In 2004, the James Beard Foundation named San Francisco-based Charles Phan the best chef in the region. In 2014, Phan’s name resurfaced again with the James Beard Foundation, winning the Outstanding Restaurant Award for Slanted Door. In 2018, Phan made an impact right here on the Berkeley campus with the opening of his newest eatery: Rice and Bones.

Christina Wang

Just past the bustling Caffe Strada and Kroeber Fountain plaza sits Wurster Hall—quiet and unassuming with its grey concrete frontage. Inside is a complete contrast, however, as the lobby is filled with warmth coming from Rice and Bones. The interior of Phan’s restaurant is covered with light brown wood panels that back images of rice paddy workers and smiling children. The aroma of a tangy spice and the sound of food lightly wok-frying fills the room. 

The Countertop Collection

Photo by Rice and Bones

The line is quite long on any given weekday during lunch hours, but it moves quickly as there is a general hustle in the kitchen. The menu board is tailored, however, so deciding what to order couldn't get any easier. Enticing a la carte options also line the counter, ready to be paired with rice for a combination meal.

The countertop choices change daily, but they always include a fish, pork, chicken, and vegetarian option. On this Wednesday, curry-glazed tofu, clay pot chicken curry, traditional Chinese-style pork ribs, and wild caught albacore lay out in small portions next to bamboo steamers housing fresh bao buns. Rice and Bones prides itself on cooking fresh to order and in small quantities, so the a la carte options are constantly coming out piping hot from the kitchen as the line moves.

Satisfying Side Snacks

Christina Wang

The bao buns at Rice and Bones are heartily filled—either with pork, chicken, or mushrooms and vermicelli noodles—and encased in a fluffy bun that breaks apart with ease. Paired with any of the daily freshly squeezed juices, which range from orange and yellow tomato to watermelon mint,  the bao buns make for a filling afternoon snack or sizable accompaniment to an entrée.

Rice and Bones has a selection of rolls that also make for a lighter option. The crispy vegetarian imperial rolls are fried to order and come out of the kitchen golden brown. Packed with vermicelli noodles, taro root, mushrooms, and cabbage, these rolls will ensure some serious finger-licking after the meal.

Hearty Helpings 

Christina Wang

As far as main courses go, Rice and Bones packs a punch with size and flavor. The grapefruit and jicama salad is incredibly colorful, mixing bright and crisp red cabbage with pink grapefruit that provided fresh acidity. Candied pecans sit atop the heaping mound of cabbage and give the salad the right amount of sweetness. Coated in a soy sauce based dressing, the salad is large enough for two satisfying meals.

The soup options pay homage to Rice and Bones’ Vietnamese base as there are two pho options: a wonton soup and traditional congee (savory rice porridge). The five-spice flavored wonton soup holds small pork packages that float alongside pieces of shrimp and a healthy serving of noodles. The wheat-based noodles make the soup even more filling. The toppings include scallions and cubed taro and pairs well with a drizzle of Sriracha.

Rice and Bones brings brightness to the southeast corner of campus with its deep flavors and congenial environment. The lines may be long, but biting into a bao or sipping soup outside on the patio makes it all worth the while.