December 15th, 2011

The Rice Box: Fast Chinese Food of a Tender Preparation

In 8 Words: Tso, Rice, Chicken, Red, Lanterns, Mobile, Sesame, Warm

Some weeks ago I was at the Anvil for a post-grueling-medical-license-test celebration with a friend; I was in fact, doing most of the celebrating. That’s generosity. On that cool Saturday afternoon, Anvil’s doors open to the mess of Westheimer, I had the good fortune of meeting John Peterson of the Rice Box Food Truck. A morning’s worth of the hassles of opening a new business had brought him in for drink. And why not?

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John told me about the food truck he and his partner, Arthur Wentworth, were putting the finishing touches on. Rice cookers, aesthetic truck enhancements, a suitable grounds for a grand opening (at the time a friend’s house), were but a few things left to finalize. Fast forward two months, I’ve found myself back at Anvil with Stephan, eager to try what the Box’s been cookin’.

Judging by the line that patiently waited for the Rice Box’s Asian cuisine, Peterson and Wentworth managed to polish off the last of the proverbial scuffs that stood between them and a smooth business operation. John generously greeted every customer that approached with a warm handshake. There seemed time to meet everyone as most folks, myself included, took time to consider the hard decisions ahead: Sweet and Sour Chicken or the Sesame Chicken… or the Golden Doomba Special?

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Stephan chose the General Tso Chicken and the Fried Dumplings. I had to stand off to the side. Indecisiveness was a bitch. In the end, Sweet and Sour Chicken managed to beat out the other options tussling for appetite’s priority. We waited, watching the cars on Westheimer carelessly straddle both lanes of that narrow curve at Anvil. As roughly 10 minutes passed, Stephan’s order was ready. Arthur, not John, handed him his General Tso Chicken through the small porthole, just to the left of the main window.

Arthur, the man responsible for the cooking on that day, and indeed probably most days, spent years in Vietnam. His expertise in Asian cuisine lent a credibility that should at the very least, soften the venom of any naysayers. “Oh, Houston now has an Asian food truck run by a couple of white guys.” Like Tyson Cole’s Uchi, in Austin and soon Houston, or Andy Ricker’s Pok Pok, in Portland, ethnic food does not require that the chef be born of its tradition.

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Five minutes passed from the time Stephan was given his food. He’d since gone in to Anvil and ordered a drink. Just as my stomach growled for the first time since arriving, Arthur again reached out the small window, this time, to hand me my Sweet and Sour Chicken.

After I ordered my beer, it was time to give this food I had so anxiously anticipated, its due attention. Bringing the rice from the bottom up over the chicken with my chop sticks, I mixed the greasy concoction up even further. The first bite, delicious. The sweet and sour chicken that I’ve ordered at most places around town was typically much more sweet than anything else. The Rice Box’s take on it was more a quiet sweetness, with the flavor of the other spices, rice, and chicken, all allowed an equal share.

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The Fried Dumplings stuffed with pork, were still quite warm, even after having sat to the side like the last kid picked on the basketball court. They were slightly crisp, the thin dough not rubbery in the least. Sure, both items were made fast, but for as many orders as the Rice Box was fulfilling not a hint of carelessness was present in taste.

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I managed to finish off what was left of Stephan’s dumplings as well as my own sizable portion of Sweet and Sour Chicken. What can I say? I felt compelled to indulge in every last bite. It was that good. I thought back about my conversation with John all those months ago about the frustrations and excitement that come with any new venture. It’s safe to say that The Rice Box, with its quirky nature and dedication to its craft, is more than equipped to overcome and thrive in what can only be described as an industry saturated with good Chinese food and great food in general.

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Where1424 Westheimer Road, Houston, TX 77006
What – Asian Fast Food
Wear – It’s a food truck, considering that you’ll be braving Houston’s elements, dress appropriately
How much – Sides are $2.99 and $3.99, everything else is a solid $6.99
When – Closed Sundays; Monday through Saturday, you’ll find them at the Anvil from 11:00AM to 2:30PM
WebTwitter; Facebook; Website

— Richard

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