In the last seven months, self-proclaimed “fast-fine” dining establishment, Mad Seoul, has made strides to bridge the gap between Korean food newbies and junkies alike. Started by architect-turned-entrepreneur Aaron Kim, the concept behind Mad Seoul is simple: using the most authentic ingredients to make Korean cuisine accessible and understandable to all. 

Humble Origins

Anna Chang

The restaurant itself is designed for the quick connoisseur. Sharp, modern, and minimalistic pops of color from the subtle red and blue abstract art that honors the Korean flag highlights Mad Seoul’s attention to detail. Every table, every ingredient, every employee, and every customer matters. 

One of the inspirations behind Mad Seoul came from the democracy of Bibimbap. It is comfort food for the masses. With its wide array of ingredients, it meets the demands of the majority of people without the need for substitutions. Not quite salad, not quite a carnivorous meal, but rather Bibimbap provides the perfect middle ground. Mad Seoul attempts to replicate that heartiness with a healthier twist, forget the heaviness of dousing your meal in endless amounts of sesame sauce. Mad Seoul is Korean for the nine to five.

The Structure 

Anna Chang

Think Chipotle meets Tender Greens. In a create-your-own style set up, customers are free to customize one of six base bowls. Starting with a base, we add meat or tofu that is followed by toppings and sauce. My eyes, always bigger than my stomach, lit up hearing “more kimchi?” How quintessentially Korean. It must be mentioned that simplicity should not be confused with bland. On the contrary, with less than ten core ingredients in each bowl, Mad Seoul manages to create fulfilling meals that are both healthy and packed with absurd amounts of flavors. Add as much as you like, the portions are heaping.

Kim made it known his favorite is the Classic Bowl—a spin on traditional Bibimbap. Following his advice, I made minimal substitutions to the core recipe. The only changes and additions to the bowl I decided were drizzling spicy gochujang, sesame oil, sesame seeds, and adding heaps of kimchi. Good choice.

#SpoonTip: Simplicity is key. Mad Seoul has thoroughly analyzed the flavor profile of the options in depth. There is not much change that needs to be made. Stay away from substitutions.

What the Future Holds

Anna Chang

Long term, Mad Seoul plans on incorporating more of Berkeley’s famed farm-to-table ideals, collaborating with local markets and producers to bring a more fresh take to the restaurant’s ingredients. Also, Kim would like to expand, adding many more Korean cultural items to the menu. This expansion creates a holistic start to finish the Korean culinary experience. Look out for barley tea and appetizers that will attempt to flush out the familial nostalgia in all of us.

If you’re looking for a quick, satisfying lunch, Mad Seoul on Berkeley’s Northside is the way to go. The no fluff business model makes the customer appreciate the palate of flavors Mad Seoul has to offer rather than relying on flashy culinary embellishments.