Down an alley behind The Avenue in Hampden is not where you would expect to find one of the newest and most popular restaurants among Hopkins students.
But the path less travelled is exactly where you will find the second location of Ekiben, a Fells Point Asian fusion restaurant most known for its baos. These are Chinese steamed buns, stuffed with a myriad of items, like Taiwanese curry fried chicken, known as the Neighborhood Bird, and fried tofu with peanut sauce, known as the Tofu Brah.
Ekiben is now occupying a space that formerly belonged to Tiger Style, an Asian fusion concept by Chef Chad Gauss, purveyor of The Food Market. Tiger Style had received negative criticism from the Asian American community due to concerns of cultural insensitivity.
Although it is now regarded as a Baltimore institution with national recognition, Ekiben began from humble roots. The restaurant started out as three guys selling chicken meatballs out of a hot dog cart at Fells Point Farmers Market.
It grew in popularity as soon as they opened their initial brick and mortar location in Fells, and it became a staple for Hopkins students due to their yearly presence in the food lineup during Spring Fair.
Ekiben is loved for its casual atmosphere and trendy vibe, and it is definitely right in the niche to be a popular college-town spot.
Though the location is new, Ekiben definitely knows their audience. In addition to the hole-in-the-wall location and beautiful mural, are unique offerings that cannot be found at their Fells location.
Added to the menu at their Hampden location are two sides: cucumber salad and a wood ear mushroom dish. As with the rest of their sides, these come with the option to add Chinese sausage.
Another additional new offering is the crispy shrimp, offered only in rice bowl form.
The new side offerings may prove to be an additional draw for many people, as their menu only contains one vegetarian main dish and previously had sparse offerings in terms of sides as well.
All said, their compact menu does allow for more consistent work, and I can always expect the same sandwich every time I go.
In the past two weeks, the most common question I’ve heard on campus other than “How are your midterms going?” is “Have you gone to the new Ekiben yet?”
Their allure is strong and their audience large, and despite little online presence for the new location both within the media and on their website — they don’t even have a phone number or address listed yet — word has spread like wildfire.
Junior Samantha Slack noted that the restaurant can be difficult to locate.
“It’s kind of a hunt to find it, but when you find it, it’s totally worth it,” she said.
The new location definitely lives up to Ekiben’s reputation, in some ways even exceeding the presence of the original.
A more affordable option along The Avenue is always a welcome addition for students on a budget when they venture farther away from Charles Village. One can walk in and buy a steamed bun sandwich for less than $10, and the rice bowls feature extra pickles and double protein.
Especially given the tensions surrounding Spring Fair’s presence on campus this year, a good and affordable food option near campus that is less controversial among the student body than the debate between chicken on stick versus chicken on a stick will be more than welcome.
Ekiben truly has something for everyone and is something all students can agree on as being an asset to the neighborhood and all its people.