Justine Choe, owner of the popular Tony’s Breakfast, has opened her newest culinary addition to the H Street Corridor. BAB, located at 1387 H St. NE, is a fusion restaurant that blends American and Vietnamese food with Korean influences and flavors.
BAB takes the traditional flavor of a Korean home-cooked meal and adds — among other ingredients — organic vegetables, spiced meat and tofu to blend multiple culinary worlds into one bowl. Built primarily for takeout service, with limited bar-style seating, BAB combines fast food with fresh, healthy and authentic Korean recipes.
With a Chipotle-esque method of taking orders, BAB allows for customers to create their own rice- or quinoa-based bowl. All bowls come with an organic, cage-free egg and sesame seeds, which provide a palette cleanser for the burst of flavor from added meat and vegetables. The bowl also includes a homemade Korean kochujuang sauce, which is a very spicy chili-powder paste — not for the faint of heart.
Next up is the protein. There are four options, each one offering its own savory flavor. Barbecue-lovers will enjoy the Korean short ribs as their meaty base, which are cooked to sweet-and-salty perfection with a smoky aftertaste. I opted for the chicken base, which, when combined with the kochujuang sauce, did not disappoint. Other options include bulgogi, which is a Korean barbecued and marinated meat, pork or tofu. The pork comes with sesame salt, and the tofu with yet another sweet and spicy chili sauce.
The next step of the order is to choose a vegetable. This process is far less stressful than the lingering and finger-pointing that ensues at Hilltoss or Sweetgreen. The veggie combinations come in one of three servings: the backyard veggies, southeast veggies or house veggies. I ordered the southeast veggies, which came with red onions, cilantro, cucumber and avocado, among others. To top off my bowl, I chose the Korean brown barley rice, or bori, as the base. While slightly lacking flavor — as one would expect from barley rice — it complemented the zest of the vegetables and meat well. Other options for this starch base include white rice and quinoa.
The bowl could have benefitted from an additional stir, as my ingredients did not seem to be mixed enough for a rice dish. More importantly, it would have helped to spread the incredible flavor of the kochujuang sauce and other delicious seasonings.
As if this amalgamation of zest was not enough, my friend and I treated ourselves to two orders of the Daegu flat dumplings and sweet cilantro sauce. Despite their lack of shape and seemingly little filling, where they lacked in quantity they made up for in flavor.
To top everything off, BAB offers a self-serve fountain soda machine stocked with all-natural cane sugar soda from Pucks. This refillable drink station offers you immunity from the powerful spiciness of the zesty Korean sauces and dressings.
Despite its distance from Georgetown’s campus, requiring a $20 Uber to downtown D.C., BAB’s contemporary and comfortable environment is inviting and thoroughly modern. The neon-green walls are lined with chalkboards, where locals and diners have drawn doodles, added comments and even shamelessly plugged their own Instagram accounts.
The customer service has room for improvement — I ordered my meal “for here” and it was served to me in a to-go bag — yet that is to be expected from a restaurant that has only been open for a few weeks. Still, the small one-roomed joint offers a very intimate environment. The owner herself was cashing at the second register.
Pricing is reasonable — the bowls cost $9 maximum, and sides range from $6 to $8. Plus, it is very filling with large portions: Spending money here says more about your appetite than your paycheck.
Despite BAB’s somewhat isolated location on the end of a long strip of restaurants on H Street, it is definitely worth the trek. This Korean fusion will certainly add a vibrant spice to the D.C. food scene.
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