How Chicken & Rice Guys Create Their Combo Plates

It's chicken. It's rice. What's makes CNR Guys's food so special that people line up around the corner? Here's a closer look.

In our second annual Starch Madness bracket, you voted for your favorite carb dishes around Boston. Read about the Rice Conference and overall winner, Chicken & Rice Guys’s combo plates, below, and check out the full results of Starch Madness 2016.

chicken and rice guys combo plate

Stephanie Larsen Photography

On the streets of New York City, street meat and halal carts are about as common as getting bumped by an aggressive pedestrian. But Boston was missing this accessible cuisine until 2012, when a group of friends hatched a plan for the Chicken & Rice Guys food truck.

Ian So, Jenny Giang, Kevin Lau, and Jaemin Lee are the founding four behind Chicken & Rice Guys. Their simple combo plate is made up of rice, accompanied by toasted pita, freshly chopped lettuce, and protein options like grilled chicken, lamb gyro, and tofu salad, as well as an array of sauce options. Their most popular dish, making up about 50 percent of all orders, is, fittingly, the namesake chicken and rice plate.

The rice recipe itself is simple, but it’s helped Chicken & Rice Guys grow considerably in a short span of time. What started out as a single food truck has grown into a fleet of four trucks, plus a corporate catering business, and restaurants in the Financial District and downtown Medford.

And there’s invariably always a line during lunch hours. What makes it so appealing?

“I’ve been thinking about that for two years now,” says Damien Yee, senior business operations manager. “I joined the company because I liked the food so much. I don’t really know, but it’s a combination of things, I think. We have a really fun atmosphere. The workers are very personable at the front of the house. It’s simple, unpretentious food that customers can customize any way they want at any of our locations, and it’s affordable, good-size portions.”

The process to get the sunshine-colored rice involves some in-house mixing—and about 175 pounds of the spice blend per week. The team adds a scoop to the plain grain and water in commercial rice cookers. According to Yee, “It’s not that much of a process.”

It may be a straightforward series of steps, but the balanced, flavorful recipe has been honed and perfected over the years based on countless experiments and customer feedback.

Chicken & Rice Guys uses long grain rice, which is the main difference from the halal carts in New York, Yee says. Originally, their rice had a chicken bouillon base with some aromatics, like garlic and onion. At the request of vegetarian customers, however, the team switched to a vegetable base a year ago.

Two months ago, the Chicken & Rice Guys added more spices into the mix, like tumeric. “It does have more flavor, and has a little more color to it,” Yee says.

Company-wide, Chicken & Rice Guys orders about 3,200 pounds of rice per week, he adds.

As important as the rice itself are the house-made sauces that slather each dish. There’s the famous white sauce, medium or extra hot sauce, and a mint, cilantro, and jalapeno green sauce, plus a barbecue sauce sourced from one of the company’s vendors.

The white sauce is creamy garlic, and it’s “by far the most popular,” Yee says, surprising no one. What exactly comprises the dairy-based sauce is a closely held company secret; on CNR Guys’s cheeky web store, the recipe is for sale for the price of “your soul.”

“Customers are encouraged to mix and match sauces to their tastes, which make the dishes personal and fun,” Yee says.

Finding the perfect proportion is when you know you’re a Chicken & Rice Guys pro. Next time you see a bright yellow truck on Boston’s streets, wait in line, and taste for yourself.

2 chicken and rice guys combo plate adding seasoning

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3 chicken and rice guys combo plate mixing

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4 chicken and rice guys combo plate closeup rice

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