Bibigo: Your First Look at Westwood’s New Korean McDonald’s
Oh, kooky fast food concepts imported from Korea! I wish I knew what to think of you. Sometimes you are so amazing you change the way we look at a classic food we thought we knew well (Kyochon anybody?). Other times, your eccentricity is part of your charm (hello, School Food!) But often you make us just step back and say “WTF?” (Isaac Toast, I still still don’t know what to make of you.) So when Eater reported that Bibigo! was opening in Westwood Village last week, hoping to be the “”McDonald’s of bibimbap” I didn’t know what to think. Claiming to be the McDonald’s of anything is not a plus in my book (it’s like saying you want to be the Taco Bell of Jamaican food.) And if you in Koreatown across the street from, say, this place or this place or this place you’d have no need for Bibigo. But if you work in Westwood, a fast food Korean rice bowl place sounds like a pretty great idea.
Check it out after the jump…
The basic idea of Bibigo is pretty simple. It’s inexpensive Korean fast food, that attempts to be healthy, in a hip environment. In other words, it’s exactly what you’d expect a fast casual Korean concept in Westwood Village to be like. (Cheap, but not as cheap as it should be. Quality food, but small portions. Hip, but still downscale enough to considered fast food. And, obviously, not as good as Koreatown.)
Their signature item is a rice bowl- which you can order three different ways: Bibigo Rice, Bibimbap, and Hot Stone Bibimbap. You choose between four different kinds of rice (white, black, sprouted brown, and barley/white mix), 3 different kinds of protein (bulgogi, chicken, tofu), and four different kinds of sauce (kohot, ssam, green sesame, citron soy.) Right now, all the rice bowls are $8.99, no matter what you get… which is great for people who like Korean BBQ beef (which is usually more expensive than tofu or chicken.)
You order at the counter, and then go sit at the tables in the front or back with a number… but right now is just a soft opening. I think eventually they are planning on converting the seating area to full table service with waiters, and the front counter will just be to go orders.
I’m not exactly sure the difference between Bibigo Rice and Bibimbap, except that the former has lettuce- which was enough to push us towards the traditional bibimbap. It comes topped with some traditional stuff (bean sprouts, spinach, mushrooms) and some not so traditional stuff (broccoli, sliced almonds). The chicken is thick slices of grilled white meat chicken (read: boring but “clean”)…
…but the tofu is (thankfully!) fried. If you want to try to keep things on the traditional side, go for the kohot sauce, which is a pretty standard tasting gochujang based sauce- minus the sesame oil, which they give you on the side (presumably to keep things low fat for those who are interested.) It’s sweet and spicy, and really tasty. Mix it in with the rice, and all the toppings, and go to town.
The regular bibimbap is fine, but the hot stone bibimbap is clearly the choice. It’s the same dish as above, but comes served in a hot stone pot so that the rice on the bottom gets hot and crispy so when you mix it up it’s almost like a fried rice (where regular bibimbap tastes more like a rice salad, if that makes sense.) Normally hot stone bibimbap is more expensive, so the fact that this version costs the same as the regular ($8.99) makes it even more of a no brainer order. The bulgogi that comes on top is good enough, leaning more towards dry and charred than the super thinly sliced watery/oily pile of bulgogi you get at some places. The portions are not huge (especially compared to Koreatown), and you don’t really get any panchan (just two small little things of pickles on the side, and no kimchi!) but the flavors were all good and it’s a satisfying lunch if you don’t want to stuff your face silly.
In addition to the rice bowls they also serve japchae with meat or vegetables ($8.99).
Spicy rice cakes ($8.99) with sweet potato.
Pajeon (seafood pancake, $8.99)
Clearly they’re still working on the portion sizes and prices (I doubt everything is going to stay $8.99 forever) but I will say this for those of who aren’t going to wait for them to work out the kinks… the rice cake dish is waaaaay too small for $9, and had a dense and sticky consistency (not good). And the $9 japchae is more suitable to sharing with a large table of friends, than eating on your own for lunch. The pajeon comes out fresh on a hot sizzing platter (nice!) and it’s on the small side… but it’s not terrible for the price considering how expensive this dish can be in Koreatown. It’s not the best version of the dish you’ll ever have (obviously), but it’s not terrible either.
The one item on the entrees menu that is worth it is the sweet and spicy chicken, a surprisingly decent portion of fried dark meat chicken nubs covered in their cohot sauce (their version of boneless Korean fried chicken.) It’s more breading than meat, but that breading is super crispy, sticky and really tasty. It doesn’t come with anything, so it doesn’t work well as a solo lunch order (none of the entrees really do)… but if you go with a bunch of co-workers and need something to balance out your “healthy” bibimbap order, this one is a winner.
Last week they had somebody outside handing out coupons for free mando (fried dumplings) and free drinks, so keep your eyes peeled. Fried anything is good in my book, so I had no problem finishing these. (Plus, they were free!) Nothing special dumpling-wise, but $5 for 16 of these bite sizes morsels isn’t a terrible deal.
They also offer bulgogi on hot sizzling platter, and plan to add galbi (short ribs) and wraps to the menu eventually.
If you are a big fan of Korean food, you’ll probably find a lot about Bibigo to complain about. (How do they not have kimchi!!!) But for people who like the idea of bibimbap, and work in Westwood, there’s a lot to get excited about as well. And they’ve only been open a week, so it’s clearly going to get better. (They did promise they were working things out with their distributor in Korea to offer kimchi.) And, even though it is a tad bit expensive for lunch and the portions are a bit on the small side (for us fatsos) if I worked in Westwood I’d probably hit this place up once a week for the dolsot bibimbap. Hell, it’s better than McDonald’s!
The + (What somebody who likes this place would say)
- I work in Westwood and there is no Korean food around here for lunch!
- I love Korean food, but I do try and be healthy for lunch. This gives me the best of both worlds.
- Hot stone bibimbap! For under $10! In Westwood?! Tough to complain about that.
- All the rice options and sauces are done really well
- Give them a chance to work out all the kinks! They’re clearly still working on the menu, prices and portion sizes.
The – (What somebody who doesn’t like this place would say)
- The portions are a bit too small for the price.
- All the entrees are more suited to sharing with friends than a stand alone lunch.
- They need to get on that kimchi train! It better happen soon.
- I hope they don’t switch the seating area to waiter service…
- … especially because you can’t get the hot stone bibimbap to go. And if I have to tip a waiter it will end up making lunch too expensive
Bibigo, 1091 Broxton Ave., 310-824-0011