Despite being a superb food city in more than few ways, Denver is not a great place to find many of either Cambodian or Filipino restaurants. Enter Riceboxx, the new pop-up from chef Pannah Son and baker Lariza Amon. Serving from a commissary in Aurora, the duo have already attracted attention, with each of their monthly events selling out in advance. While the project is currently somewhat elusive, it has already done a collaboration with Brass Tacks as well as doing several charity-driven events to support members of the industry. One Sunday a month, the duo will make and sell a variety of items — with a new main course, side, dessert and generally a drink displaying flavors that each one grew up making and eating. “We see it as recipe testing for eventually opening a brick and mortar,” said Amon. “This is also to get people familiar with the flavors of Cambodia,” added Son.
Son and Amon met close to three years ago while working together at a local restaurant. Realizing that they both had dreams of one day opening their own space, the duo started Riceboxx as a low-stakes way to address the lack of Filipino and Cambodian representation across the city’s dining scene. Son draws a certain amount of inspiration from a chip on her shoulder — she was the only one of her siblings to have been born in America. Her parents met in a Thai refugee camp after fleeing the Cambodian genocide and had three children before they relocated to the United States in 1993. Son pours a great deal of the pride she has in her heritage into each bite, maintaining certain classic elements while frequently updating the style to illustrate elements of her own identity. Amon’s approach is similarly rooted in exploring aspects of her family’s culinary traditions, having grown up surrounded by much of her extended family, all of whom immigrated to the states from the Philippines in the 1980s. While the dishes Riceboxx serves are certainly an homage, both Son and Amon take care to add plenty of their own spin.
Prior to Riceboxx’s first event in January 2021, both Son and Amon had taken different routes to arrive at the same place. Amon previously ran Miller’s Dance Studio in Aurora and still works in education. In March 2020, she opened Lariza’s Bakery, which first allowed folks to get a taste of the ube and chocolate cookies that still provide the backbone for Riceboxx’s sweeter side. These are serious pastries – Amon says she once sold 1,000 of them in a day without breaking a sweat. Son has a more traditional kitchen background, having previously done a four-year stint at North Italia in Cherry Creek. Most recently, she headed out to Sacramento for two different nearly year-long sessions at S.E.A. Hut, a restaurant specializing in dishes from across South East Asia.
While the menu is constantly changing, there are a few items that have turned up with some consistency. One is the fish sauce wings — one of Son’s specialties — that takes exquisitely fried bird and tosses it in a sauce that balances the more oceanic flavors against a good deal of sweet and heat. Son uses fish sauce well, noting that knowing how to use it in combination with other bold flavors is one of the real pinnacles of good Cambodian cooking. Son’s version of the cha kuey teav takes a rice noodle stirfry and tosses it with bok choy and marinated chicken before encasing it in an egg omelet. Even being a to-go concept, both Son and Amon take plating seriously. “It’s all about your eyes eating first. Your camera eats first, your eyes eat first,” noted Son.
Riceboxx generally opens its ordering system the Monday preceding the event, with the next pop-up planned for Sunday, June 18. The menu is set to feature Cambodian lemongrass chicken sliders with lime aioli, butter lettuce and pickled carrots, alongside tater tots tossed in a house-made spice blend. With each new pop-up, Son and Amon are expanding their repertoire, and lucky for the city, it’s all worked great so far.
All photography by Alden Bonecutter.