Open since March, Rolled Up's sushi burritos have drawn crowds faster than any of the other concepts James Markham has created (Pieology, recently lauded as one of the fastest growing chains in America, being one of them).
"I think people are really searching for something that's a little bit different," he said, though "sushi burrito" is a term he'd prefer to put to rest. Giant fusion roll more accurately describes Rolled Up's specialty though Markham - self-described as young at heart - admittedly isn't a fan of this particular "f" word. Validating his reasoning, my dining partner wondered why on earth anyone would want to eat raw fish wrapped in a tortilla upon hearing where we were headed.
What wound up in our hands was indeed a giant sushi roll about the same size as a standard carne asada burrito and cut in half. The ends were wrapped in foil to keep the filling, encased by a thin layer of rice on nori (seaweed), in place. With only so much room in our stomachs and a desire to sample most of the menu, we opted for the "Get Any Roll ½ & ½" choice, which meant sampling four rolls in one go between the two of us.
Address: 3884 Fourth Ave., Hillcrest
Phone: (619) 358-9397
Based on feedback from the uber-friendly staff that assembles each roll made-to-order, we chose the most popular and declared the Hillcrest Roll (ahi, hamachi, opah, red cabbage, asparagus, shaved jalapeño, blue corn chips, cilantro chili Bitchin' Sauce, Sriracha mayo and wasabi soy mayo) the winner. Yes, there is a lot happening in each bite so I found myself having to pause every so often in order to fully appreciate the flavors.
A roll this big needs texture, which is why Crunchy Little Guy (shrimp tempura, crab, seasoned cabbage, Persian cucumber, ginger Bitchin' Sauce, blue corn chips, Sriracha aioli and eel sauce) placed a close second. Fun fact: After much testing Markham said they figured out that placing chips whole on the roll before it's rolled is the best way to retain crunch.
But the truth is that all four rolls we tried were delicious and that was not something my half-Japanese self was expecting. Rules are being broken here (which is probably what my expert-sushi-maker grandfather would say) and that's just fine with Markham. The décor doesn't conform to a theme either so absent are Buddhas and paper lanterns. Instead, he personally sourced reclaimed church pews, electrical wire spools and flooring to mix with white subway tiles, metal accents and succulents in pots. He wanted the space to resonate with guests immediately upon setting foot inside.
Transitioning from fast-casual pizza to giant fusion rolls may seem odd but makes sense for a foodie who has spent quite a bit of time in Asia. Markham eventually ate a stateside sushi burrito and immediately thought about how he would make the product appeal to a broader audience and improve the overall experience. He wanted guests to be able to customize or substitute. So that's what he did.
"As long as people like what we're doing they can call it whatever they want," he said.
Katie Dillon is a lifestyle and travel writer who believes that one of the best ways to explore a city is through its food and drinks. Follow her adventures on social media at @lajollamom and send any tasty ideas to email@example.com.