Food in a bowl and Chipotle-style eateries have taken over.
So it’s only natural that Korean build-your-own-bibimbap chain Bibigo has opened a new stand-alone location. Bibigo, a combination of classic Korean rice dish bibimbap and “go,” has operated mostly in mall food courts since 2010. A previous stand-alone in Westwood with a different design has closed. Now the concept has evolved, with a minimalist space full of white subway tile and accented with plants.
Bibigo Fresh Korean Kitchen, the sleek new fast-casual spot in Sawtelle Japantown, features Bibigo’s usual build-your-own bowls but boasts exclusive ingredients and elevated dishes not found at the other locations. A sizable bulgogi steak entree with egg yolk, rice, spring mix and onion sauce ($12.95) is an attractive and flavorful addition. Also new and Instagram-worthy is the Kimchi Fire ($11.95): kimchi fried rice, spicy pork, mozzarella cheese, green onion and lotus chips. It’s served with a cup of raw egg to pour around the rice, but thanks to the 500-degree bowl the egg cooks through, so you get a meal and a little show.
Bibigo is admittedly not a place for purely authentic Korean food. However, it uses more authentic marinades, and its familiar casual format helps make Korean food more accessible for American diners. It also adds a local touch with California-sourced vegetables.
For the build-your-own bibimbap, Bibigo-ers start by choosing a classic bowl ($8.95) or hot stone bowl ($9.95) heated to 500 degrees. The high temperature helps ensure your food stays warm. Choose from a base of noodles, salad or different rices, then as many colorful vegetables as you want, plus a sauce, protein (chicken, pork, fish, tofu or red meat) and authentic toppings including sesame oil, seaweed and a fried egg. In the world of fast casual, Bibigo stands out for its bold flavors and variety.
The new Sawtelle outpost has exclusive bowl options for even greater bibimbap building — black rice, mixed beans, kimchi salsa, mushrooms & snow peas or Brussels sprouts & cauliflower, cilantro lime sauce, sunflower seeds and grilled salmon.
A crispy seafood pancake with galbi sauce and kimchi pancake with gochujang-mayo sauce ($4.95) are new on the small-plates menu and worth ordering. Feel free to pretend you’re eating a mini Korean pizza.
Despite the meat-heavy menu, vegans can dine here on organic seasoned and sautéed tofu, all the rices, several of the vegetables and sesame and gochujang sauces.
The gluten-free crowd can indulge in several of the rices and vegetables, cilantro lime sauce and tofu.
But no alcohol yet. Craft beer and wine are set to launch later this summer.
Pro tips: The Sawtelle location is cashless, so your Benjamins are no good here. And if you don’t want to wait in line with the lunch rush, you can call ahead and pick up your order in a separate line.
Bibigo has plans for more stand-alone locations but nothing concrete yet.
2210 Sawtelle Blvd., Sawtelle Japantown; (424) 293-2561, bibigousa.com.