Tucked underneath China Pearl, a well-known Chinese restaurant known for its dim sum for as long as I can remember, is a new modern addition to Chinatown that's unlike any other restaurant in the neighborhood.
Shojo is a restaurant that is pushing the edge of cuisine in Chinatown. Founded by cousins Brian and Brendan Moy, who grew up working at China Pearl, Shojo mixes together influences from Japanese, Korean, Chinese, and Western style cuisine to form a modern interpretation of Asian fusion that's fun, creative, and tasty.
The restaurant has already received a ton of recognition, such as Boston Magazine's Best of Boston "Best Chinatown Restaurant" in 2013, Boston Magazine's 50 Top Restaurants in 2014, and Eater's 38 Essential Boston restaurants. In August of 2014, Chef Mark O'Leary (previously from O Ya, JM Curley, and the noodle master maker behind Guchi's Midnight Ramen), took over as executive chef, adding even more of his creative spin on the menu.
I've always been a huge fan of modern Asian fusion, such as David Chang many Momofuku restaurants, Tim Cushman's O Ya, and anything from Chef Jason Doo. Shoju has always been on my "to try" list, with its reasonable prices and really fun looking menu. One afternoon, as we were thumbing through the Reserve app on our phones trying to find a restaurant for Friday night, we saw Shojo and finally decided to reserve it.
The interior is young and hip, with graffiti-like art across the back wall, dark lighting, and reasonably loud music. We went on a Friday night and it was packed. There were tons of people just standing around the bar. Despite the cold weather, every single seat was filled.
Shojo has a nice selection of unique cocktails as well as interesting Japanese beers and whiskeys. Bryan was drawn to the Yakuza Old Fashioned, a twist on an Old Fashioned made with a Japanese whiskey called Nikka Coffey Grain, bitter caramel, bitters, and an orange peel. Unfortunately, that day the restaurant was out of Nikka Coffey Grain Whiskey, but offered to make a slightly altered version using another Japanese whiskey (sorry, I can't remember which!).
It was still delicious, with beautiful caramel notes and a very smooth finish.
We ordered the Suckling Pig Bao ($9) because virtually everyone told us that if this was our first time, we should definitely try it. This version was made with smoked BBQ sauce, kimchi, and jalapeno. Unfortunately, we were quite disappointed with the execution of these baos. Although the flavors were decent, the texture of the pork belly was way too hard and chewy. I was expecting soft, fatty meat that I could chew through. The tough texture made it virtually impossible to bite through the bao in less than one huge bite, making it very messy to eat.
Thankfully, the meal improved. The Duck Fat Hand-Cut Fries ($6) come with an option called "Make it shadowless" ($3) , which is their version of Chili Cheese Fries. Instead of normal chili, however, they add a Szechuan beef sauce that's similar in flavor to the sauce they use in another one of their dishes, Bang Bang Bolognese. The flavor reminded me a bit of Dan Dan noodles or Mapo Tofu, with the distinct flavors of hot bean paste, chili, and tons of umami. The entire decadent plate was then topped with cheese and a sriracha aioli.
It was rich, decadent, but very tasty. It was harder to tell that the fries were cooked in duck fat because the sauce's flavors were so overpowering. Nevertheless, we really enjoyed the fries and polished off the whole plate.
We also got one order of Wu Tang Tiger Style Ribs ($8), named as such because Chef Mark O'Leary was listening to a song by the band while creating the dish. These ribs came topped with Thai basil, crunch shallots, and crushed peanuts. These were good, sweet and savory with a nice crunch from the toppings.
My favorite dish by far, however, was definitely the Chicken & Waffle v3.0 ($13). This has got to be one of the best, if not THE BEST, fried chicken I have ever had in Boston. I've always loved chicken & waffles, but using Hong Kong style waffles as a base takes it to another level. Everything was executed perfectly for this dish. The waffles were airy, crispy, and sweet. The fried chicken thighs were incredible juicy on the inside and deliciously crunchy on the outside. The dish came with a flavorful five-spice butter and traditional syrup.
It was phenomenal. I would go back just for this dish. It is alone worth the trek to Chinatown.
The restaurant has a fun assortment of whiskeys. It's worth talking to the bartender, as we ended up trying a new whisky that was not listed on the menu, the Hakushu Heavily Peated single malt Japanese whiskey. I really enjoyed the smoky yet clean flavors from this whiskey. Only 3000 bottles were produced, and very few for the U.S. market, so it was a treat to be able to try a glass.
All in all, Shoju is a fun place to visit. If I were to come back, I would most definitely get another order of the Chicken & Waffles. I'd be curious to try their "Hand Slapped" noodles. After all, executive chef Mark O'Leary is none other than the famous noodle maker behind the legendary Guchi's Midnight Ramen. I'd probably skip the Suckling Pig Bao, but I may be convinced to try their Pastrami Bao before giving up on their baos completely (maybe it was just an off night?).
If you're afraid of the crowds and waiting in line, consider making a reservation through Reserve. We were given a $25 credit to try the service, and it's pretty seamless. You reserve through the app, which communicates updates and such via text message (or other forms of communication if you prefer). Because Reserve has your credit card number on file, the check is paid through Reserve, which means when you're done with your meal, you can just leave. Tip is set at a default amount, but you can always change it.
If you want to try out the service, you can take advantage of the same promo I had. Use my affiliate code E1AYZQ to get $25 off your first order. Maybe even make a reservation at Shojo!
9A Tyler St
Boston, MA 02111
Disclaimer. I was given the promo of $25 credit from Reserve Boston. If you use my code above, I receive a $5 credit for future use on Reserve. I paid for the Shojo meal myself. All opinions are my own.