DENVER – Jane Chen came over to the United States from China as a teenager. Her father took the family to New York City to work in the restaurant business. Chen followed his lead and has worked in restaurants for her entire career, first in New York City and then eventually in Indiana. However, when her only son began college at Wingate University, she happily made plans to move to North Carolina.
“I had no choice,” she said with an indulgent grin. “I was not willing to see him just over Christmas and summers, so I went ahead and moved.”
Chen chose Denver as the area to open the restaurant with partner Peter Wang due to its homey feel, lack of an Asian fusion restaurant and reasonable real estate prices.
“We just love it here,” Chen said. “The community has been so welcoming. They love having Asian food options.”
Ricebox opened in February 2013.
Ricebox is a fusion of Chinese, Japanese and Thai cuisines. The menu is huge with so many choices.
On the Chinese end, there are old standbys such as Kung Pao Chicken and Sweet and Sour Chicken. But also some less standard options such as Sha Cha sauce which is a Chinese condiment primarily used in Fujian, Teochew and Taiwanese cuisines. It is made from soybean oil, garlic, shallots, chilis, brill fish and dried shrimp. It brings a savory and slightly spicy taste to food.
For Thai options, there is red chili sauce and Thai basil sauces; but also look for the Spicy Thai Pineapple dish which is light, delicious and served in half of a pineapple.
For Japanese cuisine, there is a chic sushi bar featuring the talents of Sushi Chef Wang.
“We get fish in at least five times per week,” Chen said. “It costs a bit more to make small orders, but the result is amazingly fresh fish and other seafood.”
The 007 roll is spicy tuna, crabmeat, eel and spicy mayo which is flash fried and topped with scallion and masago. The result is a sushi roll that eats like a meal but still has a light, fresh taste. Also do not miss the gluten-free menu, which features a sauce made from just eight natural ingredients.
The menu is not only mouthwatering, it is also economical. There are lunch and dinner specials that run seven days a week. The lunch special offers 10 options and a glass of sweet tea for just $5.99. The dinner special has just as many options plus an egg roll for just $7.79. And the sushi is also affordably priced: any two rolls are $7.99 with both miso soup and salad with an additional 20 percent off every Monday.
The restaurant boasts a full bar with several Asian beers to choose from, including Sapporo, Tsingtao, Kirin and Asahi. There are also specialty cocktails made with fresh and interesting flavors with enticing names such as Touch Me, Pink Panther and Singapore Sling. And of course, six different types of Saki on the menu.
Victor Espin works just across the street and has been a regular since the restaurant opened.
“I like to call in my order and they have it hot and ready for me,” Espin said. “I really like the spicy tuna on the menu. It’s better than I’ve ever had it anywhere else and it always brings me back.”
Chen smiles at her cozy, lovely restaurant.
“We are proud to serve these delicious, Asian dishes to our customers,” she said.