It’s hard to imagine there could be anything better than Chipotle. But if you’re a fan of the way the Mexican grill chain does business, you’ll be happy to know that the company has an Asian-inspired iteration called ShopHousejust down M Street. The second Washington, D.C. location — and the third in the world — is the perfect option for students in the area.
With quick service, locally sourced products and low prices, it’s obvious why this newer style of “fast food” is gaining traction. It’s a testament to the company’s commitment to bringing the best possible choices to their customers that they’re able to pull off the complex tastes of Southeast Asian cuisine just as well as they’ve mastered Mexican food in Chipotle locations.
But perhaps a distinguishing quality ShopHouse can champion over Chipotle is the lightness of their meals. The portion size and balanced ingredients offer a thoroughly satisfying meal without leaving you ready for a burrito-induced nap.
Admittedly, if you’re looking for typical Southeast Asian fare, you’d be better off visiting a sit-down establishment like Mai Thai. However, ShopHouse doesn’t disappoint by generously using flavorful spices and seasoned meats and vegetables. The menu is inspired by street food and takes on a more vibrant flavor than what you might be used to.
You might also notice a missing piece in the utensils offered at ShopHouse: chopsticks. However, this is an intentional omission that hearkens back to how such street food is consumed in Thailand: with forks instead of chopsticks.
The name ShopHouse draws from the name for older colonial buildings in cities like Hanoi, Vietnam, and Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, that housed family-run fast-food kitchens and markets below living quarters on higher floors.
The almost industrial atmosphere of Chipotle is mirrored at ShopHouse in the assembly-line style of preparing food and in the Spartan decor. The comfortingly familiar process begins in choosing a base for your Asian-inspired creation. Cold rice noodles, brown rice, jasmine rice or lettuce are topped with succulent chicken satay, steak, meatballs or tofu.
“We like to say we’ve got the best tofu in the city,” Service Manager Michael Perez said. And he’s not kidding — ginger, tamarind and cilantro round out an option that will cause vegetarians to rejoice and some carnivores to convert during their trip to ShopHouse.
You could add some dimension with vegetable choices of sweet corn, green beans, broccoli or eggplant. Only one is included in the price of your order, but you can supplement your meal with a second option for an extra dollar. While these ingredients might already have your mouth watering, the integral component in ShopHouse’s success is the sauces. Pick one to suit your mood, but you can’t go wrong between the slightly sweet and citrusy tamarind vinaigrette, the coconut-based green curry and the fiery-hot spicy red curry. Don’t forget the range of garnishes and crispy toppings, which include tangy Green Papaya Slaw and Singaporean-style pickled vegetables.
While the food and service at the M Street location are nothing short of spectacular, the newly-opened spot still has a few kinks to work out. Seating is admittedly better than Chipotle’s limited selections, but it is still hard for larger groups to find a place to eat comfortably. And because the location is a longer walk than many students are willing to take for a solo meal or for pick-up, groups may become a more common feature at the restaurant. Mix-ups in the ordering process may simply reflect the adjusting period of a new staff, and it may take a while for them to reach the level of efficiency we’ve come to expect from Chipotle.
However, those small issues aside, ShopHouse is a unique addition to an otherwise limited student diet. Mix and match their bold flavors until you find your favorite creation. At around $8 for a generous serving of food, make sure to grab some friends and head down for a satisfying, new experience with Southeast Asian street food.