Explore your culinary palette at Rice Crook, an Asian fusion restaurant serving up Korean-inspired rice bowls and bao buns.
Located in Ballston Quarter, a food hall with more than 20 dining options, Rice Crook is just a five-minute walk from the Ballston MU Metro stop. Ballston, just four Metro stops away on the Orange or Silver line, is basically foodie heaven featuring 50 restaurants in just a five-block radius, and with inventive neighbors like Ice Cream Jubilee and pierogi shop Rogi, I was excited to return to Ballston Quarter to try Rice Crook.
The restaurant was created by Chef Scott Chung, who also started Bun’d Up, a solely bao-focused restaurant, and is a co-creator of Wild Tiger BBQ, a pop-up restaurant combining southern barbecue cooking with Asian flavors. Knowing Chung was the creative mind behind Rice Crook only made me more eager to get my hands on some of the restaurant’s baos.
Rice Crook’s decor is minimalistic with simple, hanging filament lights and a wall with polaroids of their patrons. The food hall provides a relaxing environment and grants enough space to feel comfortable camping out at a table with friends for hours eating and getting into a heated discussion about whether bao buns qualify as sandwiches. The restaurant offers plenty of seating options inside, but since it was a nice day out I decided to enjoy the sunshine at some of their outside seating.
Since I was in the mood for some crispy fried chicken, I chose the spicy Korean fried chicken bao. The restaurant offers three baos for $12, so you can mix and match your order with intriguing options like Korean BBQ, mushroom and Asian spiced fried shrimp.
The buns came nestled in a row, packed full with fried chicken, slaw and green onions, served in all compostable packaging. As far as bao buns go, the dish held together well and I was able to eat with my hands without creating too much of a mess, but I do recommend grabbing a pair of chopsticks or a fork from the pickup counter for any toppings that you lose along the way.
The warm bun was fluffy and chubby, as it should be, and provided a stable base for the fried chicken and cabbage slaw. The chicken, although coated in the sweet and spicy Korean barbecue sauce, retained its crispness. The freshness of the slaw, combining both purple and green cabbage and tossed in a light but creamy dressing, was a lovely complement to the heat from the chicken.
The bao was delicious and had all the textures you would hope to find in a bao bun – a fluffy bun, crisp veggies and chicken that is both crunchy and tender. Unlike some baos I’ve tried in the past, the sauce wasn’t sickly sweet or overpowering in any way. My only critique is that the slaw could benefit from some tanginess, but this likely would have been remedied with the addition of their cilantro lime aioli, which can be asked for separately.
For those who prefer a bowl over a bao, fret not. Rice Crook serves make-your-own bowls ($12 to $13), so visitors can pick one of the bao protein choices or an additional tofu option served alongside toppings like cucumber kimchi, fried garlic and shallots.
The restaurant offers a variety of beverages and their cucumber kimchi for sale in eight- ($4) and 16- ($8) ounce options. Head to District Doughnut to satisfy your sweet tooth after your savory meal.
Take a fun afternoon excursion grabbing some friends, tasting some satisfying baos from Rice Crook and exploring Ballston.
This article appeared in the March 3, 2022 issue of the Hatchet.