Asian gastropub Shojo’s presence in Chinatown has always been somewhat controversial. In an area with abundant cheap Asian options, Shojo is able to differentiate its brand by serving pricier but arguably higher-quality food. Furthermore, Chinatown is one of the most centrally located neighborhoods in Boston, so it is reasonable to open a “hip” restaurant around the area. That being said, Shojo also validates Chinatown residents’ concerns regarding gentrification. Shojo serves Asian street food, yet it is a far cry from the family-owned, modest and simple Asian restaurants that essentially make the Chinatown we know of today.
Little-known fact among food critics and connoisseurs: the father of Shojo co-owner Brian Moy managed another Chinatown location in close proximity to Shojo. Enter Best Little Restaurant (BLR), a tiny restaurant that utterly captured the essence of Chinatown. Although BLR was beloved by the neighborhood, it also needed a major renovation. That’s when the Shojo team decided to step in and revamp the place. Shojo’s decision to take over BLR might be one of the most exciting developments in Boston’s culinary scene this year, as the reopening has a sentimental value to Shojo owners, Chinatown residents and food enthusiasts everywhere.
The best thing about BLR by Shojo is its decor, which might be best described as anything but subtle. Red lanterns hang from the ceilings and maneki-neko figurines are placed everywhere. Shojo appears to be keen on making the ambiance feel nostalgic and cosy. The sense of cosiness is reenforced in BLR by Shojo’s reservation policy. Technically, you can reserve a table at BLR by Shojo through the Reserve app, but the place also encourages walk-ins. This is starkly different from Shojo’s reservation policy, in which guests have to reserve a spot almost a week prior in order to dine.
The food of BLR by Shojo is what sets the restaurant apart from the original BLR, though. The menu is small and simple, but it features mouth-watering dishes that are reminiscent of Shojo’s Asian fusion street food. The appetizers are categorized into three groups: cold, hot and starch. The delightfully soft-roasted bone marrow, served with scallion pancakes and seafood, stands out the most. Chilled tofu noodles with mushrooms are a great option for vegetarians seeking a little spice in their food.
The mains offer a larger variety of options. The honey-walnut shrimp from the seafood section is perfect for those with a sweet tooth. A true standout is Chen’s famous veggie mapo tofu under the veggie section, which has the potential to make the most ardent of carnivores fond of tofu. The place also serves HeySong Sarsaparilla sodas, which taste like a combination of cola and root beer.
In terms of prices, BLR by Shojo is not as steep as Shojo, yet it is definitely costlier than a standard Chinatown venue. However, the portions are quite large, and one main course is enough to leave one feeling full. Although there are certainly cheaper options, none come to mind that are able to serve the fusion extravaganza this venue offers.
BLR by Shojo is the perfect way for Shojo’s owners, cousins Brian and Brendan Moy, to pay homage to their family and the Chinatown they grew up in. By saving a suffering restaurant and valuing its original aesthetic, the Shojo team is able to keep neighborhood gems from being lost to gentrification. Also, the idea of turning a modest, run-down restaurant into an Asian fusion hub must be exciting for Shojo’s hip target audience. Through BLR by Shojo, Chinatown is able to keep its iconic restaurant and food enthusiasts are introduced to another culinary journey.