Today is opening day for Bandoola Bowl in Georgetown, which brings the neighborhood a 2,000-square-foot venue for protein-packed salads spiked with fish sauce.
The two-story venture (1069 Wisconsin Avenue NW) represents the first fast-casual business for the family behind Burmese destination Mandalay Restaurant, which debuted in Silver Spring in 2004. Burma, the Southeast Asian country northwest of Thailand, is now known as Myanmar.
“We’ve never done fast-causal as a family ... my wife is saying this is so weird for her,” restaurateur Aung Myint says of the new shop.
The opening lineup includes 10 bowls, and the shop will run limited hours (10:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m.) to start. Shweji, a Burmese semolina cake, is the sole dessert on the menu for now.
“We want to do stuff comfortably at first then slowly add more seasonal selections and ingredients,” says Myint. He worked with his mother, Mandalay’s head chef Hla Hme, to develop the recipes for Bandoola Bowl’s menu.
Thinly sliced or chopped vegetables and shredded cabbage act as a base for toppings and toss-ins like fried garlic and shallots, crispy yellow split peas, chopped peanuts, and sesame seeds.
Sour, tart, and umami flavors of fish sauce play up each bowl’s star vegetable, fruit, or protein. At Bandoola, those include broccoli, raw shredded ginger, fresh green papaya and mango, roasted pork, grilled chicken, steamed shrimp, and lightly fried tofu.
The design is inspired by the same colorful ingredients filling up its bowls, with framed pop art interpretations of sliced onions and julienned papaya. A jumbo patterned print on a whitewashed brick wall near the ordering counter resembles a halved head of cabbage.
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Myint has always dreamed of debuting a Burmese brand in Georgetown, having noticed a dearth of Asian restaurants in the neighborhood while consulting at I-Thai on M Street NW.
“I’ve always been drawn to Georgetown — I love it,” he says. “Most tourists who come into the city are looking for Asian options, and there are very few in Georgetown.”
Bandoola Bowl will soon be joined by Chinese noodle shop, Reren Lamen & Bar, along the same strip. Other additions to the neighborhood’s dining scene include Dyllan’s Raw Bar, Reverie, and American Eats Tavern. Georgetown is showing more physical signs of life as of late; The C&O Canal is filled with water for the first time in years.
While there’s no alcohol flowing on-site, Bandoola Bowl’s beverage menu features some intriguing options. A friend introduced Myint to Found, an award-winning, flavored sparkling water that’s only offered by a small sampling of D.C. restaurants. He says the elderflower and watermelon basil pair nicely with salad bowls. There’s also Boylan Soda and Japanese ITO EN teas. The fridge near the register houses pre-prepped bowls to-go.
The restaurant will be available on delivery apps eventually, Myint says. He thinks 16 seats upstairs is plenty for its first locale, which encourages lots of take-out orders.
Diners can opt to assemble separate bowl components in the store or at home. A pictorial near the counter explains the four-step DIY process: sprinkle and spread dry ingredients; pour dressing; close, shake, and mix well; and wait five minutes to eat for the best result. Recyclable bowls are each made with a locking mechanism for transporting multiple salads easily.
“We will digest this one first but my hope is to have a few more,” Myint says. “I think the city can take a few of these.”
Sauces pull from Burma’s neighboring countries: a Thai papaya dipping sauce is spiked with red chile flakes and fish sauce, and there’s also a Vietnamese sauce with sriracha, vinegar and fish sauce. Kunakorn Sangkhankaw, Myint’s right-hand man in almost all of his restaurant projects, is Thai and helped integrate flavors from his native country at Bandoola.
Hme’s green thumb also helps build out the bowls. She tends to 100 pounds of a proprietary Burmese-Thai hybrid pepper in her backyard, harvesting the chiles used in condiments and naan breads that come with each bowl.
Seasonal specials like coconut curry chicken soup and other savory sides are coming soon.
Bandoola Bowl is named after general Maha Bandula, who fought against the British in the First Anglo-Burmese War in the 1800s and was known for riding elephants — an animal that makes several appearances across Bandoola’s branding materials.
The stairwell leading up to its compact dining area is a walk down memory lane, showcasing the family’s first taste of D.C. while Myint’s dad was a diplomat for four years at the Burmese embassy. Other framed photos of his grandparents, daughter, niece and nephew also line the wall. Myint came back to Burma at age 9, staying there until he relocated back to Maryland in 1989.
Dealing with an aging building had its setbacks from a turnaround perspective, taking 16 months to convert the former spice shop into Bandoola Bowl. Permitting took about 10 months, structural needs took about three months, and construction and inspection ate up the remainder of the time.
D.C. is getting another Burmese restaurant soon. The owners of the Toli Moli Burmese bodega in Union Market are opening Thamee next month inside the former Sally’s Middle Name space on H Street NE.
Status: Certified open. 1069 Wisconsin Avenue NW; website.