekday lunch rush if students are lined up at the counter, but it’s a great choice otherwise.
Ling told me that she’s still trying to get UNCG to make her a larger sign that can be seen from the street, but she’s added a window banner with “Taco Bao” on it. And she said to be sure to mention the parking lot. “If they turn onto Glenwood, it’s the first right, the big lot there. Spaces 1-88 are for all our customers.” Before 6 p.m. on weekdays, those spaces are metered, but bring in the receipt and Ling will take the parking charge off the price of anything you order. “We welcome everybody, so please come see us!”
Taco Bao is open for lunch and dinner seven days a week. English language menu, hours and more can be found at tacobaogreensboro.com.
Ian McDowell is the author of two published novels, numerous anthologized short stories, and a whole lot of nonfiction and journalism, some of which he’s proud of and none of which he’s ashamed of.