I must have driven past Riso about 900 times without thinking twice about it. Tucked away in a strip mall beside Outback Steakhouse, unassuming would be a gross overstatement on the outward appearance of this small Asian restaurant. Walking in expecting a typical take away joint, we were instead surprised by a very cool, very inviting interior.
I know there are pictures on the menu, usually a bad sign, but here they are very helpful. The reason being the chef behind Riso. A Pan-Asian menu from a chef who has worked in a GERMAN restaurant. GERMAN!! We will get back to that later. The menu is expansive - Bento boxes, hot plates, teriyaki bowls, noodles, soups and salads, curries. Usually such a continent-spanning menu means many cuisines done poorly, but that is not the case at Riso.
For an app we went to the Philippines with Lumpia (2 pcs for $2.50). This is a traditional light beef and vegetable spring roll. Crispy, and not grease filled, overall very delightful. They were served with what tasted like red duck sauce. I just wish hot mustard was offered, too.
For the entrees, the extremely helpful waitress pointed The Girl towards Mr. Beef ($7.50). Mr. Beef, like many of the dishes here, is a one-of-a-kind creation. Piled atop a bed of zucchini and onions and served with a crock of your choice of rice (brown rice for her today), the Mr. Beef glistens with a beautifully dark sauce. The flavor reminds you of a teriyaki beef satay, though not as sweet or salty. The richness of the flavor is honestly like nothing else I have ever tasted. Hints of hoisin and fish sauce maybe? All I can say is I haven't tasted a sauce that good since the last time I was at Josephine's Filipino Restaurant in London. It is incredible! The beef itself tastes like it has been cooked in the salamander, giving it a smoky grilled taste. Patty, the second waitress on duty, told us that if 10 people come in, 9 order Mr. Beef. I can see why. Oh, and on a side note, you get your own squeeze bottle of white sauce.
For myself, I went with the suggested German Famous Beef ($8.95) and upgraded to the Yaki Udon noodles ($3) instead of rice. The noodles are wonderfully soft and flavorful thick wheat noodles with mixed vegetables. The pencil thick carrots that the German Famous Beef is stacked atop are perfectly cooked to the edge of loosing crispness. The beef, unlike the Mr. Beef, tastes almost stewed. The sauce helps with that effect. It's a spicy sauce that takes cues not only from an Asia but a thick German gravy. The entire effect is a spicy Asian take on a German beef and carrot stew. This dish is GENIUS, pure and simple.
Riso does many things right. Attentive and friendly staff, wonderful and surprising dishes, fresh quality ingredients, it makes one wonder why this place isn't the talk of the town. Location must be the major factor going against them. Don't let the strip mall location fool you, Riso is a top notch Pan-Asian restaurant with global influences, and it is an absolute MUST TRY. I don't think I can stress just how happy I was with the entire dining experience. More importantly, I can't stress how happy The Girl was with me for finding Riso.
Overall: 22 out of 25, an absolute gem hidden in a strip mall