As Downtown’s Spring Arcade Building nears retail completion, almost all of its once-vacant stalls are now packed with the likes of Guisados, Clayton’s Public House, Blu Jam Cafe and even a nouveau-bistro lunch pop-up from Triniti’s chef. And now the food hall’s latest tenant offers something rare to the neighborhood: Cantonese cuisine. We, for one, welcome our new bao overlords.
Rice Box, which soft-opened on Tuesday, is a fast-casual concept from husband-and-wife team Leo and Lydia Lee that serves a small menu of roasted and grilled meats atop Taiwanese Jasmine rice, much like the dishes Lydia ate in her family’s BBQ restaurant in Hong Kong. “Everything that we do here is like a family recipe,” she says, also counting her uncle’s restaurant in Taiwan as an influence. Between Leo’s skill—he’s a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America—and the recipes passed down to Lydia, the pair call their new operation “contemporary Cantonese BBQ.”
While the name is Rice Box—a red neon sign shouting “rice” in Cantonese is noticeable from either end of the arcade—some of the wilder items are bun-based. Currently, the duo only offers a trio of bao, but there are more flavors to come. The most genre-bending is Leo’s Cheesy Char Siu Bao, which stuffs a BBQ Duroq pork and onion bun with gooey monterey jack cheese, while a small amount of activated charcoal in the dough adds a grey marbling to the eggshell-white casing.
Then there’s the Shrooming Bao, a vegan option streaked with activated charcoal and packed with mixed wild mushrooms, vermicelli noodles, onions and a house-made vegan BBQ sauce, wedged between a bun that utilizes almond milk, as opposed to dairy. For the more traditional minded, there’s the OG Char Siu Bao, a plain-white bun that still bursts with flavor.
The namesakes include rice topped with slow-cooked, honey-glazed Duroc pork; seven-spice, triple-roasted pork belly porchetta with crackling skin; Mary’s Organic Chicken, poached in black soy sauce with ginger and scallion; and mapo eggplant with braised shiitakes and ginger. You can even mix and match with the build-your-own-box option.
The owners are keeping the hours and dishes limited until the grand opening on October 2—and that day, you’re going to want to get there early: The Lees plan on offering free bao to the first 50 or so customers that afternoon. That’s also when you can also expect the launch of the lengthier menu, with more snacks, à la the bao, and more drinks, including Hong Kong milk tea and lemon iced tea.
There will be additional vegan fare, such as the fried strips of mushroom, daikon radish and rice flour, a dish somewhat inspired by traditional dim sum radish cakes. Also look out for shredded chicken salad topped in a house-made sauce on a bed of greens, as well as a dish of char siu pork-topped fries covered in cheese. “It’s after-drinking food for sure,” Lydia laughs.
Rice Box is now open in Spring Street Arcade at 541 S Spring St. Find it open from 11am to 3pm Tuesday to Saturday, and beginning October 2, from 11am to 8 or 9pm.