Don’t be fooled by Oma Bap: It’s definitely not a chain restaurant. While the sleek, industrial look, and Chipotle-esque ordering may remind you of mass-produced fast food, the taste at Oma Bap is anything but.
Oma Bap is Korean-inspired cuisine from owner Peter Pak, an East Coast transplant who is now cooking his family’s traditional Korean recipes for Seattleites. He moved the restaurant to 12th and Cherry, in the bottom of the Douglas Student housing development, after being unable to negotiate a lease he liked with his Bellevue landlord.
“Capitol Hill seemed like the right neighborhood to move to,” Pak said. “There are a lot of young professionals here and people are interested in trying new foods. I saw this space and knew it was the right fit. It took a little longer to open than I wanted to, but that’s how restaurants are sometimes.”
The restaurant opened its doors last week, but Pak had hoped to start serving food in June. Despite the delay, Bellevue’s loss is certainly Capitol Hill’s gain, since the food at Oma Bap is both fast and delicious.
“There just isn’t a lot of Korean food in Seattle,” Pak told me, the day after he opened the doors to his new restaurant. “There’s a lot of Chinese and sushi and Vietnamese, but almost no Korean. That’s why I kept the menu simple. I want to introduce people to what Korean food is.”
And he’s right: the menu at Oma Bap is very simple, with a focus on Bibimbap. (If you’re wondering, it’s pronounced bee-beem-bop.) Bibimbap is a Korean dish that dates back to the 1800’s and was considered a favorite dish of the royal court of Korea. It’s intentionally presented to show off the colors of the dish, like a work of art.
Bibimbap is a bowl of steamed rice topped with fresh carrots, seasoned bean sprouts, romaine lettuce, purple cabbage, diced cucumbers, shitake mushrooms, cooked zucchini, your choice of protein, and a sunny side up egg in the center. The protein choices at Oma Bap are chicken, spicy pork, tofu, or beef bulgogi. You can then top the dish with a homemade honey-chili paste that brings out all of the distinct flavors of the vegetables.
Other items on the menu include Japchae (jop-chech), a traditional Korean noodle dish mixed with a variety of seasoned vegetables and egg, Kim Chi fried rice, potstickers, and Korean tacos, a nod to Seattle’s love for fusion. Prices range from $7.95 to $11.95, mostly depending on the type of meat you choose.
“Korean food is great fast food because it’s healthy,” Pak said. “We’re sort of reinventing fast food. We don’t fry a lot of things. As you can see, there’s really a focus on vegetables. We make everything fresh every day.”
That freshness is evident when you bite into your bowl of Bibimbap. I tried the beef bulgogi and it was perfect. The vegetables are crisp, the meat is tender and well-seasoned, and the egg yolk was soft enough to ooze over everything, providing that extra dose of richness that makes Bibimbap feel so decadent.
I also loved Oma Bap’s homemade sauces. The chili sauce is like sriracha, but more complex. The potsticker sauce had a great sweet/savory balance.
When I visited Oma Bap, it hadn’t even been in operation for 24 hours yet, but most of the tables were full of customers.
“We’ve only been open one day and so many people are already coming by,” Pak said. “We’re not making any big announcements right away. I want to make sure all of the kinks are worked out before a grand opening. But people are coming anyway.”
Pak looked a little exhausted when he said that last part, and admitted to hardly sleeping for the last week.
“I work about 16 hours a day right now,” he told me. “It’s a lot of work opening a restaurant. Maybe one day I’ll have shorter hours, but not right now.”
Oma Bap has a beer and wine license, but isn’t serving any alcohol yet because Pak says he is focusing on the food first. Right now, the restaurant is open from 11 AM to 9 PM every day of the week.
1223 E Cherry Street