By Dylan Bailey
Down an unassuming street in Fernandina Beach, lives a restaurant you won’t find unless you’re looking hard. Or you use your smartphone. But even if you do use a smartphone, you’ll have to do some adventuring, because it’s tucked away.
Wicked BAO makes a big promise, and it’s that they serve authentic Korean street food. Which is hard to find around the island. But does it live up to the claims? That’s what I set out to discover.
The restaurant, which is located at 232 N. Second Street, is sandwiched between new construction and a warehouse. Its placement is nothing short of unusual, but there’s something about it that oozes charm.
If you were casually driving down Second Street and had no idea it existed, you’d probably be drawn to the large crowd of people waiting with bated breath for the restaurant to open.
However, times to visit are limited. 4 – 8 p.m. on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays. And 4 – 9 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays. Just don’t visit on Sunday or Monday, or you’ll find yourself waiting a long time for a restaurant that is closed on those days.
I arrived promptly at 4 p.m. and was able to witness the line that spanned out the door already. Even though the restaurant from the front looks small, there’s an expansive amount of seating available. And entering inside I was greeted with a huge board that listed their menu, as well as specials.
For this visit, I decided to go with the bulgogi beef baos ($10), pork pot stickers ($7.50), and pork ramen ($17). But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. There are so many other tasty and unique offerings. Here are a few that stood out: flash-fried green beans ($7.50), chicken satay ($8), Singapore style chili shrimp ($18), and kimchi beef fried rice ($17).
They also have an extensive list of drinks. If you’re not shy when it comes to partaking in alcohol, you’ll find a plethora here. Red, white, and rose wines, as well as sake and beer, are all available.
If you’re looking to avoid alcohol though, they have traditional beverages. Soft drinks and iced tea are both served. But if you really want to up your experience, the Vietnamese coffee ($4.25) and the hot green jade ($3.50) will complement any meal.
Since I was running short on time to dine in, I placed an order online. I was able to skip the line and made my way to the bar that sits in the back. Within a minute I had my food and was able to head out. The staff and owner were incredibly gracious.
After I’d made it home, I immediately dove into the bulgogi beef baos. And what more can I say but wow. The bao itself is as soft and fluffy as a cloud. I found myself falling into a dreamlike trance with each bite, and the subtle spice and crunch of the kimchi topping the flavorful bulgogi beef sent my tastebuds into outer space.
I’ve had bulgogi a few times, and I have to say this was easily one of my favorites. The presentation, taste, and overall enjoyment are all there for me. You get three baos with your purchase, and while definitely pricey, each bite is sublime.
After finishing the baos, I tried the pork pot stickers. Since I had gone at happy hour, I was able to get them for $6 instead of the usual price. And you get five of them per order, with a side of soy sauce.
The pot stickers weren’t bad at all. Filled with a generous amount of pork, each bite popped with flavor. And the bottoms of the dumplings had been fried nicely, adding a textural crunch. While fine on its own, adding the soy sauce gives it that extra bit of zing.
The real star of my order was next, which was the pork ramen. Finding a restaurant around Amelia Island that does ramen like this isn’t easy. So being able to have a traditional ramen experience was a huge draw.
It comes with braised pork belly in miso broth, with egg, scallions, a leek, and wonderfully smooth noodles. The pork was so tender that it instantly dissolved with each bite. And the noodles were cooked perfectly–not too hard, or too soft. I could’ve easily eaten an entire bowl of them alone.
And while I prefer a heavier broth, the miso base was phenomenal. Light, aromatic, and flavorful, I enjoyed every second of it. Not only did it enhance the flavors but it kept the entire dish from feeling too heavy. And the egg and extra garnishes added to the scrumptious factor.
I found myself audibly saying, “yum” with each bite of the noodles and slurp of the broth. Everything about this dish worked so well together, that you’d be doing a disservice to yourself by not trying it.
Wicked BAO is wickedly delicious. If I had a larger stomach and more money, I’d probably eat there every day. From the wonderful ambiance of the restaurant to the quality of the food delivered, Wicked BAO gets a huge thumbs up from me.
Wicked Bao is a gem and such a wonderful addition to Fernandina’s culinary scene. Owner Natalie is also a gem, she is gracious, hard-working and always cheerful. The food (as the review attests) is out of this world. If you haven’t tried it, you are missing out!!
One of our favorite restaurants in Fernandina..we have been going there since they first opened a few years ago. Natalie is a gem!
Sounds great, can’t wait to check it out! Thanks for the review!
Wicked Bao is certainly one of our favorite spots and we love Natalie!
Glad to see they observe the Lord’s day and are not open for business. God – 1, Pagans – 0.
Nicely written and informative review. Wicked Bow food is terrific and reasonably priced, the ambience pleasantly unassuming, the proprietor a charm, and the servers, mostly young, efficient and friendly.
Love Wicked Bao. It provides a nice alternative to the plethora of bar food selections in downtown. I also like that the owner is so involved and friendly.
One thing worth pointing out, Wicked Bao has more than just Korean dishes. Natalie’s menu is an excellent mix of Asian street food. If you’re familiar with dishes from different areas of Southeast Asia, you’re sure to find one you’ll like. As she recommends to first time visitors, try one of everything.
Great food but it is Taiwanese street food predominantly as that is Natalie’s birthplace.