The restaurant world may be constantly obsessing over the next trendy grain (is it quinoa? Barley? Farro?), but many chefs are turning back toward a classic: rice. Deep-fried, doused in chicken fat, or slow-cooked with spices, rice is re-emerging as a platform for restaurants to showcase creativity, while also paying homage to the wide range of rice dishes from around the world. Take a look at some of the latest and greatest dishes that put new spins on an old standby.
Courtesy of Lukshon
XO crab rice: Lukshon (Los Angeles)
Opt for the brand-new tasting menu at Lukshon, and you’ll get a wide sampling of chef Sang Yoon’s creative approach to the Southeast Asian food he ate growing up. The favorite dish of late is the XO crab rice, a version of fried rice that manages to taste light and fresh (an impressive feat for any bowl of fried rice), thanks to the addition of pea tendrils and fruity serrano chiles. Also, Yoon is not stingy with the blue crab — the meat-to-rice ratio is just right.
3239 Helms Ave., Los Angeles; 310-202-6808
Courtesy of Aria
Short rib & blue cheese arancini: Aria (Atlanta)
Arancini, or deep-fried balls of rice, are a great canvas for experimenting with flavors in a snackable form. At Aria in Atlanta, in lieu of the standard multi-cheese filling, golden-brown arancini come stuffed with tender braised short rib and blue cheese — it’s a bold but classic combo, the richness of both complementing one another nicely. A few slices of orange are also served on the side — a seemingly odd addition that ends up being a refreshing offset to the heavy dish.
498 E. Paces Ferry Rd. NE, Atlanta; 404-233-7673
Courtesy of Tapestry
Birbal kee khitcheree: Tapestry (New York)
Khitcheree, in India, is like chicken soup — it’s the ultimate cure-all and comfort food. At Tapestry, chef Suvir Saran serves a refreshingly straightforward version of the rice and lentil porridge, seasoning it with a hefty dose of shallots and enough ginger and chiles to clear our those winter sinuses. The finishing touch is the two crisp rolls of papadum — a spicy, gram flour-based cracker that you can dip into your stew.
60 Greenwich Ave., New York; 212-373-8900
Courtesy of Fat Rice
Seafood cara: Fat Rice (Chicago)
Who doesn’t love those crunchy pieces of rice that collect at the bottom of the pan when you're cooking? Those tasty bits form the basis of the seafood cara at Fat Rice, the Chicago spot celebrating the culinary mash-ups inherent in Macanese cuisine. The “cara,” or rice, gets topped with a herb-laden stew of Chinese broccoli, scallops, pork chops, squid and shrimp, and doused in a salty, tangy soy-based sauce (it's called "Superior Sauce," and it definitely lives up to the name).
2957 W. Diversey Ave., Chicago; 773-661-9170
Shrimp zingara: Santina (New York)
Even in the dead of winter, Santina makes you feel like you just entered a coastal Italian town. The New York spot has practically an entire section of the menu devoted to rice, each version a far cry from the plain, steamed variety. The latest addition is the shrimp zingara, which is basically like a rice done fra diavolo–style, with spicy hunks of shrimp and tomatoes, balanced by briny capers and olives — kind of like a paella meets risotto.
820 Washington St., New York; 212-254-3000
Courtesy of Biryani Pot
Biryani: Biryani Pot (National)
The popular fast-casual biryani spot continues to expand across the U.S. with its latest location opening just outside of Boston. The place focuses heavily on the Hyderabadi specialty, preparing it the traditional way — cooked for hours over low fire — to ensure the spices fully soak into the rice. You can opt for biryani with goat, egg, shrimp or vegetables, and each dish comes with a side of raita, a cooling yogurt sauce, and a very addictive chile condiment called mirchi ka salan.
Courtesy of Zaytinya
Ottoman pilaf: Zaytinya (Washington DC)
There are few scents more satisfying at the DC hot-spot, Zaytinya, than that of the saffron wafting from the top layer of the Ottoman pilaf. The base includes both basmati rice and noodles (a classic duo in Ottoman cooking), which are studded with dates, for sweetness, and pistachios and crispy shallots for crunch. The yellow-hued dish is gorgeous to look at, but the combination of sweet, spice and salt is what makes it addictive — a standard pilaf elevated beyond recognition.
701 9th St. NW, Washington DC; 202-638-0800
Courtesy of Side Chick
Hainanese chicken rice: Side Chick (Los Angeles)
It’s not uncommon to see windy lines wrapping around a restaurant that serves what most Angelenos consider to be the best version of the classic Singaporean-style dish, Hainanese chicken rice. The key, with the rice, is to cook it with the chicken fat as well as the stock, plus garlic and ginger — which yields richer, bouncier grains. Chef Johnny Lee has also perfected his chicken, poaching it until silky and tender, and serving the dish with sweet soy and an aromatic ginger-scallion sauce.
400 S. Baldwin Ave., Los Angeles; 626-688-3879