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Tastes and Tables

Pork Bao and Bubble Waffles

January-February 2018

Pork bao at Shōjō

Photograph courtesy of Shōjō

 

Pork bao at Shōjō

Photograph courtesy of Shōjō

 

Chinatown's hip Shōjō serves addictive Asian-fusion tapas with a quirky Western twist. Japanese sweet-potato tots are dipped in miso tare aioli ($8). Chicken and Hong Kong bubble waffles (a popular street-food item) come slathered with five-spice butter ($16). And the resident hamburger, the “Shōjōnator,” is housed in a steamed bao-style bun and topped with smoked bacon and “kimcheese.” Shōjō is best known for its baos—pork, shrimp, and vegetarian versions—with a rich BBQ sauce, and a singularly delicious chili-cheese mess the kitchen calls “shadowless” duck-fat hand-cut fries ($11).

Fresh juices and stylized cocktails complement any dish—try The Loneliest Monk (aged rum, Frangelico, pineapple, and lime juices; $12). Shōjō also offers fine Japanese spirits and a crazy-long list of pricey whiskeys. People come to have fun. The place is run by a young generation of longtime Chinatown restaurateurs: the team’s also responsible for the ramen shop Ruckus (as in the Wu-Tang Clan song, “Bring Da Ruckus”) next door, and the revamped BLR by Shōjō. All have helped revive Chinatown’s reputation among a hip, young crowd. “Shōjō’s a place to bring a fun parent,” one 20-something patron said, “not like my parents.” (Although anyone of any age averse to a loud, typically hip-hop, soundtrack is forewarned.)

Japanese for school-aged girl, shōjō is also a reference to shōjō manga, the comic books and magazines targeting that demographic—as the restaurant’s graffiti-styled wall graphics, murals with warriors, dragons, mystical mountains, and other anime décor attest. Just how that theme links to the menu is not so clear, but, when distracted by friends, drinks, pounding music, and that first bite into a freshly steamed pork bao it doesn’t seem to matter.

 

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