Yesterday we read some really disappointing news: Chipotle is planning to abandon ShopHouse, their fast casual Southeast Asian line. There aren't any ShopHouse locations in NYC, but we visited the Dupont Circle shop multiple times during our short visit to DC earlier in the year (which is also conveniently where we were up to in our DC trip recaps). We had heard about ShopHouse before Chipotle ever launched the line (mostly due to Pure Thai having to change the Shophouse in its name to Cookhouse), but never got to try it until this year. Sadly, it sounds like this means they'll never make it to NYC.
ShopHouse is modeled after Chipotle but with Southeast Asian ingredients and flavors. The bowl starts off with your choice of base - rice (jasmine or brown), cold rice noodles, or salad. Next up is the protein - chicken, meatballs, steak, or tofu. After that, you pick one vegetable (corn, green beans, or some seasonal choices) and a sauce (curry sauces or others). There are also a bunch of garnishes and toppings that are not limited to one, stuff like papaya salad, pickled vegetables, herb salad, toasted rice, crispy garlic, crushed peanuts, and chiles. After visiting Chipotle for so many years, we were pretty familiar with the format (except for the part where they limited you to one item in certain categories).
On our first visit to ShopHouse, we both got brown rice bowls. M got brown rice topped with chicken satay, the seasonal vegetable special of butternut squash with Thai basil, green curry sauce, all of the salad toppings, toasted rice, and fried garlic. A got all the same garnishes and toppings on his bowl but also added the chiles to his, which was brown rice topped with the pork and chicken meatballs, green beans with chili jam, and red curry sauce. We were so happy with our bowls, and after finishing, immediately wanted to go back up to get another bowl. Not so much because we were still hungry, but because they were that good. It was the perfect dinner after a day of traveling since each bowl was packed with vegetables and other healthy ingredients, and they were so full of vibrant flavors.
Even though we weren't in DC for very long on this trip, we found time to make a second visit to ShopHouse a couple of days later. We really wished there were one in NYC, but since we knew there wouldn't be one, we wanted to make sure we got some more of those delicious bowls. This time, we both got the meatballs because they were our favorite the first time. M got the green beans (her favorite vegetable from the first visit), and A got the charred corn (which we hadn't tried yet), but otherwise we stuck with the same curry sauces, garnishes, and toppings as the first time. The bowls were a little smaller than the first time, but we weren't as hungry, so it was fine. We were just really happy with how tasty everything was, and the flavors themselves were just like what you might find in a regular sit-down Southeast Asian restaurant. Not what you would expect from an American chain, but we mean that in the best way.
Considering that Chipotle has now publicized that they didn't see the results they wanted from ShopHouse, it seems unlikely that someone will step in to save the day and pick them up, but we're hoping that maybe we're wrong about that. There have been so many nights that we've sat at home, wondering what to eat for dinner, trying to find something tasty and nutritious and well-balanced and flavorful, and we've just wished we could wander over to ShopHouse, except that there isn't one here in NYC. It's a shame that Chipotle has chosen to drop them and instead focus on pizza and burgers (is that not a saturated enough market?). Have they not noticed the popularity of all the poke joints or the Indian fast casual places? It seems like, at least here in NYC, people have an interest in Asian fast casual flavors, or at the very least, something different from the usual Chipotle meals. Sad that we'll likely never see a ShopHouse here now.