Ekiben in Bethesda
Just drove past this place on 355 in Bethesda, the Tako Grill part of the neighborhood, with a big grand opening banner. The name caught my eye - it's the word for the bento you buy in train stations in Japan, something I would die for - and something on the banner mentioned special lunch and dinner boxes. But the sign also mentioned Korean BBQ and I am highly suspicious of Japanese food made by Koreans. Anyone been?
I've been meaning to chime in about this place. My wife and I were very excited when we saw this place getting ready to open as we love Korean BBQ. We've been several times now and, being supportive of local businesses (my wife owns one two blocks down from Ekiben), we'd say that it is definitely worth a try. The owners are friendly and we hope they do well.
I've only had the galbi box and the bulgogi box so far. I prefer galbi, so I've had that a couple times. The galbi each time has been surprisingly good, remarkably better than my initial expectations. Sweet, tender, and a good-sized helping. Same for the bulgogi. The "box" itself is fairly generous...among the accompaniments I've had have been a tempura assortment (shrimp/veggies), deviled egg, mini crabcake, chicken wing, tofu and/or fish cake. and seafood salad. Every box comes with 3 pieces of California roll, miso soup, a small (really small) side of kimchee, and some kind of salad, usually a house salad with ginger dressing.
Will it be the best Korean BBQ you'll have? Probably not. However, it's a nice option in an area devoid of K-BBQ. It is what it is, a small sit-in/carryout place with decent K-BBQ at a reasonable price. I believe the lunch box for bulgogi/galbi runs $8/$9 at lunch and $10/$11 at dinner. I haven't yet tried anything else on the menu, although my wife reports that her staff has enjoyed the sushi they've had from there.
The food there is really good. ...Well, the Korean food is. The sushi is hit or miss. On some days, it's amazing and on other days, I can tell that the fish is not fresh or has been frozen.
I've had the
BiBimBop - excellent
Bulgogi - excellent
Korean seafood pancake - good (although sometimes it's a little burned and that's bad)
California roll - reliably decent
Spicy tuna roll - hit or miss (note: this is one of the few places that makes it without mayo and I appreciate that)
Yellowtail roll - hit or miss
Vegetable Udon - good but also unremarkable
What I don't understand is why new restaurants like this don't pick a side and just stick to it. Ekiben does Korean dishes very well and, like AndrewF (above) says, the Bethesda area is really lacking some good Korean food. What is great about this food is that the prices are decent, the atmosphere is casual (very cute and unique train on the wall!), and the service is very polite and attentive. In terms of Asian food, Bethesda needs a non-chain, casual, laid back place with good food and this place comes so close.