401 I St.
$7-$15 per plate
11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday and Tuesday, 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday, 5 p.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday
If you follow Lunchbox reviews, you’ll notice that they sometimes cluster in parts of town as I see other restaurants on my way to review a particular establishment. Midtown and Spenard have seen review waves, and most recently Downtown is taking a turn in the spotlight.
The Teriyaki Box is an unassuming log-cabin structure at the corner of 4th Avenue and I Street, just south of the city’s state and federal courthouses. While it’s near the businesslike west end of 4th, it’s still just a few blocks away from the tourist-friendly array of gift shops and art galleries that populate much of the street closer to the Downtown core. Parallel parking is limited but spaces can be readily found most weekdays, and I didn’t have much trouble reaching the place on a quiet Thursday.
One of the first challenges diners face upon walking into the restaurant is deciphering its board menu of Asian entrees at the counter, which at first glance is similar to the one at Charlie’s Bakery and Chinese Cuisine in Midtown. Where the version at Charlie’s has stood the test of time largely intact, however, the Teriyaki Box menu has numerous items papered over or hand-labeled as “not available,” and making a selection can feel like reading a ransom note.
Once I had a few minutes to peruse the selection of meats available alongside rice or yakisoba noodles, as well as large “souper bowls” and a small line of sushi, I ordered two items: a Combo A teriyaki box with beef and chicken ($11.50), and a spring roll from a menu section labeled “100% Vegetarian” ($1.50). I then sat down in the simple but cozy dining room to watch the restaurant’s intriguing summer blend of customers, with attorneys eating next to families consulting walking-tour maps, for the 15 minutes or so until I was served.
Of the two meats on the plate the beef seemed to do better from its teriyaki preparation, standing up to chewing on its own; I found it slightly spicier than the chicken, perhaps due to the presence of green onion bits on the meat that the chicken was lacking. Not that the chicken was a slouch, its warm and moist strips of seared meat benefiting immensely from a dip in some of the extra teriyaki sauce left out as an optional condiment, but it didn’t seem as heavily marinated as the beef did.
In addition to a pile of steamed rice, the teriyaki-box combo came with a side portion of a simple salad combining cabbage, carrots and bean sprouts tossed in a thin and sour dressing. I found an interesting counterpoint to the other fare on my plate, its light crispness balancing out the stronger flavors arrayed before me, although I didn’t finish it all because the portions of meat and rice I was served were fairly generous.
The spring roll began promisingly enough, its transluscent exterior layer affording a glimpse of the blend of greens packed within; it came with a small tub of sauce akin to Italian dressing, which tasted great with my first bite. When I went to take another bite, however, I was quite surprised to see a piece of shrimp -- completely unlisted on the menu -- staring back at me from the end of the roll. While I couldn’t fault the quality of the dish, it wasn’t what I ordered and I didn’t finish it, not really being a shrimp guy.
The Teriyaki Box isn’t a bad stop by any means: the prices are reasonable, the service is fast, and the food is good. A few online reviews by users at restaurant websites say the place is under new management and the menu’s changing, which would account for my uneven experience in picking a meal, so I don’t feel inclined to attack its current inconsistencies too severely. Perhaps the best advice would be to keep it in mind, but give it a few weeks to settle down until you know what you’re getting.