Open Rice's bubble waffles are topped with chocolate, fruit, cookies and more, and slathered with ice cream.

Open Rice

‘Time to eat’ Asian cuisine in Blakeney

By Amy Rogers | Photos by Ray Sepesy

Most people wouldn’t choose to open a restaurant during an economic downturn, but that’s precisely what Bryan Li and Jason Cheung did in 2010. Finding a spot in Midtown, they saw an opportunity to get a foothold in Charlotte’s food scene and embarked on their first venture: the stylish Pisces Sushi Bar and Lounge. “It was a very, very interesting time,” Li remembers. “We were willing to take a chance when everyone else wasn’t doing it.”

Now the duo has launched a new restaurant, Open Rice, in Blakeney Shopping Center. Operating since May 2019, a still relatively new, but it draws on culinary styles that are centuries old.

Li and Cheung both grew up in Hong Kong, where the phrase “open rice” can be loosely translated from Cantonese to mean “Time to eat!” The pair met at UNC Charlotte and worked in local restaurants during their schooling. Now with partners Raymond Lau and Charlie Au, they’re offering food that’s more than mainstream Chinese fare.

The expansive menu presents traditional dishes along with unexpected offerings from multiple Asian cuisines, including nods to Thailand, Korea and Japan. There’s plenty to choose from on a roster that’s helpfully divided into categories: street foods, plates to share, soups, sizzling dishes, rice dishes, baked and stir-fried dishes.

Soups include a fragrant tom yum, a seafood soup known for its tangy balance of herbal, spicy and sour flavors. Noodles make this version extra hearty.

Hong Kong-style roast duck is a traditional preparation: basted during cooking to produce a glistening, deep burgundy color, lush texture and smoky flavor.

Cast iron fried rice contains an ingredient most diners don’t often associate with Asian cuisine: cheese! Hong Kong is near China, but it was a British colony until 1997. European influences linger in this combination of eggs, rice, scallions, vegetables and yes — cheese — presented in a skillet. It’s a pleasing variation of an old standby. (The staff reports that kids especially like it.)

Tom yum soup is known for its tangy balance of herbal, spicy and sour flavors.

There’s no American equivalent to Hong Kong’s beloved bubble waffle, a hugely popular street food. For a couple of months last year, word of mouth went viral, and the restaurant had a hard time keeping up with the demand for these sweet treats topped with bits of marshmallows, chocolate, fruit and cookies, and slathered with ice cream.

Open Rice serves its Thai tea with half-and-half instead of the typical condensed milk, then adds whipped cream for richness. Milk tea, served throughout Asia, is a less-sweet beverage, and Open Rice replicates it authentically.

A word about sake: Unlike some hibachi restaurants that serve this rice wine in tiny cups, Open Rice has more than a dozen varieties to enjoy by the glass or bottle, filtered or unfiltered, with flavors ranging from fruits to flowers.

The restaurant’s space feels urban with neutral colors and a modern vibe that will make fans of long-running Pisces feel instantly at home. (Black Dove Interiors designed both spaces.)

“With Charlotte growing as a city, you have all these people moving here and they’re creating this demand. They want something different,” Li explains. “We are bringing you something new, and we want you to try it.”

Open Rice

882 Rea Road, Suite F

Charlotte 28277


Black Dove Interiors designed the modern spaces at both Open Rice and Pisces Sushi Bar and Lounge.