Paper Rice specializes in build-your-own style spring rolls, a fast and contemporary take on a traditional Vietnamese dish. Owned by Jens Kristen, a Pasadena City College math and computer science professor, the restaurant offers a casual Chipotle style, walk up custom ordering experience where customers can also enjoy spring bowls or a bahn-mi sandwich. I had the pleasure of sampling some of the items on the menu, although the bowl and sandwich seemed appealing, the rolls are their staple and I wanted to see what the hype was all about..
Walking into the location I was greeted by the charming yet diligent staff, time for my protein, I chose the slightly acidic lemongrass chicken, the hearty braised pork belly, and the classic shrimp. My choices were then placed onto a thin circular edible rice paper, where it is eventually folded and rolled into a spring roll, completing a delectable meal good for brunch, lunch, and dinner.
Next step is choosing the vegetables and herbs, the menu recommends the “House Spring Mix,” fresh lettuce, crunchy cucumber, zesty cilantro, pickled carrot, & daikon. This is easier if you just want to be basic, but if you are big on texture, you might want to customize your selection. If you like spicy foods I recommend adding japleños, they add to the crunch and provide a fiery char flavor great for a culinary heat seeker.
Sauce and toppings are the last choice before the Paper Rice employee rolls up your delicate cylindrical sustenance, I suggest you request all the dry toppings together as the mix adds a salty, crunchy texture that adds the icing on the cake, nuts, seeds, scallions, fried garlic, and onion bits.
Their sauce selection is quite eclectic and delicious, which can make it hard to choose just one. The “house citrus” has a tart vinegar flavor that brings out the flavors in the protein which are usually buried under the crunch of the crispy shrimp roll that comes with the spring rolls. The “house spicy” is the hot take on the house citrus, which can give your meal an herbaceous zest. The savory peanut, is just what the name suggests, a creamy peanut sauce, which goes great with shrimp, as well as dipping the bits that fall out of the roll.
The beverage selection is its own reason to visit Paper Rice, a mix of refreshing and beautifully flavored fruit juices and iced teas. The strawberry limeade is an exhilarating and delicious go to for the classic lemonade connoisseur, and their passion fruit black tea, a stimulating take on iced tea. After your meal the beverage will keep the memory of this restaurant embedded in your taste buds, leaving your thirst quenched.
As you finish your meal the guilt that is usually associated with fast food is not there, but a light satisfaction that provides sustenance and energy through a healthy caloric intake. The trash you throw away is compact, eco-friendly, and compostable paper packaging thanks to Paper Rice’s sustainability practices, the shame of our carbon footprint is slightly forgiven.
“The main vision of Paper Rice is to change the landscape of quick-order food. From choosing our energy-efficient equipment to our compostable food packaging, we will continue to do our part to better our community,” per the restaurant’s website.
Located near PCC in the One Colorado shopping mall on Union St in historic Old Town Pasadena, this gem is part of the school’s internal community and too good to not try. Overall Rating 10/10 would try again.
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