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We Tried 3 Excellent Lunch Combos At ShopHouse, The New Asian Chipotle

By Anthony Todd in Food on Mar 30, 2016 4:14PM

Anthony's dish of meatballs, noodles and seared green beans.

ShopHouse, Chipotle's new, Asian-inspired fast-casual spot opened shop in Chicago last December, and we just checked it out. Turns out, it might replace Chipotle as our new counter service go-to.

For this important lunch development, we enlisted three hungry Chicagoist writers to try it out. ShopHouse, like Chipotle, doesn't have a traditional menu. Instead, it's based on combinations—you choose your base (rice, noodles or salad), your protein (chicken satay, steak laab, pork and chicken meatballs or organic tofu) and then top it with veggies, sauces and flavorings.

The menu is a combination of Thai, Vietnamese and Malaysian (this definitely isn't your average food court's Panda Express orange chicken), and the flavors are pleasantly bold and interesting. Here are the three excellent combos we ordered, and our thoughts:

Anthony: Noodles with pork and chicken meatballs, seared green beans, tamarind vinaigrette, herb salad and crispy garlic.

I'm usually kind of down on fast casual asian food, mostly because you can get better food, at a much lower price, if you go to an actual Asian restaurant that doesn't have a menu tested by focus groups. Kudos to ShopHouse, they got this one right. The tamarind dressing is tart and complicated, the meatballs are amazing, and this is the first time I've had green beans that came from a fast food place that weren't revolting mush. My favorite part was the noodles—ShopHouse uses chilled rice noodles, which give each bite a springy texture that makes it really fun to munch.

Mae: Brown rice with chicken satay, all the vegetables (charred corn, seared green beans and seasonal squash with thai basil), green curry sauce and crispy garlic.

I ate this on the tail end of a cold, so some subtler flavors might have passed me by, but my bowl was excellent. The chicken was cooked perfectly and had zero (0) gristly bits, which sometimes crop up even at very fancy restaurants. The vegetables were flavorful, especially the slightly-sweet corn, and the green curry sauce was spicy without causing actual mouth-pain. ShopHouse also seems to have figured out their ratios so no one ingredient overwhelms the bowl: I mixed mine up, and ended up with a little of everything in every bite.

Rachel: mixed salad greens, steak laab, seared green beans, herb salad garnish.

Coming off some very questionable Easter food decisions, I wanted a healthy lunch option. I ordered the mixed salad base, skipped the curry sauces and crossed my fingers that the salad would be palatable—and I was more than pleasantly surprised with the results. Unlike many fast-casual salad options (including Chipotle), ShopHouse's salad base has flavorful (and nutritional) leafy greens such as baby kale and napa cabbage. The shredded pieces of grilled steak piled on top of my salad were chewy but not rubbery, and had an added texture from the toasted rice and dry spices the steak is cooked with. And the charred green beans were easily some of the best green beans I've ever had while eating out. According to ShopHouse's online calorie calculator, should you care about such things, the meal weighs at under 400 calories, so mission accomplished. (Although, full disclosure: I was hungry again by 4 p.m.)

ShopHouse's sriracha wall.

The space on Jackson Street is small and fills up quickly, but we were happy to see that they paid some attention to the decor. Rachel was particular fond of textured walls that looked like hundreds of corks were embedded in them, and Anthony was a bit obsessed with the giant wall o' Sriracha. There's both counter seating and tables, though if you show up right at noon you might have trouble finding a spot.

And in a happy development for stressed out lunchers, ShopHouse also serves beer. During our visit, they had Half Acre Daisy Cutter on draft, as well as a variety of bottled beers. If you're looking for something softer, they carry the full line of Bruce Cost ginger ales.

The cost? Around $10 to $12 per person, depending on how much extra stuff you pile onto your bowl. It's not a bargain lunch, but all of us agreed that we'd be back pretty soon because of the awesome flavors.