This is not your usual on-campus dining spot.
Ling Zhuo and Ken Huang opened the doors of their Mexican/Asian fusion restaurant in mid-September inside a UNCG campus housing development, in hopes that the students would venture away from cafeteria fare and fast food.
“[Ken]’s very creative and knows a lot about those foods,” Zhou said. “We wanted to create something special here in Greensboro.”
Taco Bao is situated within UNCG’s newest student housing complex next to other ground-level restaurants in Spartan Village II. Zhou said that the students who give them a chance overwhelmingly become regulars, visiting several times a week, especially international students who encouraged them to offer more authentic menu items like pork rib soup. Zhou, whose family is from China, said her favorite dish is MaPo tofu with ground pork.
She said she wants people to know the restaurant isn’t just for students, though, and most customers still come from the surrounding community. Taco Bao delivers within a three-mile radius, including all campus dorms.
“I want people to experience us here, too,” Zhou said. “I think it is cute even though it’s small.”
She’s right, and the natural light from tall windows and sprawling succulents elevate Taco Bao’s dining space above and beyond most other Asian take-out spots and campus dining options. Foodie magazines like Bon Appétit adorn shelving above a drink and dessert cooler where clientele find familiar sodas next to canned green tea and sugar-laden soft drinks like lychee and mango flavored Calpico that are popular abroad.
It’s no surprise — Zhou earned her degree in graphic design. She and her chef husband met as undergraduates at State University of New York in Cobleskill, where he earned a degree in restaurant management. She later transferred to Rutgers.
The perks of a place like Taco Bao is the ultra-customizable menu. Toppings for tacos, bao and rice, salad and noodle bowls range from fried eggs, edamame, black beans, kimchi and pico de gallo. The standout is Huang’s bao, a riff on a Taiwanese dish gua bao that traditionally consists of sliced, stewed meat (especially pork belly) and condiments sandwiched between flat steamed bread.
“He’s very creative,” Zhou said. “He takes that stuff out and puts in what he likes with his own seasonings.”
The bao comes served with red cabbage, pickled cucumber, scallion and carrot, and a choice of protein. The shrimp and fish are fine, but Huang excels with the bulgogi beef, pork and chicken marinades.
Don’t expect the fried rice to be the same as what you find in other Chinese takeout restaurants, though. There are small pieces of sausage, scallion, fried egg and green cabbage but it won’t be prepared in heavy sauces. A spicy kimchi bowl has curly noodles, yellow cheese, scallion and fried egg. You’ll have to check for shifting chef’s specialties like beef scallion pancakes and an eel rice bowl.[pullquote]Learn more at tacobaogreensboro.com or visit at 1101 W. Gate City Blvd (GSO).[/pullquote]
If you want to do it right, though, trust UNCG’s international students and ask for the hidden menu of authentic cuisine and finish off with the lavender-colored taro bubble tea, one of Huang’s specialties.
And then wonder out loud why you never had a place like this on campus when you were in school.