CHIKO Arrives on Barracks Row

The highly anticipated newest addition to Barracks Row, CHIKO, has been described as a fast-casual Chinese Korean eatery.  But to call it “fast casual” is almost a misnomer; as the laid back, small space belies a higher echelon culinary skillset beyond your average lunch spot.  And it’s no wonder – CHIKO is brought to you by the Fried Rice Collective, the collaborative team of chef Scott Drewno (formerly of the Source), chef Danny Lee (Mandu) and co-founder of Matchbox, Drew Kim. Together, they form the new group Fried Rice Collective.

Nestled in the old DC-3 space, CHIKO offers an array of Asian eats that are recognizable and nostalgic, but taste like they’d be at home in a large-concept restaurant.  In other words, the quality-to-cost payoff here is high – none of the more substantial items on the menu is over $18, while most small plates fall around $12. It feels like you’ve won the fast-casual jackpot.

Now, what’s so great about the food? First, if you’re feeling nosh-y, you can get a selection of all $3 snacks on the menu for $15, delivered in small metal bowls, in the Korean banchan tradition. Items include a superb turmeric pickled daikon, Sichuan spicy cucumbers with a delightful kick, chilled littleneck clams marinated in soy sauce and ginger, and – oddly – potato salad? “If you go to Korean barbecue, they always have potato salad, and it’s almost always terrible,” Drewno explains.  “We sought to make a good one.” The potatoes are marinated beforehand and they soft boil the egg, resulting in a creamy, flavorful iteration of the dish. Mission accomplished.

Small plate offerings have the usual dumplings and shumai, but with a bona-fide chef’s touch. The dumpling soup is an Asian riff on traditional Maryland crab soup – dumplings are stuffed with pork and crab and sit in a rich tomato-ey crab broth with wonton “noodles.” The half-acado salad, with radish, almond slivers, and avocado is delightfully crunchy and comes with a slice of crispy fried lotus root on top. Double-fried chicken wings can only be described as double-fried delicious, get them either soy-glazed or dry spiced.

Larger plates continue to elevate CHIKO above your average “fast casual” joint. House fried rice may seem like a standard dish, until you realize the rice is cooked with squid ink and amazingly spiced smoked blue catfish sits atop it. “Orange-ish” chicken takes the usual heavy handed favorite from many a Chinese take-out, and makes it light and airy and incredibly juicy, complemented by candied mandarins. Tender chopped brisket sits on a luscious mound of rice with furikake (a dry Japanese seasoning with sesame seeds and seaweed) butter and a soft egg. “When I was a kid, rice with furikake butter was a comfort food, and I wanted to recreate that,” Lee says.

CHIKO partners with local businesses to execute much of their menu.  The smoked blue catfish is result of a partnership with Ivy City Smokehouse – Drewno experimented with more than 20 dry rubs to achieve the one that ended up on the menu, experimenting until he got it perfect. The chopped brisket is from renowned DC deli Wagshal’s, and a sour orange sorbet on the menu was created with local gelato darling Dolcezza.

You could call CHIKO “fast-casual chef fusion.”  Things  consistent with their fast casual ascription:  the laid-back design with its old-school letter board menu (charmingly missing some letters due to a miscalculation on the letters order by Drewno) ,  food served on metal trays,  and you don’t need a reservation  - for the most part, and here’s where it gets more gourmet: there will be two seatings of four spots at the chef’s counter  where patrons will be able to experience a tasting menu comprised of most of the menu – and these are available by reservation only.

CHIKO is still awaiting a liquor license, but will be offering various adult beverages soon. They will also sell certain house-made items, such as their Chiko salt blend. 

CHIKO, 423 8th Street SE





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