Clockwise, starting from front: Jian Bing (savory Chinese crepe), egg tart custard ball, bun, You Tiao (Chinese duckfat donuts). Photo by Meredith Goad

Tao Yuan, chef Cara Stadler’s Brunswick restaurant, may be closed for the summer, but it is still busy.

Stadler is using the kitchen to prepare a new menu of Asian street food for a pop-up called Zao Ze Café. The inspiration for the new place, which features takeout and outdoor dining only, is the street food she’s sampled on her many trips to Asia, as well as her grandmother’s cooking.

After a week spent mostly indoors, I was eager to get out, so I took a little road trip up to Brunswick on the weekend that Stadler held her soft opening of the café. I pre-ordered (which, in this case, means placing the order the same day you’re going to pick it up) and pre-paid for my food on the Tao Yuan website, and because the prices are not bad – the most expensive item is shrimp fried rice for $13.88 – I ordered a lot so I could sample a variety of dishes. I probably wouldn’t order so much the next time, but it was fun to try so many things that were completely new to me. I suggest taking a friend with you so you can split everything and still get to sample a lot.

Zao Ze, a new Asian street food pop-up in Brunswick, offers takeout and outdoor dining only. Photo by Meredith Goad

When I arrived at the restaurant, I put on my mask and headed through the front door to the little lobby where the pick-up happens. Face coverings are required, unless you’re sitting at one of the outdoor tables. The outdoor dining area consists of several nice, white round tables for adults and a few adorable, colorful tables – complete with tiny stools – for kids.

The menu is split into cold, hot, baked and fried goods, and desserts. I skipped the cold menu, although next time I would like to try the Smoked Chicken Rou Jia Mo, the Chinese equivalent of a hamburger, which originated in the Shaanxi Province. Stadler’s version is made with smoked chicken, pickled goji berries, ramp vinegar, cilantro, scallion and serrano sambal aioli.

I tried the Jian Bing ($6.88), a savory Chinese crepe that Stadler had told me about once during an interview. It’s a popular street food in which crepes are folded around scrambled eggs with cilantro, scallions, hoisin and chili paste. Add some crispy wonton for crunch, and you have breakfast.


Other foods I sampled included the You Tiao ($1.58 for two pieces), which are Chinese duckfat donuts with five spice – kind of like Chinese churros – and the egg tart custard balls ($2.58 each), which are donuts filled with Chinese custard.

I confess the custard balls were my favorite, not because they were dessert (they are not overly sweet like American donuts) but because the competing textures blew my mind. They were chewy, crunchy and gooey all at the same time.

This is the kind of place where you’ll want to eat around the menu, so I foresee more road trips in my future. I really want to try that smoked chicken Rou Jia Mo ($10.88), the shrimp fried rice, the spinach and paneer potstickers ($9.88 for five), and the bun sampler (pork, sausage/pea shoot/egg, beet paneer, and red bean chocolate for $8.88).

This Thursday and Friday, from 5 to 8 p.m., Stadler will be serving a Korean street food dinner at the café. The dinner is $48 per person, or $38 per person for a vegetarian version. Reservations are required (phone only), and food will be served family style. If it rains, the food will be packed up to go and available for pickup between 5 and 6 p.m.

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