Since Bun’d Up started out by selling its handmade bao buns stuffed with Korean-inspired flavors at farmers markets in 2016, it makes total sense that the growing local business touts its relationship with Maryland’s Springfield Farm on its website. After all, why go through all the trouble of making your own bao if you’re not going to fill them with local produce and sustainably raised meats?
And with the addition of his own kitchen at the new Pentagon Row brick-and-mortar location, chef and owner Scott Chung can now offer more than the popular buns. Consider the Korean fried chicken bowl, a bed of rice topped with more than a meal’s worth of chicken flanked by kimchi and purple cabbage slaw. Order it glazed with either a sweet soy or spicy sauce, which isn’t terribly spicy but still provides a flavorful tingle.
Equally flavorful and satisfying (and, dare we say it, perfect for a hangover) is the bulgogi cheesesteak, sliced rib-eye marinated in Korean barbecue flavors and loaded up with caramelized red onion, fried shallots, Swiss and cheddar cheeses and gochujang aioli. It comes with a side of perfectly golden tots, and the whole is worth every last calorie.
But, you’re here for the buns, right? Thankfully, they’re everything you want them to be—soft and pillowy, like a wheat-based taco ready and able to soak up all the juices flowing out of whichever fillings you’re feeling that day. We particularly fell for the pork belly bao accented by pineapple kimchi and cilantrolime aioli and the fried shrimp bao sprinkled with fried garlic, shallot and a sweet chili mayo. Although on our next trip, we’re more likely to order the fried shrimp as a bowl and double down on the pork bao.
The one disappointment was the very dry bao bread pudding, which couldn’t be saved by the bananas and coconut milk. But when the person who worked there saw that we left it virtually untouched, he asked if it was OK and seemed grateful for the feedback. He even asked the kids to pick out a couple of freebie sweets from the makeshift market in the corner.
And for the grown-ups, at least, kindness proved more valuable than any stellar dessert.
The space is large, sparse and industrial, but colorful walls, a large mural and a corner dedicated to Asian snacks and treats for sale lend just enough whimsy. Service is super friendly—the guy behind the counter even offered a couple of small freebie treats from the market for the kids, and didn’t bat an eye when we asked if our pickiest eater could bring in a crêpe from next door.
Korean fried chicken bowl; pork belly bao; bulgogi cheesesteak with tots // 1201 S. Joyce St., Arlington; Open for lunch Tuesday–Wednesday and lunch and dinner Thursday–Sunday; Entrees: $7.50-$13