There's a new Asian restaurant coming to North Dallas with more than a decade of downtown cred. Kuai Asian Kitchen will open in late 2017 in a prime center behind Galleria Dallas, in what was previously a location of Tin Star.
Kuai will take what it has learned from its years as an underground restaurant serving downtown Dallas' worker community and graduate to Kuai 2.0.
Kuai — which means "fast" in Mandarin Chinese — is healthy and quick. They don't use fryers or microwaves; everything is steamed, baked, or boiled. Their goal is to be an efficient destination for workers on their lunch hour. The food comes out fast, and their prices include tax and are in quarter increments to further save time.
The first Kuai opened in 2006, beneath the Republic Tower at 325 N. St. Paul St., as a chic little Asian spot specializing in dumplings and soups. A second branch opened in 2008, beneath the stately Renaissance Tower at 1201 Elm St.
As the restaurant expanded, its menu evolved to incorporate more Asian flavors pulled from Chinese, Japanese, Vietnamese, Thai, Korean, and Indian cuisines. That's also when they changed their name, from Kuai Dumplings to Kuai Asian Kitchen, says owner Jeff Hancock.
"The menu has changed dramatically from when we started," Hancock says. "In the beginning, we had three types of dumplings and three soups. We loved dumplings and thought of it as an entree, but we learned that most people still think of dumplings as an appetizer. Now we're really a rice bowl company. That's what most of our customers order, along with dumplings."
Little did they know that bowls would turn out to be the mega-trend it is today. "We were ahead of our time," Hancock says.
Their bowls can be ordered with a base of jasmine white rice, brown rice, rice noodles, lettuce, or vegetables, which is a unique option.
"It's a broccoli, carrot, and onion mix, which you can top with protein and sauce," Hancock says. "It's about half the calories of our other bowls, and it's also popular with vegetarians and vegans, because you can top it with tofu and have a whole meal. We're very vegan- and vegetarian-friendly."
Their bowls include Japanese-style sesame chicken, Chinese orange chicken, Chinese garlic chicken, Masala chicken with Indian spices, Korean-style bulgogi beef, and a ginger-flavored fish option. Prices run from $6.75 to $9.25, aside from the beef which is $10.75.
Dumplings come in three options: chicken, pork, and vegetarian, with spinach, cabbage, and carrots, accompanied by choice of sauce such as spicy ginger soy; a dozen goes for $8.75.
They have a dozen soups, including Japanese and Chinese classics like hot and sour and miso soup, Indian mulligatawny, and two kinds of pho, vegetarian and beef.
Operating under the limited circumstances that come with being a restaurant in downtown's underground community gave them a valuable education on what works.
"We had a small footprint in terms of the space and the hours we're open, Monday-Friday at lunch," Hancock says. "Downtown was beneficial because it's a captive audience and what we were doing with the idea of dumplings meant some education was involved. We weren't just burgers and fries."
Located at 13710 Dallas Pkwy. at the corner of Alpha Road, the new branch will be open for lunch and dinner, and they're going for lots of wow.
"My goal is that people will be wowed on many different levels," he says. "We're doing healthy food, fast, we'll have our bowls and our dumplings, we'll have salads and wraps, we'll have eight types of iced tea and four types of frozen yogurt, it's a whole experience."