Fast Food isn’t going away anytime soon. Nor should it. Sit-down meals are a great and necessary part of life, but so is a quick meal when you’re short on time and money.

These days, we seem to have more time for the latter than the former. Such is life in Silicon Valley. The trouble is that greasy, unhealthy, industrial fast food dominates the quick-meal landscape. But Palo Alto’s new Asian Box offers something different.

Asian Box’s executive chef is Grace Nguyen, a former chef at San Francisco’s Slanted Door and Out the Door. Based on flavors from Vietnamese and street-food traditions, Asian Box offers quick, fresh and flavorful boxes of food.

Yes, boxes. Whether you eat inside the Spartan dining room at the central communal table, outside on a metal table or in your car, all the food comes in a brown, compostable paper box. It’s basically the rice or noodle bowl concept served in a box. It’s easy to see more locations popping up and indeed two more Bay Area restaurants are in the works.

The ingredients Asian Box uses are several steps above what you find at the vast majority of fast-food restaurants. The produce is locally sourced, much of it organic or sustainably produced. The meats come from sustainably minded purveyors like Niman Ranch. The shrimp comes from the Philippines, but is farmed with ecologically sound methods, the restaurant says. 

On weekdays at noon, the place is mobbed by Palo Alto High School students who cross the street from their campus to the Town and Country Village mall to grab a fast lunch, testament to the Asian Box’s fast-food concept. But the crowds move in and out rather quickly. People eat and go.

To order you get a few choices: rice (brown or white), noodles or vegetables; beef ($8.25), pork ($7.75), chicken ($7.25), shrimp ($8.25) or tofu ($6.95); and vegetables (steamed or stir-fried) and sauces. The choices are limited, but mixing and matching gives you a number of options.

I liked the coconut curry tofu with vegetables and the lime-basil shrimp with the rice noodles best. The curry is mildly sweet and rich without being too gooey or cloying. While a serving of three shrimps seems a bit stingy, they are plump and well suited to the caramelized, tangy citrus seasoning. The noodles are made with a light mushroom broth, which adds another layer of flavor.

If you need something more than a box of food, Asian Box makes decent spring rolls ($3.25) with shrimp or tofu and “jungle jerky” ($2.75), beef jerky with Southeast Asian spices.

Drinks ($2.95) include Vietnamese iced coffee, a rather watery mint/green tea and lemon-lime marmalade.

It would be great if we lived in a world where we could all enjoy leisurely meals at home or in restaurants all the time, but we don’t. Asian Box fills the need for high quality, fresh food served in a hurry quite well. 

Asian Box
855 El Camino Real (Town and Country Village), Palo Alto