For almost 10 years, the Behrend family has been at the forefront of providing San Antonio with vegetarian options. The journey began in 2007 with the opening of Green Vegetarian Cuisine off Flores and now includes a bigger flagship location at the Pearl, a north side version at Alon Market, a Green in Houston, Earth Burger, their fast-food vegetarian eatery at Park North most recently Bok Choy. Obviously, they’re doing something right.
Opened in May of this year, Bok Choy is the Cece’s stir-fry manifested into a restaurant: by no means authentic, but bearing enough veggies that you’ll leave feeling less guilty than if you’d opted for a burger and fries. The space is utilitarian and kitschy without dipping into eye-roll territory. You’re there for the quick-service fare (no doubt the systems have been perfected through its predecessors), but do notice the massive chopstick wrapper that serves as anchor for the restaurant. It’s just plain fun.
The menu is simple enough to navigate, though still extensive and growing. On the sides and appetizer front, spring for the Vietnamese fried spring rolls, which are a must. Hand-rolled and stuffed with an almost surprising amount of shredded carrots, potatoes, and mushrooms all still bearing a toothsome snap, the spring rolls are served in pairs with bright orange duck sauce that can, and should, go unused. The cheese Rangoon, delivered both a pliable crunch and creaminess not often found in other variations.
Though we can argue that most Asian restaurants in the city can offer vegetarian options, the question of whether there was a real need for a place like Bok Choy is essentially moot. What Bok Choy adds is an alternative to Beijing Express when you’re craving beef and broccoli without having to wonder why your tab is so cheap, in other words, Americanized Chinese and Thai in a familiar setting. The rest of the menu — broken down into rice, bowls and entrees — is fairly straightforward.
After sampling the River City Ramen early on, I decided the fortified miso broth wasn’t for me. A shoyu or straight miso broth would have been preferred, or maybe I just missed one of my favorite parts of ramen: chewy, gelatinous fish cakes, but the ramen was a hard pass. I can sing the praises of a pad kee mao, or drunken noodles, which was garlicky and served steaming hot in a traditional to-go carton. It retained its heat through my drive home and even after digging in to the mound of wide noodles (cooked al dente), fragrant thai basil, tender bell pepper, chunks of onion and fried tofu. And it was plentiful — I ate the rest for lunch the next day.
Though I had resisted ordering any of the faux meats offered at Bok Choy, I took a gamble on the beef and broccoli for later visits. As my go-to staying-in movie-night order, the bar was set relatively low, but Bok Choy’s version pleasantly surprised. The texturized vegetable protein used creates a chewy, but tender nibble, and the “brown” sauce toes the line of soy-filled and too salty while effectively covering the carrot slices and broccoli florets that accompany the dish.
But when it comes to Vietnamese, I struggled to make sense of the barbecue beef bún. Though heaping with vermicelli (a tad dry), Romaine lettuce shreds, carrots, mint and lemongrass, the use of vegan fish sauce left me befuddled. I kept trying to place the ingredients used, and ended up with flashbacks to going on a juice cleanse (the process of making most vegan fish sauces calls for some sort of seaweed). The bowl has a solid foundation, but the sauce took me out of the moment.
I’ll stick with the basics and keep enjoying my movie-night-for-one snacks. Far from mind-blowing, the fare at Bok Choy falls in line with Green’s palate-pleasing offerings and we shouldn’t expect anything else.
The Skinny: The Green Vegetarian family of restaurant opens a plant-powered Asian eatery with solid results.
Best Bets: Beef and broccoli, pad kee mao, spring rolls
Hours: 11am-9pm Sun-Thu; 11am-8pm Fri