Restaurant Review: A Shot Across the Bao

Sorting out the hits, myths, and sticky wickets at Wusong Road over mai tais and handmade crab rangoons.

Adorably shaped pork bao and crab rangoon from the highly curated menu of American-Chinese cuisine at Wuson Road. / Photo by Linda Rose Campos

Honestly, the biggest bummer about Wusong Road, chef-owner Jason Doo’s thrumming, tiki-themed ode to the sweet (also: sour) comfort-food pleasures of throwback Chinese-Americana, is that on paper the thing just sizzles.

Check it: a double-decker lounge slinging craft-caliber scorpion bowls and beloved classics from the golden age of the pupu platter—crab rangoons, sticky spareribs, pick-your-protein lo mein—remastered for modern palates by a guy who used to cook at Menton. The restaurant’s fantastical interior looks like a million bucks, and you’d never know it was mostly a DIY affair that cost a tiny fraction of that. You enter the second floor through a sculpted dragon’s mouth, for Pete’s sake. Vibe-wise, I think it adds just the right jolt of energy (youth-spirited, gently edgy) to Harvard Square’s dining ecosystem, which has been tacking hard in the visiting lecturers-who-lunch direction lately. Nothing against chamomile beurre blanc, but the course correction is nice to see.

Something else diners love to see in 2022 is an honest-to-goodness personal narrative from a storyteller whose story it is to tell. Doo grew up in the ’90s in and around his parents’ American-Chinese restaurant in Malden, and his is a thoughtful take on tiki-cocktail culture, something other bars have come under fire for commodifying and exoticizing in more recent, appropriation-conscious years.

Photo by Linda Rose Campos

The menu is well considered, too. Revivalist nostalgia projects tend to err on the side of more-is-more, especially when there’s a Kowloon-size garden of fading delights ripe for the resurrecting, making it a nice surprise to encounter curatorial rigor: On any given night Wusong Road offers just 16-ish dishes total—which makes a ton of sense. Doo says his kitchen line is typically a scrappy four-deep skeleton crew of true believers. Better to focus on a tight roster they can hit out of the park every time. Or, you know, so the theory goes.

The problem is, the more you eat at Wusong Road, the clearer it becomes that this kitchen is chronically in the weeds. On busy nights, the likelihood runs high that at some point during your visit the kitchen will lurch off its game and into the thistly, vortex-strength underbrush of in-the-weeds-ness, and for an unpredictable stretch—will it be one wave of dishes, or the rest?—you’re in wobbly-world. And you don’t have to take my word for it: The restaurant’s avidly tended Instagram account doubles as a near-daily photo diary captioned with heartfelt confessionals, imploring feedback, and contrite apologies big and small. But my point is, Doo and crew’s endemic struggles are fairly settled consensus at this point and, not to pile on, but yeah, you feel it sometimes.

The pea stems ($11.88) you crushed on last week—the ones tricked out with crispy garlic and feathery haystacks of crispy shallot—may show up with filigree intact but not a lick of detectable sodium. Did someone forget a pinch of salt? An entire sauce? A plate of veggie lo mein ($11.88) might come to the table watery, the sign of a rush job or an overcrowded wok. Pork spareribs ($12.88) could be jazzed up with spicy cheongyang chili pepper sauce but devoid of exterior char. Salt-shunning salmon crudo (no longer on the menu), meanwhile, may arrive desperate for seasoning but, going by strict triage hierarchy, require acid, stat. More yuzu in the yuzu soy, perhaps; more pickle in the pickled daikon…the lime wedges nestled in your well-balanced mai tai ($9.88), in a pinch.

You’re desperately hoping that the tide will turn before the arrival of the signature lacquered roast duck ($88.88), reserved 24 hours in advance as requested. Next time I may go with 25. The first time we sprang for one, the leg meat was nearly inedible: tough, sinewy, and undercooked. Accompanying bao, marshmallow-y on the outside, were splotched inside with powdery raw flour. The second time I got the whole setup, it was much improved: a solid B-plus. But when there’s just one large-format dish on offer, it should be a reliable stunner—or at least not the menu’s big dice roll.

Then suddenly. When you’re least expecting it. The clouds above you part. The luck of the lucky 8s the menu is packed with finally kicks into gear, and you’re like: Hallelujah. You’re reminded of the potential. That the guy behind this passion project worked at Menton not just back in the day, but the year it got four stars from the Globe. There is craft and there is nuance and there is precision.

Crab rangoons ($8.88) are hand-folded daily, and you can tell by the lightness—delicate pillows of sweet held in abeyance by house-made cream cheese. The accompanying duck sauce, a pineapple-y sambal with a sneaky kick, painted the crisp pleats of the hot fried wrapper with just the right protective layer of viscosity. A pair of fluffy bao ($9.88), one chicken, one pork, arrived in buns shaped like the animals themselves: pigtails, snouts, eyeballs, beaks…the works. They were adorably gruesome, just right for the place. Of the two, I preferred the chicken’s perfect fry job, juicy interior, and abundant sriracha and mala heat over the char-siu-style pulled pork. Fried rice ($11.88), with optional shrimp ($2) and chili-crunch oil ($0.50), was a surprise standout for its pleasing glutinous chewiness and the subtle hit of smokiness (a.k.a. wok hei, “the breath of the wok”) that would have sent the lo mein soaring higher. Were jaunty roll-ups made with hot, flaky scallion pancakes and fall-apart swaths of five-spice-braised beef brisket ($10.88) a little greasy? Maybe so. But also maybe just the greasy you want for a night out drinking.

Tiki cocktails are poured with a deft hand in the two-floor Harvard Square space. / Photo by Linda Rose Campos

Speaking of which: The cocktail program was solid across the board. Tiki drinks done right require an absurd amount of fresh-pressed juice and the space to produce it, so by day Wusong Road staffers run a juice bar in the lobby of the neighboring Charles Hotel. There they can make a few extra bucks while prepping for the night’s onslaught using commercial-grade equipment they could never afford or accommodate in their restaurant. That’s called ingenuity, folks. And the balanced, thirst-quenching excellence of Wusong Road’s Painkiller ($10), a blend of light and dark rum, house-squeezed orange juice, and freshly pressed pineapple, was a testament to the team’s hard-won perfectionism.

Of course, one person’s glazed-ceramic mug of perfection can be another’s glass-half-empty. One of the best things I ate at Wusong Road was a vibrant riff on American chop suey (translation for transplants: basic beefaroni), a standard offering at New England’s suburban Chinese restaurants—and a dish that the chef says he remembers fondly from childhood. In Doo’s hands, this utilitarian dish became something magical. I’m using past tense because the item has been unceremoniously dumped—too many harsh comments, Doo tells me, from customers confused by its Italian-ish flavor. In 2022 we like a good story, for sure. But not as much, perhaps, as we like to weigh in.

Which at the end of the day may be the real bummer about Wusong Road: It’s got the vision, the baller space, the meaningful origin story. It’s even got a conscientious chef with the chops to pull it off. If I had to guess, adding three or four line cooks to the dugout would help immeasurably. But honestly, what I think chef-owner-raconteur Jason Doo could use more than anything is to log off from the Instagram feedback loop and tighten his grip on the mike. Fist bump. Heart emoji. He’s got this.


112 Mount Auburn St., Cambridge, 617-528-9125,

Menu Highlights

Crab rangoons ($8.88), spicy chicken bao ($9.88), shrimp fried rice ($13.88)

★★★★ Extraordinary | ★★★ Generally Excellent | ★★ Good | ★ Fair | (No Stars) Poor