I’ll be honest: The smiling cartoon Korean bowl on the K Fresh logo was enough to get me to eat there.
The build-your-own bibimbap (bee beam bap) restaurant is one of the few Korean restaurants in Everett. I’ve been on a Korean kick lately, so I asked my colleague Mark Carlson to join me there for lunch.
Bibimbap is a popular Korean dish that translates to “mixed rice with meat and assorted vegetables.” The bowl can be served hot or cold, and can be topped with a raw, scrambled or fried egg.
Miranda Lewis opened the rice bar in May on Hewitt Avenue with her aunt Vivian Kwak, who Lewis lovingly calls “Auntie.”
“Most restaurants that serve bibimbap cater to the Korean people, but we were wanting to introduce this to the American people,” Lewis said. “This is going to be the new fad.”
At K Fresh, you get to customize your own rice bowl, not unlike building your own sandwich at Subway or your own burrito at Chipotle. You can order a hot stone bowl ($12.99) or a cold to-go bowl ($10.99). Hot is only available if you dine in.
“I love bibimbap,” said Lewis, who is half Chinese. “I used to go all the time out to Korean restaurants and eat it. The stone bowl is such a cool experience. It’s like it makes it taste better. It’s pretty awesome.”
Choose between white or brown rice, then whether you want beef, chicken, jackfruit bulgogi or faux beef, followed by your choice of five Korean-style vegetable mix-ins — keep reading for a list of those — and, lastly, your pick of spicy, mild, sweet or tamari sauce (which is like soy). If you don’t want rice, you can make yours a salad bowl.
There are a dizzying 15 toppings to choose your five from, although you can get more for 99 cents each: broccoli, carrots, spinach, pineapple, fried tofu, stir-fried zucchini, shiitake mushrooms, edamame, mung beans, kimchi, cucumber salad, daikon radish, sesame-roasted garlic, kelp noodle salad and egg. If you choose egg as a topping, make sure you specify how you want it.
A fried egg is an extra $1.50. It’s not one of your five picks.
Mark knew what he wanted to order. He had a hot bowl with white rice, two servings of beef (add $2 for more meat), plus shiitake mushrooms, egg, kelp noodle salad, daikon radish and spinach.
“I’d stick with one meat,” he said. “Two meats added to the price, but really didn’t seem to make the dish any more enjoyable.”
I couldn’t decide on toppings, so the helpful Sierra Yeager behind the counter recommended her favorites. My hot bowl was half beef, half chicken over white rice, with cucumber salad, radish, kelp noodle salad, mung beans and egg on top. They were good choices.
We would have both ordered kimchi, but they were out.
Mark and I didn’t clarify that we wanted to top our rice bowls with a raw egg, that would then be cooked by the sizzling heat of our very hot stone bowls. We were served scrambled eggs, which are displayed with all the other toppings. Oh, well. Next time we’ll know.
That very hot stone bowl? Make that very, very hot. K Fresh’s stone bowls sit in a wooden box to prevent burns. Your dish will stay hot throughout your meal. Expect to blow on every bite. The rice at the bottom of the bowl will brown and get crispy-crunchy — which is arguably the best part.
“I loved the rice that was cooked to a golden-brown crisp in the bottom of the bowl,” Mark said. “I scraped up as much as I could with the long-handled spoon.”
Lewis is proud to point out that K Fresh is a gluten-free, dairy-free and nut-free establishment. “I am lactose-intolerant, I went vegan for a little bit and my mom’s friend is gluten-free,” she said.
If you want dessert, there is soft serve ice cream ($2.99) or a milkshake ($4.49) — both are made with coconut rather than cow’s milk. Vanilla ice cream is topped with optional chocolate sauce. Or add raspberry, strawberry or mango fruit for 99 cents.
Milkshake flavors at K Fresh are chocolate, mango, mocha, matcha, strawberry or raspberry. I picked chocolate to go with the coconut ice cream and, just as I had hoped, the shake tasted like an Almond Joy, one of my favorite candy bars.
Lewis’ mother, Elaine Kwak, is the owner of Red Rock Subs, the award-winning sandwich shop on Broadway. Lewis served as manager of the shop for five years before opening her own restaurant. Before that, she worked there making subs.
Kwak remarried when Lewis was 6. Over the years, thanks to her blended Asian family, Lewis has become a huge fan of bibimbap — and she has the scar to prove it. (She burned her lower arm on a hot stone bowl, hence the wood boxes at K Fresh.)
“My dad is Chinese, my stepmom is Thai, Mom is American and my stepdad is Korean,” Lewis said. “I grew up with so many different Asian foods.”
Auntie Vivian Kwak, who is Korean, is in the kitchen. She makes all of the vegetable sides or mix-ins (banchan) from scratch, save for the pineapple.
In fact, it was Auntie’s idea to start the business. Auntie had been talking for years about wanting to make and sell banchan, but Lewis persuaded her to take it a step further and serve bibimbap — “It’s the same thing, just add rice,” Lewis told her.
Her mom, who has been in the restaurant business for 16 years, warned Lewis about the investment: Don’t expect to turn a profit for at least six months. But that hasn’t been the case.
K Fresh is a hit in Everett.
“After all the renovations I had to do, I had no money left,” Lewis said. “But the people in the community really wanted to have this food, and because of this, we’ve been able to save money.”
If you go
K Fresh, 1105 Hewitt Ave., Everett, is open 10:30 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. Monday through Saturday. Call 425-212-9863 or go to www.hellokfresh.com.