Nestled within Foggy Bottom’s bustling Western Market, the newly opened Bandoola Bowl is bringing a bite of Burma to foodies in the District.
D.C. is no stranger to the create-your-own restaurant concept, boasting restaurants like Sweetgreen, Chipotle and Cava among others throughout the city. But Bandoola Bowl, a local small business, brings a refreshing, new cuisine to customers – a plethora of customizable, Southeastern Asian salads.
The Myints, a third generation Burmese family, opened Bandoola Bowl as a spin-off of their original restaurant, Mandalay, which opened in 2000 in Silver Spring, Maryland, to introduce the District to a taste of Burmese culture. The family’s first Bandoola Bowl location opened in the heart of Georgetown in 2019, and they opened their newest location in Foggy Bottom this summer, which is soon-to-be on GWorld, adding to the host of new Western Market vendors.
The stand is eye-catching and aesthetically pleasing, complete with a sleek wood trim and a delightful elephant logo, drawing in individuals intrigued by the lively storefront.
As I entered the line, I was immediately greeted by an enthusiastic and welcoming employee, Yo, who led me through the different menu options. Customers can choose between four bases – salad, rice and spicy or wheat noodles – before either choosing one of the 10 salad possibilities or creating their own.
I opted for the suggested menu option – the chicken salad with a spicy noodle base ($13) – because it sounded like a fresh, filling choice, but Bandoola Bowls also offers a multitude of various meat, vegetarian and vegan protein options. I decided to top mine with their Burmese dressing – a delectable combination of citrus and fish sauce, which is also offered in vegan form.
Throughout the entire bowl-building process, Yo took extraordinary efforts to ensure that I was getting a dish that I would enjoy. From offering samples of different dressings to checking if I had any food allergies or preferences, he went above and beyond to create something splendid. The entire Bandoola Bowl staff took steps to be as accommodating to any dietary restrictions or allergies as possible, but did note some cross contamination may occur.
After Yo finished the initial preparations of the bowl’s assembly, he sent it back to the kitchen where Aung, another staff member, combined the ingredients with the Burmese dressing before presenting it all to me at the register. Bandoola Bowl also sports a number of drink options, like rose water lemonade, and a traditional Burmese semolina cake called shweji ($5) – which of course I had to try.
The first bite of my bowl took me by surprise in the best way possible. The diverse abundance of flavors from the plentitude of vegetables – red bell pepper, romaine, tomato, onions, cabbage and cilantro – brought my taste buds to life. I was hesitant to order the Burmese dressing with my bowl, but in the end, I am so thankful I did. The citrus and fish came together in a vinegary, salty, yet slightly sweet way. Although seemingly contradictory, the two distinct flavors mixed together to create a mouth-watering sensation. The tangy dressing juxtaposed the sweet vegetables that filled my bowl in a divinely delicious way.
The vastly different tastes and textures of the bowl complemented each other exquisitely, leaving me extremely satisfied with each bite. The dish was bursting with flavor, fresh and filling. While it may seem counterintuitive to pair a tangy, vinegary dressing with spicy noodles, sweet vegetables and smoky grilled chicken, the harmonious flavors allowed for a gratifying experience.
Advertised as “something sweet” on the menu, the shweji cake was exactly that. The perfectly round dessert is the perfect, personal size for someone to enjoy as a treat with their meal. As someone who does not have a huge sweet tooth, this miniature cake was a delight. With subtle notes of sweetness from the coconut and fruity bursts of flavor from the raisins mixed throughout, the shweji was decadent and moist without being too heavy. Each bite was airy and light, leaving me wanting more.
Bandoola Bowl embraces simplicity by going back to the roots of their culture to create a cuisine that is bound to impress. Conveniently located within the heart of campus, this small storefront is simply a must-try for any on-the-go GW student looking for a nutritious, satiating meal.