The Urban Outfitters of restaurants
Shojo stands out as a moody, flavorful Chinatown gem
Modern Asian, $$
9 Tyler St
Boston, MA 02111
Monday–Wednesday, 5–11 p.m.
Thursday, 11 a.m.–11 p.m.
Friday and Saturday, 11 a.m.–1 a.m.
Shojo is an eclectic experience nestled amongst the boba shops and classic Chinese fares in downtown Chinatown. Even on a Thursday night, the line extends outside the door, highlighting the popularity of this modern Asian restaurant-bar. Graffiti style artwork covers the walls; the dark lighting matches the energetic, close quarter ambiance; and the loud, rhythmic hip-hop sets the tone. With its moody vibe, Shojo is definitely the new hip restaurant in Chinatown.
The menu is somewhere in between Asian and contemporary American. Featuring unique dishes such as its famous duck fat fries, Shojo puts an interesting and modern twist on traditional Asian food. The selection is small but constantly changing, offering a variety of tapas-style food that pulls inspiration from a range of Asian cuisines and on-trend street foods. We sampled the restaurant’s vegetarian options, which are somewhat limited but very flavorful.
Our first foray into Shojo’s relatively limited menu began with their fried green tomato bao. Although they were small, they definitely packed a punch. The texture of the crispy fried green tomatoes and that of the soft bao bun unexpectedly complemented each other. The spring pea aioli had a hint of sour spice yet managed to be refreshing and flavorful without overpowering the other flavors and textures. Topped with the marinated onion and fennel salad and cilantro, the baos were our favorite item of the night.
Our second dish was the sesame charred greens: a small mountain of bok choy, white onions, celery, and shallot. Considering that the majority of the dish was vegetables, it was surprisingly flavorful; with a soy sauce-based seasoning, sesame seeds, lemon zest, garlic, and black pepper, the greens managed to bring a sophisticated and well executed taste. The lightly charred flavor of the vegetables blended with the simple sauce nicely. Towards the bottom of the dish, though, we noticed a big difference in the saltiness of the greens — the thin sauce had collected at the bottom, so that while our first few bites had a nuanced flavor, the final ones were almost swimming in a soup of soy sauce.
After the rich bao buns and charred greens, the kimchi fried rice initially seemed like a let down. The comparatively large serving of sunny egg, green onions, bean sprouts, and cabbage on a bed of kimchi jasmine rice had a hint of spice — enough to add a kick but not overpowering, which seemed to be a signature of all Shojo dishes. The traditional kimchi flavor was rather diluted at the top and the rice was hard and sticky. This unusual dichotomy of textures did not seem to work as well as the bao buns. However, as we kept eating, the flavor of the rice grew on us, either because the flavor was at the bottom or because the spiciness had been layering on our tongues. Either way, the kimchi fried rice is definitely a dish that tastes better the more you eat.
Next was the Miso Hungry which, in spite of the brilliant name, was definitely our least favorite dish of the night. Upon taking a bite, our first impression was that the noodles had a very strong eggy flavor thanks to the duck yolk. The dish was very simple; the pasta was tossed in a creamy sauce and topped with scallions and crispy parmesan which overall really let the flavor of the egg shine. The toppings provided a nice relief from the noodles, which had a chewy texture that bordered on being slimy, and once the toppings were finished we were slightly less excited to keep eating. The Miso Hungry certainly wasn’t inedible, but it requires a specific set of egg-loving taste buds.
Shojo is famous for its fries — both the duck fat hand-cut fries and the shadowless fries. So, although we were absolutely stuffed, we knew we had to try to them. And they were so worth it. Served in a Instagrammable basket on a little butcher board, with a side of sriracha aioli, the duck fat hand-cut fries were crispy on the outside and soft on the inside. Not soggy, not oily, and not overly salty, the fries somehow managed to be extraordinarily flavorful. Before the fries came out, I had thought I could not eat another bite. But, we polished off the entire basket within five minutes, which speaks to how amazing these fries truly were.
Five dishes were a bit much for our stomachs, but we didn’t regret them at all. In hindsight, three to four dishes is enough for two people, even though the portions are tapas-style. Overall, we loved Shojo. It’s pricey but a great place to go out on a Friday night with a group of friends or coworkers. The food and ambiance definitely make it worth the trek over to Chinatown — for vegetarians and meat-lovers alike.