I have a new favorite fast-casual restaurant.
I recently visited the new location of Columbus-based Bibibop at the new Pinecrest development in Orange.
According to the company’s website, Bibibop — inspired by the traditional Korean dish bibimbap, meaning “mixed rice” — opened almost exactly five years ago.
Long a fan of create-your-own stir-fry joints, such as bd’s Mongolian Grill and Stir Crazy, I would describe Bibibop as something akin to one of those restaurants crossed with Chipotle.
As you wait in the line — on my second visit in four days, the line was quite long but moved quickly — you pass by big, colorful signs encouraging you to “Boost your chi!” and “Add some color to your life” and espousing the benefits of optional ingredients such as kale and corn.
When you get to the counter, you first pick from white or purple rice — the latter seeming to be their specialty, as it was recommended to me by a server — noodles or veggies. On both visits, I purpled, and regretted nothing. (On some future visit, though, I’ll have to try the noodles.)
Then, it’s on to three of what what they call hot toppings — potatoes, bean sprouts and black beans. I love all three, but I went bean sprouts — a no-brainer with stir-fry — and, even though the idea seemed weird the first time, potatoes. (It may be weird, but the potatoes have been a delicious component of my bowls.)
There are four protein choices: marinated chicken, spicy chicken, steak and organic tofu. My first visit, I asked for a recommendation between the spicy chicken and steak, and the server asked why I don’t just get both. Genius! (In the future, I’ll probably stick with just spicy chicken more often than not. It’s quite tasty.)
Next, you select from a fair amount of cold toppings, and I had them pile on more of them than not, including corn, sesame kale, daikon, carrot, red cabbage, egg, kimchi (which, to my disappointment, they were out of the first time) and the seasonal selection, yellow squash. There’s also cucumber, cheese and lettuce.
Lastly, you choose a sauce, and it’s a bit of a pressure-packed decision given all the choices: yum yum, teriyaki, Korean red, cucumber wasabi, sesame ginger and spicy sriracha. The first time I went with Korean red, the second with sesame ginger. But here’s the thing — and it’s one of my favorite aspects about the place: There are dispensers with all the sauces, so you fill up a ramekin of this, another with that and you dip and drip your way through your bowl.
I simply love these bowls, which are are served to you with the food sort of in their own little sections — the servers don’t mix the bowl. I appreciated that, because I could start out trying bits of this or that ingredient and then, once I’d made a few dents, mix it all together.
Both times I’ve walked out of Bibibop, I’ve felt like I’d eaten a relatively healthy meal, although given the size of the bowls and how full I was, each meal surely was a lot of calories. But that’s on me — I certainly could have had a smaller bowl constructed each time.
I think the prices are incredibly reasonable. The receipt for my second visit lists my spicy chicken-and-steak bowl as a steak bowl (not surprising), for $7.79. That’s such a good dish for less than eight bucks.
I also both times tacked on a $1.99 fountain drink, choosing the delicious black cherry variety of one of the available sodas from California-based Blue Sky Beverage Co. Made with 100 percent cane sugar, it’s delicious — and I’m intrigued by the orange-mango variety next to the black cherry — but I’d like to train myself to stick to water or plain ol’ diet cola next time to get that calorie count down. But, hey, the whole place is a treat, so it’s hard not to get everything you like.
Apparently, there’s already been a location of Bibibop in Cleveland’s University Circle neighborhood, at 11431 Euclid Ave., and another is on the way at Cedar Center South in University Heights. Get more information about Bibibop and its locations at bibibop.com.
Mark Meszoros has made himself so hungry writing this and retrieving these photos. Follow him on Twitter @MarkMeszoros.