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Thaibox is Casual and Fast--But It Could Be a Lot Faster If It Wasn't in Allen

Just getting there is far and away the biggest challenge.

Not only is the fast, casual ThaiBox located in Allen, which is directly north of Plano off Central Expressway and therefore a considerable haul for most Dallasites, but the place is situated in The Village at Allen, a monstrous outdoor mega-mall that makes the Galleria look like a strip shopping center.

If you're smart, you'll use the handy little map found on their Web site www.thaiboxusa.com, otherwise you may find yourself driving down endless streets and byways in a seemingly hopeless search for the place. My wife and I were nearly at our wits end when we finally spotted the modest establishment directly across the street from The Village Depot, which is a classic red caboose complete with working train whistle.

Walking in, we were greeted by a tiny (about 40 seats) but very friendly place. Think a pint size Pei Wei but with better food, and you've got the idea. ThaiBox borrows the sushi joint concept of having you fill out a checklist before presenting it to a smiling counter attendant, who then gives it to the chef to prepare while you gather drinks and wait at your table with your beeper.

First-time diners might be confused, as each of the menu's 10 sections has its own sheet to fill out, so that you will most likely have to fill out and present multiple sheets to be able to complete your order. Luckily, as with many of the new fast casual burger joints, ThaiBox lets you customize your order to suit your tastes.

For example, I love good curry and was intrigued by the Padang (Red) Curry, a soupy, spicy melange of Padang curry paste, peanut sauce, carrots, bell peppers, green peas, and rich coconut milk. I chose beef for my protein (chicken, shrimp, and tofu and veggies are also available) and fried rice (instead of steamed or brown) for my side. The resulting dish was surprisingly fresh, with a sweet kiss of chili nicely balancing out the heat, an entrée not only far superior to anything I've had at Pei Wei, but better than many curries at most full service restaurants.

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My spouse can't seem to get beyond the Pad Thai section of the menu in these kinds of places, but no worries here. Stir-fried rice noodles were expertly blended with egg, crushed peanuts, chicken, bean sprouts, green onions, and sweet and sour sauce to give her (and myself, when she graciously let me have a few bites) one of the best Pad Thai experiences she's had in a fast casual restaurant. Here again, freshness is the key, and since each dish is made to order, you know it hasn't been sitting on a buffet steam table for three hours, congealing into a cold mess while it waits for the

next lucky--or unlucky-- diner.

Service is very gracious, and while I wouldn't necessary recommend making the long drive to Allen just to dine at ThaiBox, it would certainly make a marvelous quick meal before watching an Allen Americans hockey game at the event center just around the corner. Or better still, wait until they open a ThaiBox near you. Future expansion seems likely, and while ThaiBox and their fresh brand of Asian fusion won't be giving Nobu cause for concern, they do seem poised to give Pei Wei and other fast casuals types
run for their money.

ThaiBox
The Village at Allen, 190 E Stacey Rd, Suite 1410
Allen, 75002
972 678-4BOX

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