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What the Heck Is a Rice Burger?

Alex Van Buren

What the Heck Is a Rice Burger?

Meet the rice burger. All photos credit: Alex Van Buren

This is the the era of the weird burger. You’ve got your grilled cheese burger. Your ramen burger. Your donut burger

But it was the newest applicant for residence in Burgerville, USA, that gave us pause: the Rice Burger

The folks behind New York City’s Sobaya and Otafuku are trying to tap into the burger craze with their new shop, Yonekichi, where they’re serving up savory things between rice patty “buns.”

According to Yonekichi operations manager Sakura Yagi, “rice burgers” are big at fast food restaurants in Japan. She’s contracted an outside company to create an “exclusive,” additive-free, compressed rice patty for the United States shop, and while she won’t say much more than that, one employee told us it holds together simply because “Japanese rice is sticky.” The patties are totally salt-free “to keep it simple and preserve the taste of the rice,” said Yagi.

So, what does Yonekichi put between two rice patties?

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The sky’s the limit, apparently. Rice! Eel! Salmon! Beef! Pork! Chicken!

This writer tried four: chicken, salmon, beef, and “onion-kale-carrot mixed tempura.” First thought? “It’s weird to have sushi on your burger.”

As opposed to sushi rice that’s typically seasoned with vinegar, unseasoned white rice that’s been pressed and crisped on a hot griddle didn’t seem like an intuitive match for these other ingredients. Each patty’s texture was disjointedly crisp on one side and gummy on the other. (Since this is only a soft opening and she’s gathering customer feedback, Yagi said, she’s open to revisiting the recipe.) 

Of the four patties, the beef “burger” was the best. Ample amounts of soy, sugar, and sake were in the mix with thinly sliced beef, which was layered with lettuce and caramelized onions. 

It felt—and looked—like a late-night compromise between two people on a date, with one tipsily declaring, “I want a burger!” and the other demanding sushi. 

But one might root for Yonekichi: If that recipe pulls together, this sushi burger could actually work.