Review: Bao, dumplings are the draw at Bun Factory on Buford Highway

The menu at Bun Factory is so extensive that, even after three visits, I’m still eating my way through the categories of stir-fry, noodle and rice dishes; soups; a recently added lunch menu; and the namesake buns.

This new addition to Buford Highway likely will frustrate those who look for region-specific Chinese cuisine. At Bun Factory, they cull from all over the world’s most populous country, and even toss in Americanized, sticky-sweet General Tso’s.

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Credit: Ligaya Figueras

Credit: Ligaya Figueras

At Bun Factory, open since late summer in the spot in Doraville’s Pinetree Plaza vacated by Hot Melody (and Chef Liu before that), you can delight in dim sum (sans the rolling cart), ranging from steamed or fried dumplings and bao to rolls, sticky rice and cakes. You can fill up on a plentiful portion of silky mapo tofu, or test your threshold for bitter melon.

The dozen and a half items on the bun list offered some of the best bites. Tops among them were the steamed mini crab soup buns — a metal steamer of six tiny bundles that burst with juicy stock when you bite through the paper-thin wrappers and your teeth meet crab meat.

They’ve got a pork version, but that xiao long bao wasn’t nearly as flavorful as other steamed pork options, such as the open-topped, tightly packed shumai, or the soft, doughy char siu bao, filled with minced bits of savory-sweet barbecue pork.

The most notable characteristic about the potstickers is the eye-catching dumpling skirt — a thin, crispy, lace-like layer made from a slurry of water, flour and salt, and tasting like a thin chip. It connects the browned bottoms of the pan-fried dumplings that come six to an order.

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Credit: Ligaya Figueras

Credit: Ligaya Figueras

On the sweetish side, fried almond pumpkin balls, with a cakey interior, beg to be downed with hot tea. Another must-try: spongy steamed buns with a milk custard filling that is as bright yellow as an egg yolk.

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Credit: Ligaya Figueras

Credit: Ligaya Figueras

Among the entrees, mapo tofu packs most of the spice punch you’d expect from this Sichuan specialty, but the heat comes from jalapenos, not numbing peppercorns. I did not discern any bits of ground meat, a common ingredient for this dish. Still, I was satisfied with the super-silky chunks of tofu coated in a thick sauce tinged red from doubanjiang, a fermented chile bean paste. A generous portion that easily would feed two, this $11.95 bowl becomes a $9.95 bargain during weekday lunch.

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Credit: Ligaya Figueras

Credit: Ligaya Figueras

Spicy eggplant with garlic sauce, another Sichuan crowd-pleaser, pleased me and every one of my meal mates. The eggplant strips were meltingly tender, with a few edges offering contrasting crispy bites.

For full-on crispiness, check out the Cantonese salt and pepper squid. Nicely battered and seasoned, it was hard to stop popping bites of airy, oil-free fried seafood into my mouth.

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Credit: Ligaya Figueras

Credit: Ligaya Figueras

Conversely, it wasn’t hard to put down the chopsticks or spoon with other dishes.

I expected more nuance from an oxtail noodle soup. Instead, the broth was bland and colorless.

The majority of the stir-fries that I tried were average. Fried shredded pork with mustard brought nice crunch and color from veggies like carrots, bell peppers and bean sprouts, but the promised mustard was missing. Perhaps you should opt instead for shuang jong stir-fried beef, if only because the bamboo, snow peas and meaty mushrooms are good, and good for you.

If you order the braised pork ribs with accompanying bitter melon, beware, but not because of the bitter taste that some diners find off-putting. Rather, it’s the miniscule amount of sinewy meat on the bony bits of chopped ribs.

The arrival of a new chef in the past few weeks brought the addition of a lunch menu, and the subtraction of Malaysian and Thai dishes.

Credit: Ligaya Figueras

Credit: Ligaya Figueras

Even if the kitchen fell short at times, the service did not. If you’re hungry, don’t expect to wait long for food to hit the table. And, while you do wait, you can study the back wall mural of quintessential Chinese dishes, painted and labeled in Mandarin and English.

Many Buford Highway restaurants offer terrific lessons about specific cuisines from around the globe. Bun Factory is not one of those. Still, there is appeal there, be it for diners who are perfectly content with Americanized Chinese food, or folks hankering for dim sum snacking.

BUN FACTORY

Food: Chinese

Service: reserved, but courteous and quick

Best dishes: steamed mini crab soup buns, barbecue pork buns, fried pork buns, steamed milk custard buns, steamed pork shumai, fried almond pumpkin balls, eggplant with garlic sauce, salt and pepper squid, mapo tofu

Alcohol: no

Price range: $-$$

Credit cards: all major cards accepted

Hours: lunch, 11 a.m.-9:30 p.m. Mondays-Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays; 11 a.m.-10 p.m., Fridays-Saturdays

Parking: free parking lot

MARTA station: Doraville

Reservations: accepted

Children: yes

Wheelchair access: yes

Noise level: quiet

Outdoor dining: no

Takeout: order online or in-person; delivery via DoorDash and Chowbus

Address, phone: 5283 Buford Highway NE, Doraville. 470-359-3170

Website: bunfactorydoraville.com

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