If dim sum has a gateway drug, it's surely char siu bao, the barbecued pork bun, candy-sweet pork in a ball of cotton candy-like steamed flour. Except that sometimes, they forget the candy part and just nail the cotton texture, a dry flavorless ball of fluff with a thin strip of sweetish anonypork gristle inside. The fact is, I don't eat these things in restaurants any more—not since I discovered how much better they are when they come from a bakery like Chiu Quon Bakery.
Certainly on Argyle street the barbecued pork buns at the bakeries—Chiu Quon or La PatisserieP or Lucks Food—are better than you'll get in any restaurant (not that they're on that many menus anyway, dim sum not being an Argyle strength). I'm not the first one to praise BBQ pork buns at this site, since Nick Kindelsperger included the BBQ pork buns (the kind in browned baked bread) from the Chinatown location of Chiu Quon in this round up. But I can raise him one:
You'll see a couple of different kinds of bao indicated by the color of the dot on one corner of each one. Red means a standard char siu bao, but orange, it turns out, means one with a little thumb-sized bit of Chinese sausage—I think she said "honey sausage," though Googling that phrase only returns a brand name in New Zealand, so I'm probably wrong—which adds an extra dimension of salty cured sausaginess to the already superior meatiness and balance of Chiu Quon's barbecued pork. There's hard boiled egg in there too, just to remind you of an Egg McMuffin and laugh at its pitiful Western weakness compared to the great breakfast sandwiches of China.
Otherwise, Chiu Quon is just a great little slice of unabashed, no-concessions-to-gringos ethnic dining in Chicago, as evidenced by the menu:
There's moon cakes:
and sticky rice wrapped in banana leaf:
and it's the kind of place where they put the pickled chicken feet and the birthday cakes next to each other in the case:
And one of the cooks, or maybe the owner, or who knows who he is, is usually singing in the kitchen, loud enough to hear in the whole restaurant, and you can just order one of everything and try a ton of stuff and they're each less than a buck. Instant escape doesn't get any cheaper than that.
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