IN THE KITCHEN RiceBurg owner Jessica Shen doesn’t boast a professional culinary background — she was working as an accountant, while her husband was in the restaurant industry. They loved to cook at home, and one of their favorite takeout items was customizable rice bowls. An idea was born.
“We started seeing a trend, but we didn’t want to follow what everybody else was already doing. We wanted to stand out,” Shen said. Instead, they envisioned a rice burger, with rice compacted into the buns. “It’s gluten-free, and you can be really creative about what you put in there, because it’s like a rice bowl on the go,” she said.
RiceBurg came to life in the summer of 2015 as a food truck traveling around Boston and beyond and catering private events. More recently, Shen started looking for a brick-and-mortar complement to their motorized activities.
THE LOCALE RiceBurg opened in May on Washington Street in Wellesley’s downtown. Shen said the community’s interest in healthful eats was a big factor, as was the proximity of Wellesley College. The chic, bright space, converted from a former frozen-yogurt shop, includes a sleek white couch in the seating area near the counter and a total of about 30 seats. “We want the décor to show that we care about our ingredients,” Shen said. For those who miss the previous incarnation’s desserts, Shen retained frozen yogurt, which rotates in flavors like mango, strawberry, and vanilla.
ON THE MENU As the restaurant’s punny name makes clear, you’re strongly encouraged to try out its Asian-fusion rice burgers. They’re constructed using two jasmine-rice buns pressed hard enough to retain a disc-like shape. The restaurant almost always has five varieties available: katsu chicken with pineapple, lettuce, and choice of sauce; soy-marinated grilled chicken with lettuce, tomato, and herb aioli; shaved bulgogi steak with shredded carrots and spicy Korean gochujang sauce; and two vegan options, including “chicken” made of a soy patty and sliced shiitake mushrooms. All are $9 except the mushroom version, which is $8.
The burger arrives at the table not flat on a plate but propped up in wrapping, which can remain around the burger as you consume it. That’s key, as Shen admitted they have a tendency to be messy; she noted that the katsu chicken is the most popular, perhaps partly because it contains a single piece of fried chicken and is less likely to spill. We ordered the soy-marinated chicken and bulgogi steak, and, messiness aside, the flavors are there, and the rice does make for a fun bun.
Don’t forget to try out the Asian-fusion spin on the classic burger accompaniment. The house shoestring fries (small $4, large $6) are thin and crisp, dusted with curry powder and sprinkled amply with seaweed flakes.
Despite its focus on burgers, RiceBurg does also serve more traditional, yet customizable, rice bowls ($7 and up, depending on extras). In addition to the proteins available between buns, the bowls’ toppings range from seaweed salad to kimchi to avocado mash — and bowls can be made with brown rice, which is not sticky enough to form burger buns.
Looking forward, Shen said the restaurant plans to add seafood burgers — the truck participated in a seafood festival with a well-received lobster-based version. And already, she’s pleased with the reception in Wellesley — from followers both new and old.
“Most of the people we have served so far have never heard of the food truck, but there are also people who are fans of the truck who come all the way to Wellesley if they can’t find the truck [in Boston],” she said.
RiceBurg, 552 Washington St., Suite 2, Wellesley, 781-772-1473, www.riceburg1.com.