Name of restaurant: House of Bao is the name on a banner outside, but that's about it right now. The name that's still on Yelp and on the bill is Chow Mein, which is what the space was until recently. House of Bao soft-opened Monday. The chef-owner is Bill Zhuo, whose hometown is Shan'xi Xian, northwest of Shanghai and who previously owned a Chinese food truck that catered to USC students downtown. (In China, he was a math teacher.)
Where you are: In Grand Plaza, which is on Cesar Chavez in Chinatown. Or, as most people think of it these days: right next to downtown's new Wal-Mart. The space is small and very casual — a few booths, a counter, a space with a sink that eventually will be turned into an open kitchen where you'll be able to see the dumplings and wontons being made.
What you're eating: Dumplings, buns and wontons, which is why this is called House of Bao. On the wall above the counter, there are taped-up sheets of paper with the opening menu: potstickers, dumplings, steamed buns, pan-fried buns. These are why you're here, as Zhuo makes them by hand in the back of the shop.
Other than the dumplings, there's also soup, stir-fry vegetables, noodles and kimchi fried rice, porridge and hotel pans of appetizer dishes, including beef tendon, pigs' ears and duck necks. The latter, says Zhuo, are "very popular with the kids in China."
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Zhuo says he wants to bring authentic Chinese dishes to his audience, which has been Chinese USC students wanting food from home without having to trek all the way to the San Gabriel Valley. He made food that was more Americanized when he had his food truck, "more like Panda," he says, meaning Panda Express. Now he wants the real stuff, and he plans to deliver it too, once things get going.
Who's at the next table: A student, or someone who looked like one, waiting for takeout. A group of people who questioned the server repeatedly about the food and had shopping bags. Wal-Mart or not Wal-Mart, your guess.
Info: 701 W. Cesar Chavez Ave., No. 108, Los Angeles, (213) 625-2222.
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