Samurai Burrito: The Subway of Sushi

Do you turn up your nose at those sushi bar Know-Nothings who would make a thick, creamy sludge out of their soy sauce and wasabi? Do you know what brand of sake your itamae prefers? Or do you own Jiro Dreams of Sushi on Blu-Ray?

If you answered in the affirmative to any of the above, you are a sushi snob, and the new Samurai Burrito isn't for you. Samurai Burrito takes sushi ingredients—or rather the components that make up most sushi rolls—and repackages them into something that resembles sushi, tastes like sushi, but really isn't sushi. What Samurai Burrito serves are sushi burritos, but they aren't burritos either. Basically, they are uncut sushi rolls that you eat as though it were a burrito. More than anything, this is a product designed and meant for the Instagram crowd who stood in line for a Ramen Burger, Cronut or Kogi taco before it became just another food truck.

It's trendy, hip, reasonably priced and assembled by people as young as they are. And when you watch the staff work—drizzling sauces, handling the minced imitation crab meat as though it were Play-Doh—you realize the sum of their combined ages is less than the years of training that most sushi masters must undergo before they're allowed to even cut the fish. This is the Subway of sushi, served in a fast-food environment with the thump-thump soundtrack of a Forever 21—further evidence of the democratization of a once-sacred foodstuff.

If it weren't located in a dilapidated strip mall and next to Fountain Valley's venerable Ebisu, Samurai Burrito would even resemble a typical Subway sandwich assembly line—if you substituted the cold cuts with raw fish and replaced the oven with a mechanical rice press that looks as though it's an oversized meat grinder. Gobs of sushi rice are shoved through the funnel at the top of the contraption, and what comes out the other end are perfectly flattened sheets of rice.

Then, not unlike at Subway, you're asked to choose your wrapper from six options, as though you were choosing your bread. But just as with Subway's bread, most of the wrappers, especially the soy-paper ones, taste pretty much the same. Whether studded with togarashi, sesame or shiso, you won't be able to tell the difference when your burrito's girth is 3 inches and these wrappers are barely half a millimeter. They ultimately become nothing more than something that keeps your fingers from touching the rice.

If you intend to customize your burrito, you can choose one protein that constitutes the “core.” Ahi tuna, salmon, seared albacore, spicy tuna, unagi and yellowtail are among the seafood choices. But it should say something that there are also four chicken options, including barbecue and teriyaki. In fact, one of the best rolls Samurai Burrito produces uses chicken katsu, shredded cabbage, sliced green onions and a tangy katsu sauce. It manages to get the correct flavor and texture profile of eating a chicken katsu dinner despite the fact that the chicken tastes as though it were fried a half-hour before you got there, with the breading already halfway soggy.

Other rolls range from good to cloying. The Kamikazu, a seared albacore roll that has avocado, cucumber and onions, is kind of refreshing, something you never thought you'd say about a burrito. But the Rockin' Daruma—a roll stuffed with shrimp tempura, crab mix, cucumber, garlic chips, sesame seeds, tempura batter and two of the house sauces—is a slog to eat, with something out of balance. After your first bite of richness on top of richness, you reach for the bottle of Sriracha to jolt your mouth back from boredom. It's at this point you wonder if you might have liked it better if it were cut into smaller pieces. At least then it would've allowed you to dunk it in your own soy-sauce-and-wasabi slurry.

The most popular item is the Samurai Nachos, which is the equivalent of asking for a big bowl of Halloween candy, getting it, and then being forced to eat it all in one sitting. At first, you think it's a great idea. You remember being served and enjoying the same kind of appetizer on a single wonton chip at the last sushi joint you went to. You thought to yourself you could eat about 20 more. But when you actually get the chance with this dish—which consists of about a pound of chips topped with salmon, spicy tuna, masago, unagi, crab mix, onions, Sriracha mayo and eel sauce—you begin to believe that adage about too much of a good thing. Or perhaps it's because you're actually a closeted sushi snob?

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