Maybe it’s because it sits directly across from Seattle University, or maybe it’s because it serves up giant portions for less than $12, but the fast-casual Seoul Bowl & Bar feels like quintessential college food. The kind of place that you’d swing by between classes or late at night before going to the library: It’s fast, cheap, filling and, most importantly, delicious.
And with Gov. Jay Inslee’s emergency declaration shutting down bars and sit-down restaurants, getting takeout and staying home is becoming the norm for many. Seoul Bowl said Monday that despite the coronavirus pandemic, it will stay open for takeout orders.
Seoul Bowl originated as a beloved Seattle food truck, and opened its brick-and-mortar location in February, on the corner of 12th Avenue and Columbia Street.
The restaurant is fairly spacious, with a relaxed vibe and blaring pop music that, in pre-pandemic times, catered to the college crowds. Although now, its setup is still perfect for quickly ordering food and taking it to go.
As expected, the crown jewel of Seoul Bowl is its rice bowls ($10.99-$11.99), which you can customize with a mix of rice, protein, toppings and sauce, all of which are made in-house. During my visit, I opted for “purple rice” (a mix of black and white rice), spicy pork and — because I was feeling adventurous — all of the toppings, including caramelized onions, salad, corn, kimchi, pickled radish, smashed potato and a drizzle of hot sauce and yumyum sauce (an onion-garlic mayo).
Because the bowls are so customizable, they’re also fairly subjective — you don’t have to take my recommendations, but rather choose what sounds good to you. I found the spicy pork succulent and flavorful, pairing perfectly with the rice, onion and corn. While I consider myself a kimchi enthusiast — I will literally eat a whole jar of it for dinner — I’d opt to eat it separately, rather than mix it in with my bowl. While the kimchi had great flavor — slightly sour, spicy (but not overwhelmingly so) — it was something I enjoyed on its own. I thought the hot and yumyum sauces were a great touch that elevated the overall flavor of the bowl, but would suggest asking for a lighter drizzle; too much sauce made the bowl feel a little too heavy and soggy.
This is the kind of meal meant to be workshopped, and the kind of restaurant meant to be returned to — a place where you can perfect your own bowl.
All that being said, this is a lot of food. The richness of the proteins, combined with the myriad flavors in the toppings and sauces, makes for a heavy dish, so don’t be afraid to take some of it home.
If you’re not feeling a bowl though, you can opt for a variety of other options, including bulgogi kimchi fries ($5.50-$7.50), mandoo (pot stickers; $3.50-$5.50), fried chicken ($12-$22) or chicken wings ($13.50-$24.50).
The bulgogi kimchi fries are smothered in marinated beef, kimchi and mozzarella cheese, making a sort of elevated chili cheese fries. I liked the bulgogi, cheese and fries combo — the slight sweetness of the beef was well complemented by the starchy potatoes. Unfortunately, the fries were drenched in liquid from the bulgogi and kimchi, leaving them immensely soggy. They were still tasty, but if you like your fries super crispy, perhaps ask for the toppings on the side. I also didn’t particularly enjoy the kimchi mixed in with the fries, but again, that’s a personal preference.
Even if you’re well beyond your college years, Seoul Bowl is a perfect go-to for a quick bite to eat, or some experimenting with different flavors.