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$20 Dinner

ThisBowl Conquers Noho With the Antithesis of the Sad Desk Salad

Three Aussies are gifting NYC with healthy lunch fare that's worth the wait.

The miso eggplant bowl at ThisBowl

The miso eggplant bowl, $15.90 (Scott Lynch / Hell Gate)

Something kind of remarkable is happening these days down near the eastern end of Bleecker Street. About six weeks ago, three guys from Sydney, Australia—Nathan Dalah, Nic Pestalozzi, and Casper Ettelson—opened a salad/rice bowl shop in Noho called ThisBowl. 

Now, in a part of town lousy with Sweetgreens and Chop'ts, fancy health food spots like Honeybrains, plus juice bars galore, this did not immediately strike me as breaking news. In fact, when I first saw the signage go up over the winter, I texted my daughter who lives in Sydney. She filled me in, a bit unenthused: "Yeah, they're everywhere here, like a lunch spot or whatever." 

What a line! (Scott Lynch / Hell Gate)

So I was somewhat surprised on ThisBowl's opening day when these three affable Aussies were greeted with a line that extended well down the block and didn't let up until closing time. Even more surprising, there's been a line out the door at ThisBowl every day since then. We’re talking all day long, and into the night, with no downtime. For six weeks straight! And you can't really blame Instagram or TikTok for this one. No matter how thoughtfully composed they are, bowls of salad just aren't that drool-worthy.

Here's the thing, though: Dalah, Pestalozzi, and Ettelson have been honing their healthy bowl game for almost eight years now, growing that first, 280-square-foot shack in Bondi Beach into an epic 47-shop empire in Sydney, Melbourne, and Queensland. They really know what they're doing. 

"We always liked hospitality and the idea of creating spaces that people could enjoy," Pestalozzi told Hell Gate. "We wanted to bring an atmosphere of fun and excitement to eating healthy food. We also really liked the idea of making quality food accessible. I could never really understand why it was so hard to get a healthy meal at a decent price."

 The O.G. bowl with salmon sushi, $16.40 (Scott Lynch / Hell Gate)

The big thing the team did change for this, their first American venture, was the name, going from Fishbowl (everywhere in Australia) to ThisBowl (NYC and whatever may come next). "Fishbowl was a good name seven or eight years ago, when that was more reflective of the product that we were serving," Pestalozzi said. "But today it's too suggestive of what we're not. Basically, if you tell someone the name Fishbowl, they think they know what it is before they've even tried it. But if you tell them ThisBowl, it means nothing. It's a terrible name until you experience what it is. And then it means something to you and you go 'yeah, ThisBowl's awesome.'" 

And he's right. ThisBowl is, indeed, awesome. The menu leads with a five-step build-a-bowl section, but that involves way too many decisions for me to deal with. These guys are the pros! Let them figure out my meal! For that, there are nine different fully composed "house favorites," where all you have to do is choose your base: sushi rice, brown rice, shredded cabbage, or mixed leaves. 

The braised beef bowl, $15.90 (Scott Lynch / Hell Gate)

I tried three of these last Friday afternoon and really enjoyed them all. My favorite was the braised beef on cabbage and brown rice, which, in addition to its impressive pile of shredded, well-marinated meat, co-starred things like sweet potato, kale, wasabi mayo, chili, and—key capper—an umami nut crunch. It tasted great, featured a nice variety of textures and flavors, totally worked as a complete, ample meal, and made me feel virtuous. 

That beef was so good, it made me wish I had also ordered something with chicken, but my "O.G." bowl on sushi rice, with salmon sashimi, tobiko, edamame, beets, seaweed, avocado, and sansho crispy crunch, was also pretty rad. There are a couple of vegetarian/vegan house favorites too, like a miso eggplant beauty on brown rice with roasted tofu, ginger, and several other things already mentioned above. And if your bowl doesn't include the house made chili jam as one its core ingredients, spend an extra buck for a little crock on the side. It definitely brings a welcome bit of zing to the party.

Good vibes. (Scott Lynch / Hell Gate)

ThisBowl is a counter-service restaurant, and the operation here is friendly, responsive, fast, and smooth. Despite the crowds, the wait time from when you first get on line to when you pick up your order is surprisingly quick, with smart touches implemented along the way to speed things up, like serving everything "to stay," but providing bowl lids and bags at a self-serve "to go" station if you want to pack it up yourself.

There's seating for about 25 inside, at a big communal table and a bunch of two-tops along a baguette that can be reconfigured depending on your crew. As you would expect for a business launched in Bondi, the vibes are super chill, with a trip-hoppy soundtrack and a contemporary design by Ben Willett that highlights a bunch of specially commissioned art. My theory: Other than the quality of food itself, a good part of ThisBowl's appeal, especially to the cool kids and gym junkies of Noho, is that in no way does it feel like you're settling for a sad desk salad here. 

Slammed at 3 p.m. on a Friday. (Scott Lynch / Hell Gate)

"I love New York," said Pestalozzi. "I've met more people here in the last three weeks than I met in the last three years. Everyone sort of questioned us, like, 'why do you want to go to New York, the most competitive place in the world? Why don't you go to L.A. first, or London?' But New York is the mecca, the center of everything. If we get New York right, we can go anywhere. Dive in the deep end first, and then the world's kind of your oyster."

 ThisBowl is located at 65 Bleecker Street, between Broadway and Lafayette, and is currently open from 11:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. daily.

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