This new Carytown restaurant hopes to give onigiri, a staple of Japanese takeout menus, a long-overdue spotlight here in Richmond.
Anyone familiar with Japanese food is going to know the American favorites: sushi, teriyaki, hibachi, etc. But fewer are familiar with one of the most iconic staples of the country’s everyday eating: rice balls, or onigiri. These simple, tasty snacks are exactly what they sound like – short-grain rice formed into a triangular shape, filled with any number of savory fillings, and wrapped in a sheet of sushi seaweed. Now, Onigiri RVA is bringing them to Carytown in the classic “grab-n-go” convenience store style.
Owner Wakako Reno, and her husband Walter, opened the store in June next door to Tokyo Market, on the eastern end of the Carytown strip. She was inspired by her childhood growing up above her parents’ Izakaya restaurant in Japan.
Reno says the proliferation of rice balls in Japan inspired her to open the shop. “Onigiri is a very common, convenient food throughout Japan: at home, grandmas and moms make them. Every convenience store carries them – there are onigiri stores everywhere,” she said. “I’ve wished to see grab-n-go onigiri stores in the U.S too.”
As Reno explains, onigiri are essentially the “rice version of a sandwich” – and like any sandwich shop, Onigiri RVA offers a menu with a large number of filling options, both spicy and mild, many of which are vegan. For those new to Japanese food, Reno suggests the tuna mayo or karaage (Japanese double-fried chicken) rice balls, although her favourites are the salmon and shio konbu (salted kelp) varieties. On top of these, there are more traditional options for those who want to try something different, like sukiyaki (slow braised Japanese beef), furikake (Japanese vegetable seasoning), and inari (white rice wrapped in a sweet, sesame tofu pocket.)
Along with onigiri, Reno also makes and sells kimchi (pickled cabbage). “I’ve always enjoyed eating kimchi offered by Korean friends,” she explained. “When I moved to an area where there was no good kimchi was available, I had to come up with my own.”
While the good, quick food should be draw enough, the prices at Onigiri RVA are hard to beat – rice ball prices range from $1.90 to $3.50, depending on the flavor. Most people will probably only need a few to make a full meal, making this a great spot for anyone eating on a budget.
You may have a bit of trouble finding Onigiri RVA’s entrance, but don’t be discouraged — at the moment, due to a zoning issue, customers have to enter through an entrance located inside Tokyo Market next door. However, this is actually a perfect situation; once you pick up some onigiri, it’s only a couple of steps to Tokyo Market’s large selection of Japanese and Korean beverages to go with your food.
Despite Onigiri RVA’s current lack of its own door to the street, Reno is happy and hopeful for the future. “As of now,” she said, “I’m focusing on making good food every day, and hoping onigiri will be a part of Richmond culture eventually.” With food this good and convenient, that hope seems almost certain to come true.
You can find Onigiri RVA at 2820 W Cary St. and on Instagram @OnigiriRVA.