Located inconspicuously in plain sight (blink and you might miss it) in the Golden Triangle — Beverly Hills' extensive shopping district on Wilshire Boulevard — Little Highness Bao has been quietly doling out its delicious bao for the better part of a year. It's a simple storefront location with a dozen tables scattered throughout its airy, light-filled, loftlike space. On the second floor, you'll notice an array of potted plants adding a vibrant touch of greenery to lighten the proceedings. It's a modest, homespun affair where even the napkins carry over from the previous tenant, Mr. B's Bakery. The humble joint even has a cute sense of humor with a to-go menu that depicts an anthropomorphized glass of iced green tea happily holding hands with a glass of black tea.
Bao are oversize Taiwanese bread buns stuffed with fillings that range from minced beef to vegetables to a chicken-and-pork mixture. They're similar to the more common dumplings that you're used to from dim sum service, except these have more of an emphasis on the bread and come one to an order. They may even remind you of the buns that accompany Peking duck.
At Little Highness, each order arrives carefully pleated in a bamboo steamer. Open the lid and a plume of steam will awaken your senses. The ground beef bao is assertively spiced and goes well with a few drops of rice wine vinegar. Two to three of these savory bao make for a wonderful light lunch and sure beat the nearby lunch options (especially since Barney Greengrass — the sturgeon king — closed a few years ago).
The restaurant's original location is in the San Gabriel Valley, home to Taiwanese and Chinese eats, in the city of Rowland Heights. The Beverly Hills location is its first on the Westside, and it's a wonderfully authentic addition to the neighborhood. With the recent openings of Popcorn Chicken and Tasty Noodle House on Sawtelle Boulevard, the Westside is having something of a Chinese cuisine resurgence this past year, which is exceptional news.
Little Highness Bao's concise menu includes superlative xiao long bao, juicy soup dumplings filled with pork and shrimp, which squirt juice as you bite into the tiny dumplings (10 of them come in each order). They are highly prized by dumpling connoisseurs. You have to be careful when you bite into them so you don't burn yourself, but it's worth the effort.
They also offer grilled versions of the signature bao, which adds a unique char to the oversized buns.
Come to think of it, you will most likely be eating much better than a wide cross-section of Beverly Hills at that very moment and at more than reasonable prices (most plates are under $10; each bao is only $2).
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Cold plates such as pickled seaweed and cucumber offer a refreshing palate cleanser between bites of meaty dumplings, much as pickled ginger would do between sushi courses at a high-end sushi bar. Dim sum standards including pork wontons, pork and onion dumplings, an ultra-crisp fried spring roll and egg fried rice round out the short menu.
But you're obviously here for the superb bao, which are more than worthy of a little highness.
9667½ Wilshire Blvd., Beverly Hills; (310) 246-5144.