Ekiben in Fells Point has been slowly but surely snowballing in popularity in the city. It’s unique take on sandwiches and rice bowls has quickly endeared itself to the locals in and around Baltimore. Spearheaded by its three owners who are local UMBC alums, Ekiben has capitalized on the city’s desire for something new, exciting, and most importantly different.
Being a UMBC alum myself, I’m thrilled that they and the restaurant are thriving. UMBC is often derided by it’s own students as “U Made a Bad Choice” mostly because the school and it’s student populace usually seem to be singularly focused on academics. The end result of that environment is that there is little to no student life and many students just commute from home, while the University has worked hard to change that mentality among the students, that’s still the overwhelming opinion among a lot of folks. I’d disagree with the mantra of “U Made a Bad Choice” rather I think people sometimes go to UMBC without the right expectations, if you’re there to learn it’s a great school. If you’re there for the typical college experience, yes, you did make a bad choice. But the owners of Ekiben seem to slot into the experience that I found at UMBC. Which is an experience that if you meet the right people, you can forge a strong bond with folks who you’ll remain close with for the rest of your life.
The guys at Ekiben started out as a stand at the Baltimore Farmer’s Market and slowly turned that momentum into a brick and mortar location which sits right on Eastern Avenue. The location is Spartan in its decor, bare stainless steel counters intermingle with random drawings and photos on the black metal wall. The restaurant is more of a counter-style sandwich shop where you place your order, they call your name, and you pick it up. This style of eatery is honestly my favorite, there’s no pretentious BS to get in the way of the most important thing, the food. If your food sucks in a location like this you wont survive, fortunately for the Ekiben crew the food does not suck (in fact it’s really good).
Ekiben is a bento box style boxed meal/lunch that is served in and on trains in Japan. The food at the Ekiben is similar in style, the sandwiches are served on steamed buns that are piping hot or atop a bed of warm white rice. I highly recommend the steamed buns, it’s the best way to truly experience Ekiben. The menu is just a couple of options so there’s not much room for you to make a bad choice. The prices are reasonable, not cheap but also not cost prohibitive.
We ordered the neighborhood bird and the Korean pork belly/shoulder sandwich. The neighborhood bird is a chicken thigh that is breaded in an assortment of Taiwanese spices and then served with pickled veggies and a delicious spicy sambal mayo. It’s gigantic and it’s served piping hot so wait a little bit for biting into it unless you want to leave with a scorched tongue. Once your sandwich has cooled ever so slightly, dive in and enjoy the delicious ride. The steamed bun is the perfect squishy vessel to carry you on this epicurean journey, it holds everything together without getting soggy somehow. Meanwhile the fried chicken itself is incredibly juicy and flavorful, the array of spices in the breading make for a different tasting fried chicken that reminded me of the chicken I ate when I was a kid. Meanwhile,the sambal mayo and pickled veggies compliment the fried chicken perfectly, making for a sandwich that is a perfect 10.
The pork sandwich was advertised as a pork belly sandwich but I wasn’t quite sure it wasn’t more shoulder than belly, either way it was still delicious. It was a hunk of pork that is smothered in a sweet and spicy Gochujang sauce. Again the steamed bun is the perfect vessel albeit it’s slightly sloppier than the neighborhood bird sandwich. Be preapred to use your napkins here as the Ekiben sandwiches are not for those who don’t want to get a little messy.
Overall, Ekiben is a standout restaurant in a sea of generic city sandwich shops that offer the same thing. Ekiben is the perfect embodiment of today’s generation, it taps into a diverse background of cultures to ultimately deliver an American classic, the sandwich. With creative menu design and delicious cuisine, Ekiben has the potential to be a Baltimore fixture for a long time.
Final Grade: A+
Food: Fantastic, the steamed buns are fantastic and probably one of the best sandwiches you can find in the city, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the Aloe based sodas (they’re good don’t be afraid).
Parking: None, you’ll have to fend for yourself on the nearby streets.
Pricing: Average, about $9.00 for a sandwich