I’ve been spending a lot of time in Chinatown recently, looking for stories for Chinese New Year. Frankly, I hadn’t even thought to stop by Phoenix, the venerable 19 year-old restaurant hidden up on the 2nd floor of a dingy building across the street from the more dynamic Chinatown Square Mall. But the restaurant underwent a major facelift and renovation last year, shutting down for nearly seven weeks to remodel, and like its name, has been reborn with a confidence previously held by places like MingHin Cuisine, which is swallowing adjacent storefronts in the Mall across the street like the mighty Borg.
One of my laments in Chicago, after eating through the dim sum houses of Hong Kong, was that there were very few places here offering the ubiquitous so pei char siu bao. This sweet-savory yeast-raised bun, stuffed with a slightly fattier combo of red-tinged pork containing more belly than normal, is notable for its sweetened cap. In Hong Kong, the bao I remember had a thicker, almost custardy consistency, rather than the thin sheath I had at Phoenix recently. But the owners tell me it’s a start, and they can easily make the other style, with it’s pineapple-colored topcoat instead; they’re apparently still messing around and taking customer feedback. Early indications are it’s a hit. Almost as soon as the manilla-colored and snow-white topped orbs exited the oven from back in the kitchen, they were whisked out onto carts and hand sold by the managers, who were overheard telling regulars “if you like barbecued pork buns, you’re going to love these.” Something You Should Eat, indeed.
2131 S. Archer Ave.; 312-328-0848