First Look: Topped

This spot serves modern Korean cuisine in Chinatown.


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Topped, a new Korean restaurant in Chinatown, serves modern takes on traditional dishes, including this bi bim bap.
Photos: Stephanie Kim

 

Located between Smith and Maunakea streets is Topped, a new Korean restaurant that boasts it has the best bi bim bap in Honolulu.

 

Topped, which opened in Chinatown in February, started out as a street vendor at King’s Village Farmers Market in Waikīkī back in 2015. After some success, the owners decided to set up their first brick-and-mortar establishment in Chinatown.

 

The interior of the restaurant is clean and modern, with high ceilings, dark colors, an outdoor patio and bright string lights at the entrance and out back, welcoming you inside.

 

On a recent weeknight, the restaurant was empty. We were led to a table in the middle of the dining room with a view of the kitchen where you can see the owners, a wife and husband, along with two others. Our server tells us that lunchtime is typically busy, while dinner service has been slowly picking up.

 

The server was attentive and helpful—but we were the only customers at the time. But, even if it were busy, there’s a call button at the end of every table so you can notify your server when you need something.

 

The menu is simple, focusing on two key dishes, along with small plates for appetizers. For beverages, there’s a selection of beers, soju, Korean wine and canned soft drinks. For starters, there’s mandoo, tofu kim chee and an ‘ahi salad, $9 each, or the popular jeon sampler for $10. The restaurant’s two main dishes are bi bim bap, a Korean mixed rice dish, either traditional ($13) or with your choice of meat, such as kalbi ($18), bulgogi ($16), or spicy pork and chicken for $15 each; and ssam, which means “wrapped” in Korean and refers to a Korean lettuce wrap dish, which comes with your choice of either kalbi ($22), bulgogi ($20) or spicy pork ($18). All main dishes come with unlimited house-made kim chee, pickled radish, miso soup and the banchan of the day, along with your choice of white or brown rice.

 

We ordered the jeon sampler to start. It comes with a selection of six different mini Korean pancakes in different flavors: tofu, kim chee, green onion with squid, shrimp with paprika, zucchini, and corn. Each pancake was neatly lined up and colorfully assembled with a side of dipping sauce that was sweet and light, which paired well with the fried pancakes (which weren’t oily). The dish featured a nice variety of flavors—our two favorites were the kim chee, which wasn’t too spicy, and the sweet and buttery corn.

 

The jeon sampler, with six different Korean mini pancakes.
Photo: Catherine Toth Fox

 

For our main dish, we ordered what the owners say they’re best known for: bi bim bap. We decided on kalbi as our choice of meat, and white rice. The bi bim bap came with base toppings—egg, shiitake mushroom, cucumber, carrot, raddish, cabbage, bean sprouts, nori and sesame oil. You can order specialty toppings, such as jangorim butter ($15), which is a combination of braised beef, daikon, onion, nori, butter and egg; or kim chee with Spam ($14), stir-fried kim chee and Spam with nori and egg. If you like, you can order your dish to come in a stone bowl, which is supposed to make the rice crispy, for a dollar more.

 

The bi bim bap is brought to the table with the dishes, and you can add house-made gochujang sauce, a wonderful rendition with a touch of sweetness and good amount of spice to it, that sits in a large bottle on the table with a bottle of house-made dipping sauce. After adding a generous heaping of gochujang sauce, we mixed up our dish to coat and incorporate all the ingredients. Each bite was filled with flavor—from the marinated kalbi to the sweet and spicy sauce. The vegetables were fresh and added a nice crunch to the dish. Everything about the dish felt clean. Nothing was oily, too spicy, too sweet or too salty.

 

The bi bim bap at Topped is its specialty.

 

It’s safe to say that scraping the bowl and finishing off our sampler was a sign of our enjoyment. Feeling quite full, we opted out of ordering dessert and stuck with the cold plum tea that’s served after finishing your meal to aid digestion and serve as a palate cleanser. If you’re feeling up for dessert, try the choco mandoo: three pieces of mandoo stuffed with chocolate, banana and macadamia ($5).

 

66 N. Hotel St., open Tuesday through Saturday 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 5 to 10 p.m., Sunday 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. (closed Monday), (808) 369-1991.

 

The 2018 Hale ‘Aina Awards ballot is now online! Vote for your favorite restaurants now through June 30 for a chance to win dining certificates from our Hale ‘Aina winners. Click here to vote now. Winners will be announced at the Hale ‘Aina Awards Ceremony on Sept. 17. Stay tuned to this page for updates.

 

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