If you’ve ever walked into a salad-based restaurant only to be disappointed by soggy lettuce and rubbery chicken, you’re not alone. These "make your own salad" bars sound great in theory, but often fall short of a high-quality meal. In an effort to change the dynamic of a customer-centered dining experience, chef Robert Chan opened his own restaurant, Som Bo.

The perfect alternative to boring food bars is Som Bo, a new restaurant located in the heart of downtown Manhattan. Som Bo uses all of the ingredients you've ever hoped for, has hip music playing at all hours, floor to ceiling windows for the perfect Insta-worthy pictures, and a prime location. Som Bo's inviting interior and fast, but delicious, food are not the only qualities that make it New York City's hottest new food bar hotspot. 

I recently had the opportunity to sit down with Robert Chan, executive chef and co-founder, and Kitty Tsang, co-founder. I learned about everything from the inspiration behind Som Bo and their ever-changing menu, to what’s next, and even some of their regrets.

What is Som Bo?

Ali Romadanov

Som Bo is an Asian Fusion food bar located in downtown Manhattan. Som Bo's menu revolves around build-your-own bowls, where customers choose protein mains, a starch base, and a vegetable side. The menu is set and executed by Robert Chan and the other chefs, but he strives to accept all customer opinions and critiques.

For example, Chan realized within the first few weeks of opening that customers were more inclined to order cod than they were to order salmon, so he changed the protein option on the menu. This summer season, Robert hopes to incorporate strawberries and lollipop kale, a cross between kale and Brussels sprouts, into Som Bo’s menu.

Why Som Bo?

Ali Romadanov

Chan, a former chef at the famed Buddakan and Tao restaurants, says his inspiration for Som Bo came from his own upbringing in Chinatown, and his mother’s homemade school lunches. While other kids were coming into school with standard PB&J sammies, Robert’s mother packed him the lunch that she grew up with: a combination of three treasures—grains, proteins, and vegetables. Som Bo directly translates from Vietnamese into three "treasures".

Robert wants to cook the three treasures how his parents would, but “with no crazy flavors”. Som Bo’s mission is to make Asian food “more approachable through creative combinations with Western ingredients and techniques to craft balanced yet nuanced flavors."

The Food

Ali Romadanov

Business partners Chan and Tsang helped me order my perfect meal when I went to Som Bo. I enjoyed the brown rice with tofu and bok choi, and also sampled grilled steak and sweet potatoes. The ingredients at the food bar change every 30 minutes so I knew that all of my food was fresh. 

The food was seasoned so that it had a flavorful pop, but it was still versatile enough for everyone to enjoy. I would highly recommend the bok choi and tofu for those who are trying Som Bo for the first time, and the sweet potatoes and kimchi apples for a more adventurous option.

Ali Romadanov

I had a great experience sitting down with Robert and Kitty and learning more about their passion project while also enjoying my meal. I would highly recommend Som Bo to anyone that enjoys organic, fresh, food and a customizable meal while still getting fast service.

As for Robert's only regret: the white floors, since they don't fare well in sludgy New York City. As for the future, a possible dessert station inside Som Bo might be heading your way.