I’ve had mixed experiences with the rice ball snacks from Onigilly, a food truck parsing out a traditional Japanese snack made with rice and seaweed. The creative fillings were always interesting, but sometimes the rice ball fell apart in my hands because it was too dry.

But when the rice is made fresh and served quickly, Onigilly successfully shines like it does in its new home on Kearny Street in San Francisco.

Serving the weekday lunch crowd, Onigilly has come up with a great way to make their gourmet rice balls a satisfying meal at their new restaurant. When I was off last week and in the city looking for lunch, I wondered how satisfying a lunch of rice balls could be.

Tiny open kitchen and counter at Onigilly in the Financial District

But Onigilly’s “lunch set” allows you to create your lunch by choosing the traditional format of rice balls (in a triangular shape) with the choice of three flavors, or creating a rice bowl or tofu noodle bowl. Then you choose from an assortment of flavors (as many as three toppings) for a price of $8.25.

I decided to get a rice bowl, and selected toppings of miso tuna salad, hijiki  (soy braised seaweed strings with shredded carrots) and the special of the day, pork belly.

My beautiful and colorful rice bowl was rounded out with edamame (the soy pods), pickles and a green salad.

The tuna was good, although it didn’t have a strong miso flavor, and the pork belly was a bit on the dry side and wasn’t too fatty. Overall, though, I enjoyed the fun of creating my own bowl and enjoying the mix of flavors in one sitting.

Onigilly’s spot is small, with only a few tables inside (a second floor is still under construction) and a couple outside. Most people who formed a line out the door were taking their lunches back to the office.

Onigilly has always been a crowd pleaser with its truck at street food events, but I like the substantial options here in its restaurant. I just wish it’s open on weekends so that this lunch option isn’t just for the work week.

Onigilly, 343 Kearny St. (near Pine), San Francisco. PH: 415.671.4706. Open Monday to Friday, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. onigilly.com

Onigilly on Urbanspoon

Traditional rice balls ready to go

The tiny interior has a contemporary feel, highlighted by the big logo on the wall

My rice bowl was a colorful collection of my choices of miso tuna salad, pork belly and hijiki (seaweed with carrots) along with sides of pickles, edamame and green salad.

Line forming during the lunch hour

9 Responses to Transforming Rice Balls Into a Full Lunch

  1. (Closes eyes tightly) *don’t shoot!* I’ve NEVER had rice balls before, can you imagine? Thanks for the inspiration, I’m actually going to make it a point to try them soon! =)

  2. Row says:

    Very pretty-looking rice bowl! It looks quite substantial… the type of meal that would keep you full until dinner. 🙂 Btw, are rice balls similar in taste to sushi rolls?

    • Ben Ben says:

      What? You haven’t had a rice ball or omusubi either? I can’t believe it! 😉 Rice balls are made with sushi rice, but the rice is typically not made with rice vinegar, except maybe a pinch of salt. It’s always wrapped in nori (seaweed) and traditionally only has an ume (plum) in the center. But over the years, people have gone crazy with fillings, like what Onigilly does. Onigilly also tends to make their rice balls with brown rice, which might be way it’s sometimes dry when I get it from the food truck. But the bowls are a nice fun lunch, and yes, it tied me over good till dinner!

      • Row says:

        Sounds yummy! I’ll scout the city and see if any restaurants sell rice balls. If not, I can always try to make some. 🙂

  3. Carolyn Jung says:

    I love onigiri, especially if they are charred on the grill to get that crisp exterior and smoky edge. There’s something so comforting about them.

  4. Wendy says:

    Hi Ben! We saw this great post on Onigilly and wanted to invite you to a night of rice ball-making, eating (all the rice balls you can make! and izakaya plates!), and becoming best friends with Adachi, the founder/chef!

    You can check out the event here 🙂 http://www.simmr.co/events/26

    Let us know if you can attend,

    • Ben Ben says:

      Thanks Wendy for the invite. I’ve replied via email. In the future you can email me via the contact form. Best, Ben