Attention, archeologists of the future: If you find yourself sorting through the rubble of post-America, trying to figure out what led to our downfall, here's a tip — check Burbank.
While not exactly a cultural touchpoint on its own, Burbank has of late become ground zero for a very particular sort of warfare: the box versus the bowl. And it's exactly this high-level, shape-specific fighting that's going to tear this society apart at the seams. Or, at the very least, make choosing a quick service midweek lunch option that much harder.
Smack in the middle of downtown Burbank is Asian Box, a recently opened Palo Alto import that specializes in rice bowls — err, rice boxes — along with chilled rice noodles, a slew of quick-fired protein options and a few vaguely Southeast Asian vegetable choices to toss the whole thing together. The shop is already a Bay Area hit, and has long had expansion plans in the Los Angeles area.
Except, and here's where people start grinding machetes on their lawn The Purge–style, there is ALREADY a San Francisco–linked quick service rice bowl spot that's popular with the lunch crowd — the Chipotle offshoot known as ShopHouse Southeast Asian Kitchen. Both give folks an assemblage of grains, proteins, vegetables, sauces and add-ons to choose from. Each likes to spout off about its fresh produce and sustainable business practices while professing a love of simple noodle and rice bowls like those found in Thailand, Vietnam and Singapore.
Any other difference between the brands is superficial at best. Asian Box strikes a more rustic feel inside its simple space, while ShopHouse is as sleek and modern as all but the classiest Chipotles. Bonus points for Asian Box offering sides such as spring rolls (ShopHouse doesn't have any) and a larger repertoire of vegan options, and big ups to ShopHouse for that notorious wall of usable Sriracha bottles.
But where the pair truly deviates — hold on to your TPS reports, office drones, because this is important — is in the shape of their sustainable, reusable containers. See, Asian Box uses a box for its offerings, while ShopHouse uses a bowl. The debate is as deadly as it sounds.
For now, both sides are surprisingly good-natured about the box-versus-bowl debate, but the simmering tensions on either side are definitely just under the surface. Better start stocking up on instant ramen, because once this whole thing goes off, the only ones left alive will be the office workers who just go to Subway on their lunch break.
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Asian Box: 116 E Palm Ave., Burbank; (818) 563-4269.
Want more Squid Ink? Follow us on Twitter or like us on Facebook. Farley Elliott will be among the first to die in the bowlpocalypse. For now, he writes about food, drink and entertainment at OverOverUnder.com.