Bibibop has rocketed out of the central suburbs into an all-Ohio chain of eight restaurants, and now both Cincinnati and Columbus eaters can enjoy the fast casual Korean food concept. One spot opened yesterday off Sawmill Road in Northwest Columbus at virtually the same time as another opened in Liberty Center near Cincinnati. So what does this chain have to offer? Owner Joe Holbrook invited Another Food Critic out to give it a try. The result was fantastic.
The concept does build-your-own rice bowls, salads and wraps along the increasingly popular assembly line-style quick service. You pick a protein, sauce and toppings, and other garnishes for your meal. The namesake dish—bibimbap, or “mixed rice” in Korean—comes with traditional Korean toppings like kimchi if you want it, but it also features choices the American palette would enjoy, like corn, cheese and kale. This, Holbrook tells me, isn’t a push for authenticity, but an effort to introduce a little familiarity in what is a dish that is only just starting to see widespread love in the U.S.
Some of those great protein options:
- Steak: Thin-cut juicy steak in a savory marinade, served best with one of the spicier sauces on the menu. Great to put into a rice bowl.
- Spicy chicken: Just a bit of heat on the tip of this chicken, which makes it a perfect pairing with that spicy Korean sauce. Or, better yet, I tried this one in a salad with no sauce at all—the spice speaks for itself.
- Organic tofu: Pan-seared with the sweet teriyaki sauce. Best with a salad, I think, it’s a lighter take.
You take the sauce and some chopsticks and mix it all together. The end result is something you just can’t put down. Seriously. I liked the rice bowl in Columbus so much that I went to Dayton with an old dining pal of mine and got Bibibop again the next day. The key, I think, is the sauces. There are four basic options and each has a very distinct flavor:
- Spicy Sriracha: This is the most assertively spicy of the sauces, and it adds a warm and growing heat to the dish. Best with some of those nice potatoes.
- Yum Yum: This thicker sauce is creamier like a mayo or an aioli, and definitely heavier. Probably a safe first choice to get on the side.
- Teriyaki: This one is a very sweet glaze — definitely the best-rounded of the bunch. If you’re undecided on what sauce to get, this is a good one.
- Korean Red Sauce: If you like authentic bibimbap this sauce is the way to go — it’s distinctly tangy and just a tad warm.
“I keep it simple,” Holbrook told the bloggers as he talked about his concept. Indeed, the feeling is minimalist, white all around, relatively simple prices and an overall quite comfortable feel in spite of how quickly food comes out (the goal, I’m told, is to be able to fill multiple bowls a minute) and the food is easy to order t0-go. Actually, it can be quite healthy too, with some bowls going as low as 400 calories with a nutrition menu posted online. And for all of this, the prices aren’t that bad either, with many south of seven bucks, and drinks and other add ons tacking on minimal amounts too.
The concept is fast growing, with the idea to expand more into other cities in Ohio and beyond. Holbrook says he doesn’t have a definite plan for how far the restaurant will go. One thing is apparent though, it’s filling a nice that isn’t there in the market, and doing so with food that people are just starting to embrace. A very cutting-edge idea. I definitely found it to be worth more tries.
6490 Sawmill Rd.
Columbus, OH 43235
7616 Blake Street
Liberty Township, OH 45069