A cross between a Thai restaurant and underground market combines a menu of bento boxes, curries and wontons with bountiful groceries including matcha, ramen and pocky sticks.
Rice sits across the street from D.C.’s iconic Le Diplomate in a narrow storefront, split into two levels between a minimalist urban restaurant on the main floor and an expansive grocery store downstairs. The idea for Rice stemmed from the childhood of owner Sak Pollert, who grew up on a rice farm in Thailand and sought to bring the country’s classic noodle, rice and soup dishes to the District.
Upon opening the rustic, wooden front door, patrons are presented with a choice: to head down a narrow, dimly lit staircase to the market below, or enter through a black set of curtains to the dining space on the main floor. Looking to explore a bit before our meal, my friend and I began the descent downward, where we came upon shelves of various Sake, infinite types of chili oil, bags of white rice and an assortment of different matcha.
Dry goods necessary for Asian food recipes line one side of the store, and fridges stocked full of fresh mochi, premade curries and spring rolls and frozen Gyoza stand on the opposite end. Hand-painted ceramic bowls, glasses and mugs decorated with flowers and colorful designs are available for purchase in the back. At a register counter in the center of the basement, a sushi chef slices fresh fish and packs them into beautiful stacked rolls. After wandering around and admiring the various goods offered we headed upstairs to dine at the restaurant.
On the entry-level floor, a large wooden bar runs along one side of the wall, offering a casual option for those who are unable to secure a spot at the eight small tables. Exposed brick, wooden panels, dried flowers and framed old newspapers contribute to the minimalist decor across the space. Besides the one front window, the only light comes from abstract chandeliers which provide a warm glow above the guests. Soft instrumental music fills the small space, rounding out a calming ambiance.
We arrived at 6:45 p.m. on a Wednesday and were seated immediately, tucked in within an arm’s length between us and another couple. We debated what to order from the dinner menu, featuring classic Thai items like pork green tea dumplings ($9), pad see eew ($16) and fried rice ($16). Per our waiter’s recommendation, we started with the crispy brussels sprouts salad ($9) as an appetizer. The fried brussels sprouts were a crunchy burst of tangy umami soy-lime flavoring, served on a bed of lettuce, and we devoured them in a few bites each.
After a tasty start to the meal, I ordered the drunken noodles with shrimp ($16), and my friend got the green curry with tofu ($16). The menu had plenty of options for vegetarians and meat eaters alike, with most dishes offering the choice of shrimp, beef, chicken or tofu. Our food came minutes after we licked our appetizer plate clean, steam still rising from the large white plates and bowl.
The drunken noodles came with a generous serving of shrimp and an assortment of sliced vegetables like green and red peppers, onions, green beans and chiles. The vegetables contrasted the soft noodles with a surprising and satisfying crunch. Plentiful leaves of basil topped the chewy hand-made noodles and added a herbaceous note to the otherwise-spicy flavor profile. The noodles were flat and wide, folding onto each other almost like pieces of lasagna.
A spicy soy sauce laced with chili pepper coated the mix, leaving a burning but welcoming taste on my tongue. The onions added a nice sweetness to the savory sauce, and notes of garlic were present throughout the dish. The shrimp were sizeable and juicy, and with the noodles and veggies, they made for a perfectly balanced bite. The portion was ideal for one person but can easily be split between two people for a lighter meal.
Despite our pleasant fullness, we made a trip downstairs to snag some strawberry mochi. We stood outside the building, alternating bites as red bean filling oozed out of the shell. The outer layer of rice flour was pink, soft and chewy to bite into, with a subtle fruity flavor, holding together the sweet but slightly nutty red bean paste inside.
Rice has something for everyone – whether you are looking to pick up ingredients to cook at home, get a quick to-go lunch, or indulge in classic Thai dishes in a quaint environment.
This article appeared in the March 2, 2023 issue of the Hatchet.