Over the past few years, Korean food and "fast casual" dining have been trends on the rise, both in Baltimore and around the country. It was only a matter of time before a fast-casual Korean restaurant popped up in the city.
Brown Rice is that spot. Opened earlier this year in a convenient location on Charles Street in Old Goucher near Charles Village, Brown Rice marries Chipotle-style ordering and preparation with the appealing spicy and savory flavors of Korean food.
It's a combination that works. Thanks to friendly faces behind the counter and great food, Brown Rice is a very likable — and fairly quick — dinner option.
Scene & Decor The space is deep and narrow with a long counter running half the length of the dining room, starting in the middle and heading to the back, where it stops at a cash register just outside the kitchen door.
Up front, a few tables, plus stools at a bar in the window, are available for diners. During our Wednesday night visit, the place was consistently full, though most of the people in the long line took their orders to go.
The clientele was a diverse mix of young and old, student and family, with a few Baltimore police officers added to the crowd. Most seemed to have been to Brown Rice before and, despite the long line, everyone waited patiently.
Appetizer The menu includes multiple options for bibimbap — a rice bowl topped with protein and vegetables — alongside several soups and other Korean specialties.
One of those, the seafood scallion pancake ($9), made a lovely appetizer (and would also have been a satisfying entree). The eggy pancake was packed with vegetables, shrimp and twisty squid and served with a funky and sweet dipping sauce.
The pancake was well-seasoned, with good flavor, but we were most impressed with how carefully both the seafood and the egg were cooked.
Entrees During our visit, most of the crowd ordered bibimbap bowls, which were assembled and customized at the restaurant's long counter. We chose the Be Bowl ($6.75-8.75 for 16 ounces), which comes with a choice of rice, protein and up to five toppings, plus sauces.
We mixed our brown rice with nicely seasoned, spicy pork then topped the bowl with radish kimchi (one of several kimchi options available), green beans, caramelized onions, spicy chives and bean sprouts for crunch. A squiggle of the trendy Korean hot sauce gochujang gave the dish an extra jolt of heat, though mixed with everything in the bowl, it wasn't overpowering.
Our combination was a good one — a little sweet, a little spicy and a lot savory. But next time, we'll experiment with other toppings. There are too many options to stick with our first effort.
The short ribs entree ($14.95) came with rice and three sides. We chose mushrooms, spinach and traditional kimchi. We liked the sides, which were tasty on their own, not just mixed with meat and rice in a bowl, and the short ribs themselves were showstoppers. Nicely cooked and gorgeously seasoned, we found ourselves nibbling on the bones even after the meat was gone.
Drinks Though BYOB is an option for diners at Brown Rice, and there is no corkage fee, we didn't spot anyone taking advantage of the policy. Most diners quenched their thirst with bottles of water or soda instead.
Desserts Brown Rice does not currently serve dessert, though we were told it may be added to the menu at some point.
Service Most of the diners we spotted stuck with the bowls ordered at the counter, so they were on their way with their meals just after ordering and paying. Because we ordered two items that were made in the kitchen — the seafood and scallion pancake and the short ribs — we got to see both sides of the restaurant's service.
Everyone we encountered was smiling and helpful, even when we stumbled through our initial order, and once our meals from the kitchen were ready, they were delivered to us at the front of the restaurant.
The only downside of the process was that our timing was off. Because the food from the kitchen was prepared to order, it came out about 10 minutes after the Be Bowl was ready.
In the future, we'll take that into account when ordering. One visit for bowls, the next for meals from the kitchen. It'll give us an excuse to keep going back.
Nearby reviews: Dish Baltimore - Charles Village & Waverly