Bulgogi beef bao from Harumama Teriyaki & Bao
2958 Madison Street, Carlsbad
711 Grand Avenue Suite A, Carlsbad
As I stare down at my plate, a pair of doughy eyes stare back at me. Steamed dough eyes, to be exact. Part of a steamed bun shaped and colored to look like a Holstein cow, bulgogi beef folded within.
Steamed pork buns from Harumama Noodles & Buns
Dressing such bao buns and dumplings to resemble animal characters is an adorable trademark of Harumama Noodles & Buns, a local family of restaurants with locations in Little Italy, La Jolla, and Carlsbad. Make that two locations in Carlsbad Village, where the original was recently joined by a new tweak on the concept, dubbed Teriyaki & Bao.
The covered patio of Harumama Noodles & Buns Carlsbad: indoor or outdoor?
It’s located two doors down, which created some initial confusion for yours truly. I wound up at the Noodles & Buns location, where ramen and udon dishes balance a selection of traditional bao (the kind you fold) and character bao (stuffed dumplings that resemble animals). Sold by the pair ($8) the characters are decided by the protein stuffing the idle of these dumplings: chicken dumplings resemble chicken, pork dumplings resemble pigs, etc.
Koala bao (dumplings) filled with strawberries and cream
The fully covered patio at Noodles & Buns looks like indoor dining, but apparently gets to pass as outdoor dining these days. I elected to take my order on the restaurant’s sidewalk tables, where it was treated as a take-out order, meaning disposable packaging and no table service. I’d rather have been able to mix and match the characters than eat two each pork and beef buns. They tasted fine, but neither were so good I needed to eat two: I was really more in it for the photos.
A spicy fried chicken bao (folded) from Harumama Teriyaki & Bao
Dessert, on the other hand, worked out, courtesy of a pair of koala shaped bao: colored light gray with black triangle noses and pink hearts on their cheeks, these bao were stuffed with strawberry and cream, which to me made a better match for the sweet ness of the steamed buns.
Corner location of Harumama Teriyaki & Bao, Carlsbad
Things operate similarly down the block, except the folded buns of Teriyaki & Bao are sold individually, mostly at $4 apiece. The corner property offers truly open outdoor seating — better for the covid-leary. Here, my bulgogi beef bao (with lettuce and onions) outdid soft shell crab ($5) and spicy fried chicken options. The latter was more orange chicken than spice, but like all the rest, cute as can be.
phoPhoto courtesy of Harumama Teriyaki & Bao
Rather than ramen, at Teriyaki & Bao that means teriyaki skillets — touted as have-it-your-way meals, which basically let you choose your protein, and opt for unsweetened teriyaki. Or, if you’re tired of the bao, there are a couple of trendy options, whether the photogenic tornado omelet (a swirling cyclone of egg served over fried rice), or creamy udon noodles, which include a bizarre yet somewhat creamy matcha udon, a sort of green tea curry served over fat noodles with a smattering of vegetables.
Creamy matcha udon
Photo courtesy of Harumama Teriyaki & Bao
Whichever Harumama location you choose, the truism seems to be that you can’t get away from ordering Instagram-friendly dishes on your fist visit, but it’s actually the straightforward noodle and rice dishes that will bring you back.