On a sunny corner in San Francisco’s NoPa neighborhood, a mighty lunch rush stuffs Fish in the Box to the gills. A team of four hurries behind the counter, ladling miso soup into plastic bowls. There are just three small tables and a small bar, but couriers making seemingly non-stop appearances at a delivery window while guests discuss app design while feasting on rich chunks of salmon. Owners King Tsui and Yuki Fang, who are both business and romantic partners, say this dynamic energy is just what they hoped to see in their new restaurant. They hope to have created an ideal place for fans of raw fish and fried prawn heads to find a cheap, quick meal.
The two opened the fast-casual Japanese restaurant at the end of June after working in the local restaurant industry for about 20 years. They bought the space at 800 Masonic Avenue eight years ago when it was Amitis Cafe, but they always wanted to reopen their own business. So they flipped the space into Fish in the Box, keeping the sushi burritos, poke bowls, and boba tea they dealt at Amitis — but the new menu additions might set Fish in the Box apart from the restaurants that popped up during the fish and rice craze of the 2010s.
The shop sells bluefin tuna donburi, yuzu truffle chirashi, and boxes packed with tuna, yellowtail, and more. The preparations don’t stray too far from classic donburi, but the eye-catching aspect of these boxes might be the scale: the Deluxe Box, for example, is a $50 powerhouse of ikura, Hokkaido scallops, bluefin negi toro, amaebi, crab, and salmon toro all atop a bed of sushi rice. On the other end of the spectrum, there’s the $15 Mini Salmon Zuke & Ikura bowl, a lovely medley of soy-cured salmon, ikura, and cured egg with rice. “There are so many poke restaurants in the city,” Tsui says. “There are more and more. We wanted to do something different.”
Tsui says the chirashi- and donburi-inspired items on the menu, though not named as such, are a chance for sushi zealots to try something similar at a lower cost (or in the case of the Deluxe Box, possibly more money). Donburi, a Japanese dish of cooked rice beneath meat, seafood, egg, or vegetables, fits in well amongst the ever-growing number of bowl-centric restaurants booming. Chirashi — or sashimi atop a sushi rice bowl with a range of possible various garnishes — fits the trend, too. But Tsui and Fang still sell their sushi burritos, a San Francisco classic style, and even a pair of Japanese croquettes for $7 and chicken karaage for $10. Keeping on Bay Area trend, five boba tea flavors made the transition to the new restaurant, including the $6.45 Ube Galaxy which, fittingly, is a sweet purple drink that would give the Grimace Shake a run for its money.
The menu took a lot of tinkering; Tsui, who was born and raised in Hong Kong, says chirashi and many of the items in the box portion of the Fish in the Box menu are familiar to him and his wife. But he says it’s taking their experiences from abroad and within the Bay Area restaurant industry — Fang worked at Cole Valley’s Kamekyo for years while Tsui worked at Castro’s Sushi Time — and matching a rising interest in various raw fish dishes. Now, they’re finding new fish suppliers to meet those trends while building out their catering opportunities at big businesses including Google and Apple. “First we need to get the cuisine and consistency here,” Tsui says. “We’ve been learning from experimenting. But we’re learning from home, too.”
Fish in the Box (800 Masonic Avenue) is open Monday through Saturday from 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 4:30 p.m. to 8 p.m.