Ever since the first ShopHouse Southeast Asian Kitchen opened in Washington D.C. in late 2011, diners have been lining up to dig in at the Asian-style fast-casual restaurant.
ShopHouse is an offshoot of Chipotle, the wildly successful Mexican chain started by Steve Ells in 1993, which now has more than 1,500 locations and has built a huge following selling burritos and other items made to order on a production line with fresh, locally sourced ingredients.
ShopHouse is built on largely the same model. The idea came to Ells after a trip to Singapore and Thailand, and the menu draws on Thai, Vietnamese, Malaysian, and Singaporean cuisines for its recipes.
So far, ShopHouse is confined to just a handful of locations in Washington D.C. and Los Angeles, and while the company announced several additional restaurants in those markets earlier this year, it warned that it wasn't necessarily looking to further expand the concept.
Since there's no ShopHouse in New York, we asked a fan of the chain (full disclosure: my brother) to document his most recent experience eating dinner at the restaurant's DuPont Circle location.
The first ShopHouse opened in DuPont Circle in late 2011. It's located close to one of the city's 300 Capital Bikeshare stations, making it easily accessible to diners, many of whom are regulars. My brother says many of his friends, who are in their mid-twenties and work in government, eat there once a week.
ShopHouse looks a lot like a Chipotle restaurant inside. Customers line up at a counter and choose from a variety of options.
All customers start with a bowl, as there's no burrito or wrap option. Base items include brown rice, jasmine rice, chilled rice noodles, and salad.
Prices vary depending by the protein customers select. Again, there are four options: grilled chicken satay, grilled steak laab, pork and chicken meatballs, and tofu.
You can continue to personalize your meal with the addition of vegetables (broccoli, charred corn, eggplant and Thai basil, or green beans); sauces (Tamarind vinaigrette, green curry, spicy red curry); and toppings and garnishes (green papaya slaw, toasted rice, crispy garlic, and more).
Food is prepared fresh in an open kitchen, much like at Chipotle.
The decor is simple but has an Asian flair, from the soda machine...
To the bottles of Sriracha sauce lining the walls.
There's plenty of seating, though customers can also get their meals to go, with a plastic cover that fits over the bowl.
Given the variety of bases, proteins, and toppings, there are thousands of combinations available at ShopHouse (much like at Chipotle). One combo highly recommended by the staff is white rice, pork and chicken meatballs, broccoli, and green-papaya slaw.
Here's a look at some of the restaurant's bowls, via its Facebook page:
For a hungry 23-year-old, it doesn't take long to scarf one down.
"Among my housemates and coworkers, I'd say ShopHouse has all the appeal of a satisfying meal at Chipotle," my brother said. "You can have it multiple times a week when you're too lazy to cook (which is always), and without some the indigestion you get after eating Chipotle."