Rice Burg in Wellesley Square is getting used to dishing up its Asian-focused rice burgers and bowls out of its first bricks-and-mortar location. Since 2015, the healthy fast-food option has operated on wheels with a couple popular food trucks that move around Boston and Cambridge. Learning how to translate that popularity to a stand-still location will likely happen as the lunch and dinner spot works out the opening kinks. Owner Jessica Chen has found a spot where a health-conscious clientele and area college students seek out good food, and those customers have been coming in a steady stream to the former Yogurtology spot, located at 552 Washington Street.
Rice Burg’s forte is burgers with specialized buns made from Japanese small-grain rice. They’re a gluten-free alternative to traditional bread buns, and the idea is to welcome back those who have run away from burgers due to dietary restrictions. I ordered the Bulgogi steak rice burger with great curiosity. It would be my first rice burger ever. Would the rice buns just fall apart in my hands? Would my fingers get all sticky? Most importantly, would it taste weird?
The generous portion of shaved steak arrived sandwiched between two thick rice patties, all wrapped in thin paper so that I could eat while keeping my hands food-free. As for the taste, the steak with its gochujang sauce was flavorful and tender, and the rice bun was a wonderful mild counterpoint to the protein. The rice buns do indeed hold together just fine. Make no mistake, this is a substantial meal. The buns are hearty, and protein portion was generous. Other rice burgers on the menu include chicken katsu, vegan “chicken” patty, or shiitake mushroom. The flavorful side of shoe-string house fries, made with curry seaweed and sesame power, is a must. For purists, there are also unadulterated fries sprinkled with just a bit of sea salt available. But seriously, live a little and order the house fries.
You can also get any of the above proteins in a rice bowl, and they come with several different sauces, depending on what you order. When I tried out the chicken katsu bowl, I liked the crispiness of the chicken breast filet. The sweet-savory taste of the katsu sauce was very nice, but I would have appreciated a little more of it. As I worked my way through the meal I found that not enough of the sauce had trickled down to flavor the plain brown rice in the bottom third of the bowl. Those last several bites of brown rice were plain, indeed. The bowls come with your choice of up to four toppings from a list of nine, some options fresh, others pickled. I asked for cucumber, tomato, baby arugula, and carrots. Their fresh veggies reflected one of the restaurant’s major strengths, especially the greens. I didn’t experience a single wilted arugula leaf, nor a speck of brown or a particle of grit.
For all you vegans out there, don’t trust meat-eater me to tell you about those offerings. Hear it from a customer sitting next to me, who became fretful because the vegan chicken tasted a little too chicken-y. She took a bite and became immediately suspicious. “I’m not sure about this,” she said to her companion. “This tastes like they got the order wrong. I think they put real chicken in it.”
She approached the counter, meal in hand to inquire about the true vegan provenance of her meal. “Definitely vegan chicken, the order is not real chicken,” the staff member emphatically confirmed. “It’s just really good, and we make it vegan but it tastes just like chicken.”
“I just wanted to check,” said the woman. “I’ve been burned before.”
“Vegan. Definitely vegan in this order. No mistakes in the kitchen. It’s vegan.”
“Ok, thank you,” said the woman.
So although I haven’t personally tried the vegan chicken at Rice Burg, this exchange speaks volumes. The kitchen staff is on their game, and they take the health of their customers seriously.
Rice Burg is working out its new-place jitters in other ways. If you order for here, you may end up unpacking your meal at your table from a to-go bag. If you order to-go, you may wonder why you’re being handed a tray. The frozen yogurt part of the place isn’t yet up and running. Just one more inspection to go, I’m told. And they could use a little music. The time I was there and the place was bustling, the hum kept the mood lively. But when I stopped in during a quiet time, the space needed some tunes.
All in all, Rice Burg is a welcome addition to the Wellesley restaurants landscape, a place to enjoy a healthy lunch or dinner in a central location.