From chef Rachel Yang’s excellent short-rib rice bowl at Revel to a vegetarian bowl with lentils at Anar, rice bowls are everywhere for your affordable-lunch desires. Here’s a selection of some of the best.
What’s for lunch? The answer, at least for the Amazon-takeout crowd, seems to be the rice bowl.
In South Lake Union recently, I waited at a corner to cross, and every direction led me to one rice bowl (bulgogi) or another (poke) via food trucks and eateries.
On another afternoon, I stood in front of the entrance to an Amazon building; two dozen food options were within a three-block radius and yet, it seemed, one out of every three passers-by who got takeout ordered rice bowls.
They’re transportable and affordable, which may explain their popularity. Many cost $8-$9. Like pizza, they hold well as leftovers.
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They’re everywhere. You can get them at all hours — during happy hour in places like Jerk Shack in Belltown and in just about every Japanese restaurant; during brunch, as loco moco (hamburger, brown gravy, and fried egg over rice). Most riff on Korean bibimbap (meat, veggies over rice) or Japanese donburi (fish and nori over rice).
Usually with a base of white or brown rice, the bowls get topped with fresh or pickled veggies and are fortified with a fried or soft-boiled egg. The proteins often come in small portions (that’s how rice bowls are so cheap), but they hold bold flavors, often so spicy or salty you eat the meat in small bites with lots of rice.
Rachel Yang, who along with her husband, owns four restaurants in Seattle and Portland, started serving rice bowls before Chipotle made them trendy. Her modern take on the bibimbap is lauded by other chefs and remains a fan favorite. “The pickled (veggie) or kimchi is the most vital component,” Yang said. “It ties everything together. It brings brightness, acidity, spiciness. It makes the dish whole, and you want to come back to it again and again.”
The mainstreaming of the rice bowl is partly due to the poke phenomenon and partly due to ”the evolution of the salad bowl and the grain bowl,” said Yang, who last fall released her cookbook, “My Rice Bowl.”
Here are six stellar bowls to consider.
This Tom Douglas lunch spot sells about 150 rice bowls a day in the Denny Triangle area, impressive considering the dozens of bowl options nearby.
Check out its Asian-fusion pork shoulder bowl, each chunk of pork coated in a rub of espresso grounds, paprika, salt and garlic and served over two scoops of brown rice.
Some flavorful components: an egg marinated in soy sauce, creamy miso spinach and pickled daikon. For an umami punch, shiitakes, furikake (seaweed-and dried-fish seasoning) and teriyaki sauce. Don’t miss the house-made black-bean sauce in the condiment station.
2121 Sixth Ave., (Denny Triangle) Seattle; 206-812-8407, tdhomeremedy.com
With a base of brown rice and green lentils, the mujadara bowl gets topped with pickled cabbage and caramelized onions and some refreshing garlic yogurt to take the edge off the Fresno chili. Seasoned pumpkin seeds give it a nice pop, rounding out this healthy, gluten-free vegetarian bowl. Lots of bright, tangy, spicy Middle Eastern and Mediterranean flavors.
2040 Sixth Ave., Seattle (in the Amazon Doppler building); 206-453-4654, anar.life
Sizzle & Crunch
The best value of the bunch, these Vietnamese rice bowls go for as little as $6.98. Chipotle-style, it’s build-your-own bowl here. The meat options, especially the pork shoulder and belly caramelized in fish sauce over the grill — are exceptional, given the price point. Served with a fried egg and salad.
1313 N.E. 42nd St., (U District) Seattle; 206-547-2723, sizzleandcrunch.com
The medley of wild, brown and red rice (red is the new brown rice), gets served with a techno color, superfood smorgasbord of raw, roasted and fermented veggies and amaranth seeds, bound by a runny egg yolk and tahini miso dressing. It’s a take on a grain bowl with Korean flavors. Nutty, salty and sour, it has a nice balance of different flavors and textures. This breakfast bowl is also available during lunch.
421 E. Thomas St., (Capitol Hill), Seattle; bside.cool
The most popular rice bowl in 2017, this chirashi bowl still holds up well to all the contenders. Sushi rice is topped with at least three sashimi pieces each of tuna, salmon, yellowtail and eel along with a shrimp and scoops of chopped-up fatty tuna and roe. It has a clean, fresh taste; the better poke bowl. Note: The restaurant uses farmed Canadian Atlantic instead of wild salmon, which might be a deal breaker for some. Chirashi has become a hot happy-hour item, and can be found all over, from Orenji Sushi & Noodles in Issaquah to Umi Sake House in Belltown.
4258 Fremont Ave. N., Seattle; 206-504-3095, fremontbowl.com
Chef Yang elevates the humble rice bowl. Her short-rib bowl is one of the restaurant’s best-sellers. The base is a sushi-and-brown-rice combo for a starchy, sweet, nutty flavor. Ribs are charred to a medium-rare red; the yolk is cured in soy sauce to add lusciousness. The pickled sambal daikon and mustard green fill out the bowl. (Her seared albacore tuna bowl with fennel kimchi is also stellar.)
513 Westlake Ave. N., (South Lake Union) Seattle; 206-547-2040, relayrestaurantgroup.com/restaurants/revel