Regrettably named, fast-casual, Vietnamese-ish restaurant Asian Box has opened its first S.F. location in Macy's Union Square. The Peninsula-based chain, which is often described as an "Asian Chipotle," has popular lunch locations in Palo Alto and Mountain View. The new, 70-seat dining room replaced Wolfgang Puck in the basement of Macy's Union Square. It has plenty of room and a soon-to-be-opened beer, wine, and cider bar, with a kitchen helmed by Chef Grace Nguyen, last seen in S.F. at Charles Phan's Out the Door.
The majority of the menu is built around the "Asian Box," basically a mix-and-match rice or noodle bowl. To build their box, customers choose their base (cold rice noodles, jasmine rice, brown rice, or vegetable salad), protein (six-spice chicken, lemongrass pork, garlic- and soy-glazed beef, coconut curry tofu, or lime-basil shrimp), sauce (housemade sriracha, fish sauce, tamarind vinaigrette, hot sauce, peanut sauce, and "Asian street dust" made with sugar, salt, and spices). Toppings run the gamut from fresh herbs to fried scallops.
We skipped the stress of ordering a custom box and ordered the "Miss Jones" ($9.55) -- noodles tossed with lemongrass pork, wok-tossed veggies, fried shallots, peanuts, shredded carrots, diced cucumbers, and a caramelized egg. It was totally fine, with bright flavors and lots of fresh veg; not something we'd seek out if we were craving Vietnamese, but if we happened to find ourselves starving in Union Square or Macy's, it would definitely do the trick.
The chain plans to expand with three more locations outside of the Bay Area (Los Angeles, reports Inside Scoop) by the end of the year. It might face competition from the real "Asian Chipotle," the D.C.-based ShopHouse owned by the burrito giant, which is rumored to be coming to San Francisco by mid-2014.