3600 Hixson Pike, Suite 104
Chattanooga, TN 37415
11 a.m.-10 p.m.
11 a.m.-11 p.m.
11:30 a.m.-10 p.m.
An epic dining experience: world-class service, décor and menu options.
A superior dining experience: high-quality attributes you’ll want to come back for again and again.
A solid dining experience: great characteristics but also some minor issues.
A mediocre dining experience: may have a few good highlights but major flaws.
A terrible dining experience: stay far away unless it’s the only place left to eat to avoid starvation, and even then, question if it’s worth it.
Right across Hixson Pike from a great Asian market I like to visit sits a restaurant called the Rice Boxx, which I had wondered about while stocking up on my own supplies but had never been to. I had also previously not met fellow Nooga.com humor columnist Sean Phipps, so I brought him along to check it out. And with us two getting together, this evening was sure to go bananas.
Atmosphere and service
My Rice Boxx experience began with some whimsy before I even walked in the place. There was a spritely little girl on roller skates who seemed to be racing me to the door. Although I had a brief “Chariots of Fire” moment, rather than breaking into a full sprint, I decided to let her win-being nice, of course.
“Welcome,” she said, as she held open the door for me. And my puzzlement suddenly became clear. Phipps was already there and had gotten a table. He was familiar with the place and had gotten to-go orders there from time to time. He said the roller skate girl sometimes answered the phone, which threw him off at first talking to a little kid, but she had gotten the order right and even rang him up when he came in with no problem.
The interior of the restaurant was an average size for a strip mall, but it had large mirrors on the walls that made the place feel open and bigger than it was. The décor was simple and modern with some Asian influence. It had warm colors and lighting with Asian folk music playing in the background. It was a relaxing atmosphere, but .
“The bathroom and hallway back there are crazier than any Asian massage parlor I’ve ever seen,” Phipps said. Although I’m unsure of the number of Asian massage parlors Phipps has visited, I had to see this.
As I walked into the back hallway, I was immediately transported into some kind of psychedelic, flashing, multicolored light path to pee. The men’s bathroom was sleek with fluorescent blue lighting and looked more like a nightclub-or massage parlor-bathroom than the relaxing, folksy reverie in the dining area. It just seemed totally random compared to the rest of the restaurant.
The menu is quite random and all over the place as well, covering Chinese, Thai and Japanese dishes. A menu this large made me a bit skeptical. However, the pricing was reasonable at $6 to $10 for entrées-with some of the sushi a little pricier.
There were just a few tables this Thursday evening, but the server was busily checking on my table and others, cleaning around the dining area and helping at the front counter. He was friendly and seemed to be keeping himself busy. After ordering, the dishes came out quickly, just as we were finishing the previous courses.
We led off with the “Shanghai shrimps” ($5.50). These were jumbo shrimp (a quasi-oxymoron) butterflied, battered and fried. The batter was moist and crispy and not overly greasy. The shrimp were plump and juicy, and the sweet-and-sour sauce was sweet and sour-you’ve had this sauce before.
Next, we snagged some sushi-picking from the crazier part of the sushi menu with their “fusion rolls”-and went for a banana roll ($12.50). This roll was a droll, frolicsome carnival of cream cheese, eel and cucumber wrapped in nori and sticky rice and topped with banana and eel sauce.
This roll was juggling flavors like a jester with a jocular sweet, creamy and savory rotation that all came together in a palate-pleasing taste spiral, rotating around as it gradually subsided. One ball was dropped, however, as the spicy tuna it was supposed to be topped with-according to the menu-wasn’t present. Wasabi was served to the side to add a spicy, bitter element to the rotation, and ginger was on the plate to cleanse the palate between each roll.
When the main dishes came out, the first dish I sampled was the calamari Thai green curry ($8.95) with onions, carrots, baby corn, zucchini, peppers, coconut milk and basil, served with white rice and a spring roll. The coconut milk base had small heat waves pulsing through this sweetly creamy and savory curry concoction. The veggies had a nice, slight crunch.
The word “calamari” actually comes from the Latin word “calamus,” which means “reed pen.” Not only do squid have ink, but their bone-like structural support is called the “quill.” What better dish for a writer? OK, quelling my nerdiness and getting back to the review .
When squid isn’t cooked correctly, it basically turns to rubber, and I’m sure you know what I’m talking about because it happens often-if you are familiar with eating squid. This calamari was a little firm and soft at the same time. I’ve certainly had softer squid, but this was not bad. It took on the fanciful flavor of the coconut curry mixture, and the steamed rice was soft and firm with the kernels not sticking together, adding more body to the sauce.
My vegetarian selection for this evening was the hibachi tofu ($7.25) with broccoli, zucchini, mushrooms and onions in a soy sauce. It was served with a mayo-based white sauce on the side, and I opted for fried rather than steamed rice with this dish ($1.59 extra). The tofu had a meaty flavor and consistency with the rich soy sauce soaked into its firm soy base. A fairly simple, straightforward dish, it was well-cooked and highly enjoyable.
One practice that happens in some Asian restaurants is recycling leftover steamed rice from the day before to make fried rice the following day. This did not seem to be the case here, as the fried rice still had the fluff of the steamed rice on the previous dish, and there were no slightly hardened kernels hiding out in the mound.
It was, again, straightforward fried rice cooked with egg, onions and carrots in the same soy sauce as the tofu and hibachi veggies. The silky white sauce added a creamy, tangy component if one so desired.
For dessert, we went for the fried banana dish ($3.75). These crispy tempura-battered and fried banana pieces were drizzled with chocolate and strawberry sauce and topped with whipped cream and a cherry. The flaky batter with the soft banana was pleasing and not overly sweet.
My fortune cookie read, “A pleasant surprise is in store for you soon”-and I actually had a pleasant surprise happen a few days after this meal, so, thank you, fortune cookie message writer. However, and I’ve actually pondered this for a while, why do these cookies always have to contain good fortunes?
A bad foretelling now and then could create some suspense while cracking open the cookie other than hoping for one with hilariously broken English: “An unexpected financial burden is approaching” or “Make copies of this fortune and give it to five people or you will die” or “You should really visit your doctor for a checkup soon” or, with some good broken English thrown in, “You car about to break and mechanic charge you more to fix more stuff no broken.” Something. Hit me up, fortune cookie companies, I’ve got you covered.
I am giving the Rice Boxx 2 stars for good food, good service and a relaxing atmosphere in the dining area-with a farcical, dance club-style bathroom area. While spanning different Asian cultures with some Americanization, the food is affordable and higher-quality than you will find in many Asian restaurants in this price range. With the broad range of selections, you will find something to please most anyone in a group-other than some food snobs, but those people are annoying anyway. Phipps and I had a good time and a good meal, and I’d certainly eat here again.
Roman Flis is a wandering writer, focusing on Chattanooga’s food scene. You can find him on Facebook and Twitter or contact him at [email protected]. The opinions expressed in this column belong solely to the author, not Nooga.com or its employees.