I first visited Bando Korean Restaurant back in the early 1990’s, about a year after leaving the Army. Back then Bando had recently left their old digs for new ones right by the newly opened BMV branch on Pendleton Pike. The restaurant was and is conveniently located near the Finance Center located on Fort Benjamin Harrison. It was bright and shiny with a small sushi bar located on one end. The Dol Sot Bi Bim Bap was to die for and I loved everything on their diverse menu.
Back then the restaurant was hopping, both during lunch and dinner. It was always busy and filled with a diverse crowd of people. The last time I visited the restaurant before today was back in 2000. I took my then fiancé there to introduce her to some fine Korean food. We had a great time that night and although it was her first experience eating an Asian cuisine outside of buffet Chinese, and the food was spicier than she was used to, she loved it. The variety of Kimchi and other salads served with the meal was a delight for the taste buds.
Alas, such was not the case today when Jeff and I walked into Bando’s for lunch. The first thing I noticed is the area the BMV branch once occupied has been replaced by a Korean nail care salon, an independent thrift store and a clothing shop. The opaque film on the restaurant windows has begun to delaminate in places. Only later do I realize it is telling sign of what is to come.
As we walk in we’re greeted by a diminutive Korean lady who walks us up to a platform that encompasses the area where the Sushi bar was once located. The restaurant is empty except for a lone diner sitting in a window seat. In the far corner there is a table where it seems the one floor staff member sits while waiting for customers to come in. I can hear what seems to be a Korean soap opera coming from the speaker of a smart phone on the table.
I take a better look around. All the tables have been replaced by Korean BBQ tables, you know the type, there’s a circular stainless steel grill in the center of a Formica top. Even the tables that don’t have exhaust hoods above them have a grill in the middle of them. The only difference it seems is the fan isn’t plugged in. The side trim was coming off of our table and it didn’t look like any attempt had been made to repair it.
There is a distinctly worn feel and look about the place. There’s a Coca-Cola stand up cooler just as you walk in with beer and other drinks in it. The overall impression is of a restaurant that has seen better days. A short conversation with our hostess/waitress informs us that the restaurant has been owned by the same family since it opened nearly 30 years ago.
Because there was essentially just the two of us in the restaurant, the service was adequate, but if there’s a sudden rush it is easy to see that the lone cashier/hostess/waitress would be quickly overwhelmed. Still she was pleasant and was willing to give a recommendation off of the lunch menu when asked.
There are issues here as well. As we walked towards our table, the first thing I noticed was the odd smell emanating from somewhere near us. It wasn’t food, and it wasn’t waste, it was just odd, and didn’t belong in a place where people eat. As we sat down I put my hand on the wooden top of the low partition behind my chair and it felt sticky, not sticky like someone spilled a sugary drink sticky but grease sticky, like when you clean the hood above your stove sticky.
I took a better look at the surroundings. Looking up, I could see the ceiling tiles needed a good cleaning or better yet, replacing. The vents had little strings of brown dust hanging down. A closer look at the sides of the hoods above the BBQs showed grease stains and drips working their way down the sides. The carpets looked worn.
A quick trip to the men’s room revealed stained tiles and an overall condition that could use a good scrubbing with disinfectant. Actually in my humble opinion, the whole restaurant could have benefited from a thorough cleaning.
After describing the ambiance and cleanliness you might think I didn’t want to eat. The fact is though, I am here primarily to rate the food. So here it goes. Jeff ordered Yakitori as an appetizer and I ordered the Scallion pancake with seafood. For the main meal Jeff ordered Bulgogi, and based on the waitress’s recommendation I had the Squid Sauté. For drinks I had a large Asahi beer out of the cooler in the front of the restaurant and Jeff ordered a Diet Pepsi.
The appetizers showed up fairly quickly. The Yakitori was decent, little bits of grilled chicken and scallions skewered on bamboo sticks and brushed with a Teriyaki glaze. The chicken had been dusted with corn flour to give the chicken a light crispy crust. The Scallion pancake with seafood, the most expensive item on the lunch menu at $14, was tasty. The advertised seafood; however, was mostly absent with the odd tiny morsel of what seemed to be squid in the half of the pancake I ate.
The waitress brought out eight small dishes of assorted salads and Kimchi pickles. There was a chewy Teriyaki Tofu, Seaweed, boiled bits of potato drenched in Teriyaki, Soy bean salad, Cabbage Kimchi, Cucumber Kimchi, Soybean Kimchi, and an Herb salad. All the offerings were good save the Cabbage Kimchi. It was way too salty. Jeff and I enjoyed the Cucumber Kimchi the most. I was very happy to discover this at least had not changed.
Then the entrees arrived. From a lunch menu you expect the servings to be smallish, but these servings were positively minuscule! Both dishes arrived with a very large mound of rice but a very small portion of what we were paying for. Jeff’s serving of Bulgogi consisted of 8 to 12 small thin pieces of seasoned beef. My squid dish seemed to have more large rice noodles in it than squid. Minuscule portions aside, the flavors were spot on and while the waitress had warned me that the Squid Sauté was spicy. It wasn’t nearly as spicy as she had warned me it would be.
The Juicy Bits
Bando Korean Restaurant is a once popular place that has definitely seen better days. While I enjoyed the flavors, the portions were skimpy and mostly filler. The freshness and preparation of the food was very good, and perhaps if we had gone for dinner I wouldn’t be complaining about serving size. Also, if you are counting on the website to give you an accurate depiction of the menu, forget it. I don’t think they’ve changed the website menu since they added the BBQ.
One last word, if I weren’t just rating food this restaurant would get no rating or possibly worse. Although the taste and quality of the food warrants one piggy, the ambiance and cleanliness could have been much better and I honestly would not recommend going here. As it is, much would have to change before I thought of going back.
In summary; while Bando Korean Restaurant’s food warrants one piggy, I don’t recommend going here because of the ambiance and cleanliness of the joint.
Bando Korean Restaurant
8015 Pendleton Pike
Indianapolis, IN 46226
Tel: (317) 897-8277
Hours: Sunday-Saturday (11:00 a.m. – 10:00 p.m.)