A Spicy Kung Pao chicken bowl from Wow Bao was delivered on Thursday, April 1, 2021. Staff photo by Aimee Blume
A Spicy Kung Pao chicken bowl from Wow Bao was delivered on Thursday, April 1, 2021. Staff photo by Aimee Blume
EVANSVILLE — If you’re ordering from a food delivery service, you might see restaurants listed that you’ve never heard of and can’t find if you go looking. They’re called "dark kitchens" or "ghost kitchens."

That’s the term for a restaurant that does delivery only, so the kitchens are hidden, either in an unmarked location or inside another restaurant. The food is packed in its own branded packaging and delivered through a service such as Grubhub or DoorDash. It might be a branded business such as Wow Bao, or sometimes restaurants come up with a new niche or menu items based on ingredients already in house.

In Evansville, ghost kitchens are, for now, almost all located inside restaurants, although that could change with the addition of more licensed commissary space. You can check the address on any business when you order for delivery and know where it’s coming from.

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For example, Chicken Sammy’s serves fried and grilled chicken breasts on creative sandwiches and salads, regular and boneless chicken wings with a plethora of sauces, chicken tenders, appetizers and milkshakes. It is a delivery-only splinter of Red Robin. So is The Wing Dept., which offers the same wings and some different appetizers.

The Burger Den is a function of Denny’s and incorporates items already in the house into a larger burger selection than what’s on the regular menu.

Hootie’s Burger Bar and Hootie’s Bait and Tackle seafood items come from, you guessed it, Hooters.

The most unique ghost kitchen in Evansville is Wow Bao, which offers bao, or Chinese-filled steamed buns, potstickers and rice bowls.

It’s a Chicago-based restaurant chain where management had a brilliant idea in early 2020. With food delivery increasing because of the pandemic, why not make any (licensed) kitchen capable of producing a limited Wow Bao menu for delivery only?

An article in QSR Magazine explains it. With the purchase of frozen Wow Bao food products and a few pieces of equipment including a rice cooker, small steam well and dumpling steamer, any restaurant, grocery store, donut or ice cream shop can become a Wow Bao.

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It’s a win-win-win. Wow Bao sells more food. The host kitchen brings in more business and money, and diners get access to foods they might not otherwise. There are now over 200 Wow Bao ghost locations in the United States.

In Evansville and Owensboro, Fazoli’s restaurants are Wow Bao’s hosts.

We tried it out, ordering three teriyaki chicken bao and three barbecue Berkshire pork bao, eight ginger chicken dumplings and a spicy kung pao chicken bowl through DoorDash.

It arrived early and was enough to feed two lightly or one heartily with some leftover bao for snacking.

The food was hot, nicely packaged and tasty. Our favorite was the ginger chicken dumplings and the barbecue pork filling in the buns.

It is a fast-food version of bao, and no, it’s not the same experience you might have had with the large and plump hand-twisted versions at Mama’s Kitchen inside Aihua International Market. But they hit the spot if you want delivery.

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Remember, you are paying for a service when you order delivered food, and it’s priced so that the restaurant and the delivery service both make money. After the service fee, tax and tip, our light meal for two cost a hair over $50 with no drinks. That’s a lot compared to what a hearty combo lunch for two would cost at local Chinese places, but it’s worth it if you’re hungry, don’t want to go out and need some bao right now.
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