When I went to the grand opening of Firewheel last week, there weren't any restaurants open yet (save for the Barnes and Noble cafe, the restaurant-osity of which I wasn't aware until earlier this week, when Zack tipped me off about the Grilled Chicken on Foccaccia Bread sandwich...mmm!). Actually, the Rice Boxx may have opened that first day, but not in the 10:00 hour when I was there. But now that I knew for sure that it was open, it was time to check it out--tonight.
Of course, any somewhat-fast-food Asian place will, fairly or not, be compared to my beloved Panda Express, which I tend to visit several times a week. But Rice Boxx, a local effort that's been around for eight years, certainly stands on its own merit. The concept is a bit different; you still stand in line to order from the counter, but you're given a beeper that goes off when your food is ready, and, while the food comes to the table on trays, it's also served on real plates and eaten with real silverware--a nice touch.
The line was insanely long at around 7:00 tonight, a fact that could definitely be attributed to both the newness of the town center and the fact that none of the other restaurants have opened yet. It was a bit cramped in there, as the line actually winds through a small section of tables, and I was somewhat dismayed when the second cashier suddenly abandoned her post, leaving but one to handle the entire throng. But these glitches notwithstanding, the service was fast once I got to the register, and it didn't take too long for my beeper to go off, especially considering the size of the crowd.
I tried one of my favorites, Kung Pao chicken. The portions were (like at most Asian restaurants) quite generous. Although (at just a shade over nine bucks) it was more expensive than Panda, I did take the "combo option" of getting an egg roll and drink, which was only a little bit more than adding the drink itself. The rice was very good, and the entree itself was delicious, with a different spicy sauce than I'm used to, big chunks of chicken, and some of those fiery-hot peppers (red, in this case) that had me scarfing down my tea. I also had the good fortune (heh) of sitting right next to the cookie bin, which was filled up regularly, prompting many to have more than one. (My fortunes for tonight read, "Good news of a long-awaited event will soon arrive" and "Romance comes into your life in a very unusual sort of way." [Yeah, let's hope for both of those.] The fortunes also have lottery numbers on the back, which I plan on entering for the next Powerball or Mega Millions.)
The atmosphere is nice and open, with raised ceilings and exposed ductwork, and there's a decent amount of room at the tables; I sat at one of those that shares a long sofa-like chair with other tables, but I didn't feel cramped at any time, even with an oversized party at the next table (by this, I mean more people than the table was designed to hold and not that I was sitting next to really large people). There are also several outdoor tables with umbrellas (of which I'll take advantage when in a group setting; when dining solo, I read, thus needing the indoor light) which put the diner close to the action of the newly-created cityscape that is Firewheel.
So, while the slightly higher prices and longer waiting times won't keep me from lovin' the panda at lunchtime during the school week, Rice Boxx is a great addition to the mix and a place that I'll definitely visit again and again. The cool places just keep coming and coming here; Garland, you are a retail wasteland no more.
Let the competition begin: Surfing the Rice Boxx website while researching this post, I noticed this clever dig at one of their competitors: "There's no reason to PAY-WAY more than you need to for a great dining experience. Try us today!" Seeing as how Pei Wei is itself coming to the adjacent Firewheel Market development, it should make for a lively rivalry...and even more choices for us.
A cool way to get around in a cool place: Most of the mall security officers at Firewheel ride bicycles, but tonight I saw one tooling around in a Segway. Sweeeeeet...
Everybody was Kung Pao fighting: There was a great conversation going on behind me between a father and son while I was in line for my food tonight...
DAD: Do you know what you want yet?
DAD: Look, they have Kung Fu Chicken!
KID: Dad, that's Kung Pao Chicken.
KID: It wouldn't be very appetizing to call it Kung Poo Chicken!
DAD: I didn't say Kung Poo Chicken, I said Kung Fu Chicken.
DAD: I guess I'm having trouble reading that far.
(For what it's worth, I thought the dad said "Kung Poo Chicken" as well.)
UPDATE: This mispronunciation/play on words is obviously nothing new; a few seconds of Googling found a drawing of "Kung Fu Chicken" and even a food item with that name.