Berkeley got a new fast-casual Vietnamese restaurant this week. UC Berkeley, that is. Rice and Bones, which opened on Monday, is from Charles Phan who’s most well known for his San Francisco restaurant, Slanted Door. Phan, a Cal alumnus, opened Rice and Bones inside Wurster Hall, taking the place of Ramona’s, a former Cal dining café that closed last March.
Nosh stopped in for lunch at Rice and Bones today. It’s too early for an actual review, but we thought it might be helpful for readers to know what to expect at this new spot, since the website is still sparse.
Rice and Bones is located inside Wurster Hall. You know, that gray, austere and nondescript building on the southeast side of the Cal Campus by the Berkeley Law School. Wurster houses the College of Environmental Design (formerly the Berkeley Architectural School). A little trivia we learned from the last time we talked to Charles Phan: He was an architecture student at UC Berkeley, so he’s very familiar with Wurster Hall.
At this time, there is no signage for the restaurant inside or outside of the building. You can enter Rice and Bones from the outside of the building (seen in the photo above) or from inside Wurster Hall.
The restaurant itself has a minimalist look, with light wood furniture and modern lights. However, there is a slight dungeon-like feel about it, due to the dull gray Wurster cement walls, ceiling and flooring.
(HOURS UPDATED on OCT. 26) The restaurant is currently open for lunch (noon to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday) at this time, but according to the Daily Cal, Phan hopes to eventually extend its hours. We arrived at 12:30 p.m. — prime lunch time hour. A long line snaked to the back of the restaurant, but it moved pretty quickly (more on lines below).
The food at Rice and Bones includes stir-fried and roasted meat and vegetable dishes, steamed buns, noodle soups and salads. Main dishes are $7 each, and are any of the prepared entrees that include meat. At the time we visited, the main entrees included roast pork, fried chicken and stir-fried lemongrass chicken. Side dishes are $4 each, and include any of the vegetable-only dishes. These included braised eggplant in coconut milk, mushroom yuba noodles, stir fried bok choy and shiitake mushrooms, roasted broccoli with anchovy chili vinaigrette. You can get one main and two sides for $14, which includes a side of rice, if you want it. Some foods are made to order, including the grass-fed beef pho ($14) and organic chicken pho ($12). There’s also a chicken rice porridge ($9) if you’re looking for something comforting and simple.
If you’re a fan of Slanted Door, you’ll be glad to hear its well-loved grapefruit and jicama salad ($10) is on the menu at Rice and Bones. For a lighter snack (or add-on to your meal), steamed buns — which come filled with chicken, pork or vegetables — are $4 each. Dessert options are sparse and non-Vietnamese — a choice of chocolate chip or oatmeal cookies.
On our visit, everything was 25% off. When we asked how long the discount was being offered, we were told that it was still TBD, but we have a feeling may be a limited time offer while the restaurant is still freshly opened.
NB for Cal students: Rice and Bones does not take Cal Dining meal points.
Speaking of lines, there are two of them. If you’re ordering off the written menu, skip the line on the left and go directly to the register on the right, where they’ll take your order. You’ll be given a flashing restaurant pager when your food is ready. The line on the left is for cafeteria-style service, where you choose from a variety of pre-made mains and sides. When we were there, Charles Phan himself was serving!
There are two long tables in the middle of the restaurant for larger groups and individual diners. There are also two-top and four-top tables on the sides, for a less communal experience.
As mentioned above, this is cafeteria-style dining, so don’t expect sit-down service. Your meal will be handed to you on a metal tray and you’ll need to grab your own utensils, napkins and water. Utensils are compostable forks and knives and wooden chopsticks, although we were told there are ceramic Chinese spoons behind the counter that you can ask for, should you get soup. After eating, you’re expected to bus your own table.
It will come as no surprise that the majority of the people eating here are Cal students, faculty and staff. Expect laptops and studying students — lots of them.
Nosh Weekly is a free weekly email that will keep you bang up-to-date on all the delicious food, drink and restaurant news in the East Bay. Sign up here.