Put a food truck on the road, welcome the crowds, and you can probably handle the little business. Add a second truck to the fleet and it’s more challenging. Then add two more trucks, a stand at the Pru, and two brick-and-mortar locations, and it can upset the most important element of any food business as it expands: consistency.
The Chicken & Rice Guys have gone brick-and-mortar in downtown Boston and Medford, and they mostly get it right. Granted, the menu consists of only three dishes and a single dessert. But you have to make it taste good, serve it hot, and hire helpful and courteous staff.
The Guys — Ian So, Jenny Giang, and Kevin Lau, all in their 20s — started the truck business in 2012 after So discovered halal trucks in New York and decided to imitate them (though New York trucks are popular middle-of-the-night snacks; Chicken & Rice Guys trucks are mostly off the road by mid-afternoon).
Every plate ($5 and $7) begins with turmeric-seasoned rice, then it builds from there — shredded lettuce plus a cupful of halal chicken or lamb mixture (which contains some beef), a combination of the two, or small cubes of baked tofu. It comes with thick pita, more like the Greek variety than thin Middle Eastern rounds. You can also order veggies ($2), a mixture of raw chopped tomatoes and cucumbers, and extra meat ($3), rice ($1), or pita ($1). Because tax is included in these prices, you can grab, say, a regular lamb for $7 total, which has bread tucked inside, and get a generous meal for a reasonable price.
The location on Bedford Street (walking distance from Downtown Crossing, South Station, and Chinatown) is takeout with a long, quick-moving line. Savory aromas greet you on the sidewalk and make you stick out the wait. When you get to the register, a stack of containers already holds rice and the rest of the assembly takes seconds. Unless you hit it right and snag the only high-top window table, you have to take it back to your office or find a spot to sit outdoors. That’s the best idea on a nice day: a spot in the sun with a box of satisfying takeout.
When you pull into the location near Medford Square, you’re facing an odd-looking business called the World Furniture Center, with Chicken & Rice to its left and right. Left is the restaurant. Right is the kitchen door, which someone needs to frost so we can’t look in. This is the antithesis of an open kitchen you’re supposed to peek into with awe.
But the dining space is a real restaurant, fast-food style with plenty of screaming yellow kitsch like T-shirts with the chicken-head logo, stools along a counter, wallpaper, even yellow subway tile in the restrooms, and slogans along the walls: “Thrilla Grilla,” “Feeling Peckish,” “Quickie Chickie.”
The food is surprisingly good. You get moist chicken that comes in small bits (this is spoon food more than fork food). The menu says grilled but there’s no smoky taste. Lamb has been shaved off gyro-style and has nice crusty bits. The pita is warm and delicious (we watch as a cook turns pieces on a griddle that held meat a few minutes ago, which accounts for some of the flavor). The vegetables are fresh, and the sauces are lively, including hot sauces, the hottest of which does justice to its name. Only the tofu falls short. Little baked pieces are moist one day, so dry another time that we toss them. The lone dessert is baklava ($1), honey-flavored squares that are not overly sweet and are exceptionally crisp.
Here’s the math: A small lamb plate, baklava, homemade iced tea, and something for the tip jar comes to $9. You might say it’s cheaper to eat here than at home, which you can’t say about a lot of places.
CHICKEN & RICE GUYS
64 Salem St., Medford, and 85 Bedford St., Boston, 617-903-8538, www.cnrguys.com. All major credit cards. Wheelchair accessible.
Prices Plates $5 and $7. Extras $1-$3. Dessert $1.
Hours Medford Daily 11:30 a.m.-9 p.m.; Boston Mon-Fri 11 a.m.-7 p.m.
What to order Grilled chicken, lamb gyro, veggies, baklava