Seoul Food

Appears in the June 2024 issue.

By Peter Gianopulos

Food from Bibibop Asian Grill

One might be tempted to dismiss Bibibop Asian Grill, the build-your-own Korean bowl concept, as yet another Chipotle clone. Visit the chain’s newest location in Naperville (1309 S. Naper Blvd.), and you walk along the glassed counter, pointing at your favorite base (noodles or rice), proteins, veggies, and sauces as you build your perfect meal. For some, that might be Korean barbecue beef on sweet potato glass noodles served with kimchi, sesame kale, and spicy gochujang sauce. For others, a tofu bowl lined with purple rice, bean sprouts, pickled red cabbage, all drizzled with Yum Yum sauce.

Notice anything unusual about the above combos? They’re uncommonly healthy when compared to most fast-casual offerings. That’s intentional. Bibibop founder Charley Shin, who grew up on the outskirts of Seoul, Korea, not only wanted to create a fully gluten-free and MSG-free menu, he’s convinced that mainstreaming a traditional Korean diet can help diners live a more energized life. Signage in the restaurant—and more detailed info online—break down the vitamin content and nutritional benefits of each ingredient. And if needed, staff members can steer guests toward selections that align with their particular health goals, whether that’s heaping on extra fiber- and antioxidant-rich purple rice or leaning into the anti-inflammatory benefits of the house’s cabbage-cucumber kimchi. “We’re looking for balance,” says Jun Kim, catering manager. “We don’t think there’s any reason why people can’t eat food that’s affordable, healthy, and delicious at the same time.”


Photo: Jen Banowetz