Lines Are Already Forming at Asian Box in Palo Alto

Asian Box's slogan is: "What's in your box?'' In this one, it's Jasmine rice and seasoned, charred pork.

The fast-casual, gluten-free Asian Box in Palo Alto’s Town & Country Village may have just opened last month. But already, lines are forming for this fun, new concept headed by Executive Chef Grace Nguyen, formerly of the Slanted Door and Out the Door, both in San Francisco.

On a recent Wednesday night, when I was invited to come in as a guest of the restaurant, to-go orders were flying out the door.

Unless it’s a nice day, you’ll most likely want to get your food to go, since there’s only one communal table inside the small space. And folks waiting for their food tend to linger right around it. Otherwise, there are a few tables outside, but no heaters.

But since all the food comes in handy compostable containers, it’s a breeze to grab and go.

The newest eatery in the Town & Country Village in Palo Alto.

Order at the counter, then come back to get it when your name is called.

The concept is simple. You choose the base of your box: Jasmine rice, brown rice, Asian vegetable salad or rice noodles. Then, you pick your favorite protein of the five offered, from six-spice chicken ($7.25) to coconut curry tofu ($6.95) to garlic and soy glazed beef ($8.25).

Next, choose either a mix of steamed veggies or spiced veggies. Choose from among nine different toppings such as fresh jalapeno, crispy scallions or chopped peanuts. They are included in the price, so you can get as many as you like. The only topping that is extra is a caramel hard-boiled egg, which is 95 cents.

You’re not done yet, though. You still have to choose a homemade sauce from six different ones. Three of them are offered at no cost (tamarind vinaigrette, Miss Jones’ Sriracha, and no-oil fish sauce). Three others will set you back an additional cost: “Asian Street Dust” (25 cents), “Hot Box It” (50 cents), and Peanut Sauce (75 cents).

Two sides are also offered: spring rolls (tofu or shrimp; $3.25) and Jungle Jerky ($2.75).

Shrimp rolls with two wonderful sauces.

Jerky --  Asian-style.

We tried the shrimp rolls, which were fairly standard with their pliable rice paper exteriors. What added punch were the two sauces alongside. The peanut sauce is really creamy and fresh with a back-note of coconut and lime.  The Sriracha packs a punch here. It’s far hotter than the Rooster brand bottles you see everywhere. All the sauces are made in-house. The restaurant eventually hopes to sell all the sauces for take-home use, too.

Like most Asian-style jerky, this one is softer on the teeth. Unlike others, though, it’s far more savory tasting. It doesn’t have the over-riding sweet hoisin sauce taste of so many others. Instead, as my husband described, it tasted very beefy, almost akin to thinly sliced meat in classic pho.

Housemade beverages that totally refresh.

As we waited for our boxes to be assembled, we sipped on two house-made beverages. The lemon-lime marmalade drink ($2.95) is tangy, sweet and just a touch salty. It puts Sprite to shame, as it’s far more interesting and complex. The iced tea ($2.95) is a refreshing blend of mint and green teas.

For his box, my husband opted for Jasmine rice, lemongrass marinated pork ($7.75) with tamarind vinaigrette and all the toppers except for jalapenos. The pork was tender, with a nice char to it. Mix everything up and you get a little of this, a little of that, in every mouthful.

My shrimp-veggie box with caramel egg.

I opted for the Asian vegetable salad with lime-basil shrimp ($8.25), spiced veggies, all the toppers and the no-oil fish sauce, as well as the caramel egg that had a sweet soy-savory taste going on.

My three shrimp were heaped on a profusion of veggies that included pickled daikon, carrots, broccoli, shiitakes and more.

Asian Box is more pricey than your average hole-in-the-wall Vietnamese joint. But local ingredients are stressed, and their freshness definitely shows.

Nguyen, her husband, Chad Newton (also a chef who is a partner in the business), and CEO Frank Klein, hope to open more Asian Boxes in the near future in the Bay Area.

Me? I wish they could put one in every airport around, because this is the type of healthful food you long for when you’re traveling, yet never seem to find.

Other Places to Check Out in the Palo Alto Town & Country Village: Howie’s Artisan Pizzeria

And: Mayfield Bakery and Cafe

And: Kara’s Cupcakes

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  • Great food! I love the Asian jerky and the shrimp dish.



  • The ingredients do look high quality and fresh. Looks like you get a lot for the money. I like your idea about an airport outpost because these types of food sounds great to take with you on the plane, better than airline food!

  • Everything looks so fresh and healthy. Love that it’s also gluten-free.


  • Oh Carolyn…are they going to open here? The food looks awesome!
    Thanks for the post and hope you are having a fabulous week 🙂

  • I love the concept behind this place! Sounds like something that can definitely catch on…

  • More coming to the Bay Area? Sounds great! I agree about the airport. I used to work near Palo Alto. Wish this was there back then.

  • That sounds like a great idea. I’m sure it will do very well. Happy Easter xx

  • It’s the Asian Chipotle! I was just talking to my husband what an awesome concept that would be – I’d be there at least once a week. Can’t wait for one to open around San Mateo!

  • I actually have been fairly disappointed the 3 times I have tried their food. The problem I think lies in the all the flavors on the meat or tofu and then trying to put more sauces on top of them. The first time I had the shrimp with a sauce and it came out fairly bland. The second time I ordered the tofu and the sauce I picked with it just didn’t match well. I tried the tofu again because hey its hard to find a gluten free quick option but again the sauce was a bad fit and this was after asking for their suggestion of a sauce. I wish they had a grilled tofu that didn’t have a sauce to compete with the other options. I have talked to over 10 people who also were very disappointed. Its a great concept but unlike Chipotle you can pick an option that doesn’t work out great.

  • Sadie S.: That is a good point about the perils of design-your-own meals. I remember when my husband first tried The Counter, where you can pick all manner of toppings for your burger. He didn’t choose well the first time, and had a disappointing experience. After that, he tried again, but this time went for a much simpler burger. He liked it much better. Not every topping or every sauce works well with one another. So,it’s definitely a bit of a trial-and-error experience at places like these.

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