Urban Wok is a fast casual restaurant that opened October 1 in Lowertown, St. Paul. As the name implies, the cuisine skews Asian, and their ordering system is quite modern. You’ll find no servers but also no cashiers; instead, they have kiosks at the counter for guests to create their own orders. Start with a base (vegan options are Jasmine Rice, Rice Noodles, Brown Rice, Zucchini Noodles – marked with a v), then pick a protein (tofu or just veggies), select up to five veggies, choose a sauce, then complete your order.
Below you’ll see how the menu screen is laid out.
I appreciate the signs next to the kiosks that say the sauces are all vegan and gluten-free. I asked about cross contamination, and they were able to show us that they have woks labeled with green for veggies only, and woks labeled orange for meat. They also have a protocol in place for peanut allergies.
You swipe your card to pay at the kiosk, then enter your phone number, and you get a text when the order is ready. There’s a pick up window a little farther down from the ordering kiosks, and you’ll find a container waiting literally with your name on it. You can grab a table or booth while you wait, or just hang out if you’re taking it to go. As a to-go option, you can choose to not have your order cooked so you can take it home and prepare it yourself.
My food came out fast and hot. The Korean BBQ sauce is mostly sweet but has a subtle heat to it. Everything was cooked really well, though I feel like it could have used a few more veggies. Since the container is relatively tall it wasn’t easy to share it, so bowls would be nice for dining in. But the portion was better for only one person and not two anyway.
This dish was $10.99 which feels slightly high, but I may feel different ordering a different sauce.
12/17/18: I received a free meal code through the Urban Wok newsletter, so I went back and tried the Spicy Peanut Sauce, which is not spicy. The flavor is great, though, and I was happy with the amount of tofu and veggies. Ordering online is incredibly easy, and by the time we drove the eight minutes to get there, our order was ready.
There are many other commendable aspects to Urban Wok. For instance, they are a straw-free restaurant, and all containers and utensils are biodegradable. “The restaurant’s ingredients feature no MSG, partially or fully hydrogenated oils, artificial sweeteners, high fructose corn syrup, caramel/artificial colors or flavors,” according to their press release. These things alone help in validating the price point because you’re getting high quality food from an establishment with a social conscience, and that’s worth paying for.
Urban Wok is right off the Green Line and across the street from Union Depot, making getting there via public transportation a cinch. If you drive in, you can grab a meter or use the Jackson Street Ramp which is typically $4 in the evening.