September is National Rice Month. A staple side dish that's included in a wide variety of authentic recipes – both internationally inspired and domestic – rice has a rich history in the United States, tracing back to the late 17th century when farmers harvested the cereal grain both for personal consumption and sales purposes. Despite being around for hundreds of years – and even longer outside of the States – it may be more popular today than it's ever been, as the average consumer devours approximately 26 pounds of rice per year, according to the USA Rice Federation, up from an annual average of 9.5 pounds per person during the 1980s.
Rice needs plenty of sunlight and warmth for it to grow in prodigious amounts, which is why it's mainly produced in parts of the country where it's at least mild more often than it's cold, such as Texas, California, Mississippi, and Louisiana. Rice also has a history – brief though it may be – in Virginia. Some of the earliest experiments in rice farming were in Jamestown, according to The Washington Post. But even then, early colonists couldn't help but be taken aback by the attempt, as a soldier marching to Yorktown in 1781 said upon seeing a field of rice that "it was a great curiosity," as detailed in Lewis Cecil Gray's tome "History of Agriculture in the Southern United States."
Fast-forward to today, and long-time Virginians will be the first to tell you that the restaurant rice is quite nice throughout much of the state, as a number of delicious rice-inspired dishes are served in heaping amounts daily in the River City. Here are a few Richmond joints that deliver the goods:
Carena's Jamaican Grille
Located at 7102 Midlothian Turnpike, Carena's Jamaican Grille is the brainchild of Carena Ives, whose roots are in the island nation. Some of her earliest memories involved her mother whipping up taste-tastic dishes from basic ingredients found in her kitchen cupboard. After learning her mom's tools of the trade, Ives branched out on her own and brought her mother's signature recipes to the campus of Virginia Commonwealth University. Since its opening at the current location, loyal customers rave about the main courses and the rice found in multiple dishes, including burritos, appetizers, and Jamaican specialties. Carena's clientele point to the Island Fried Chicken with Rice and Peas as a must.
It's safe to say that the East Grace Street southern cuisine eatery is a Richmond institution, pointed to as one of the city's best by Richmond Magazine. Hailed for its delectable dishes and rock-bottom prices, many for less than $10, Pasture has a host of snacks and small plates that are sure to please even the most stubborn of palates. Though not by definition a tapas restaurant, Pasture is known for serving up smaller-than-normal plates, which are designed to keep prices affordable. What it lacks in portion size it makes up for in big flavors, both on the lunch and dinner menus. Favorite selections include the Smoked Chicken with Red Beans and Fried Carolina Gold Rice, the BBQ Rubbed Pork Chop, and the Country Captain.
Billed as a go-to spot for food fusion, combining both American and Chinese cuisines, The Eatery has a lot to live up to given its title. This is especially true because other hopping restaurants are a stone's toss away, including Stuzzi, Pomegranate, and Farouk's House of India. But the 3000 W Cary Street has carved out a place in Richmond residents' hearts, thanks largely to the over two dozen dishes that come with rice or are inspired by the cereal grain. Favorites include Combination Fried Rice, Pork Lo Mein Or Rice Noodles, and Buffalo Wings with Fried Rice. The Eatery's operating hours are Monday through Saturday, from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. However, it closes at 10:30 p.m. on Fridays and 10 p.m. on Sundays.
No matter how you like your rice, Richmond is filled with dine-ins that serve it up right.