Before the past couple of years, the sushi burrito was hard, if not impossible, to find in the Washington, D.C region. But the West Coast creation can now be found at several spots in the area, including in the Arlington neighborhood between Rosslyn and Courthouse. Rolls By U opened in November 2015, offering sushi burritos, sushi and bowls to those dining in Northern Virginia.
The sushi burrito and bowl twist on the Chipotle business model is probably the most unique version of the model so far, and it’s odd that it didn’t spread sooner. Sushi burritos have been a thing on the West Coast and places like Texas and Colorado for a while. Alas, they are upon us and we are likely all the better for it.
Rolls By U is a pretty spacious area in a small shopping center that also includes the first Virginia branch of the Washington, D.C. franchise Ben’s Chili Bowl. If it weren’t for Ben’s, Rolls By U would stand out more, but the facade of the building is enough to entice those wandering around looking for something to eat in the neighborhood. There are several tables and bar-style seating near the entrance of the restaurant and chalkboards with the menu for the uninitiated.
As with most Chipotle-style restaurants, the burritos and bowls are highly customizable. But they also offer customizable sushi rolls, which may end up being the most innovative thing about the business. Most places that offer sushi have a set menu with no real options for customization.
Rolls By U also has several Signature Ritos and Signature Rolls for those who opt for trying the chef’s creations. When I went, I tried the Amazon ($10) and it was amazing. I started to default to my usual of dipping the sushi in soy sauce, but the roll didn’t need it. It’s wonderful on its own. The roll, which is cut into eight pieces, comes with avocado, cucumber, asparagus, mango and is topped with cilantro and sweet sesame sauce.
All of the other options on the Signature Rolls menu come with meat, so I’ll just highlight a few that may have enticed a younger, pre-vegan version of myself. The Volcano ($13) comes with shrimp tempura that’s topped with seared spicy crab and is toasted. And the By U Spider ($12) comes with fried softshell crab, avocado, asparagus, crabstick and masago wrapped in soy paper.
The Blueprint ($9) is the only vegan or vegetarian option on Rolls By U’s Signature Ritos menu. It comes with the grilled tofu, shredded kale, lettuce, cherry tomato, avocado, crispy shallot and green sauce. I didn’t try it when I went, but I might opt for it next time, because there definitely will be one.
Rolls By U was my first sushi burrito experience and it was good enough for me to try it again. Because it’s not a dish native to the region, I can’t expect that the best version of it is out here. But the fact that I can get sushi nori, a lower calorie and lower carb option than a tortilla, as a wrap option is enough to get me to supplement at least some of my traditional mexican diet with sushi burritos.
I fell into the trap that many of us have with restaurants that have highly customizable menu options: It takes a few tries to find the right mix of ingredients for a custom wrap. I had a custom sushi burrito, which was good in terms of the ingredients all being fresh. But the flavor was lacking a little. Fortunately, Rolls By U is “the land of endless sauce,” as I was informed by the cashier. So I got their Carrot Ginger sauce, which was free, and low sodium soy sauce and that made the sushi burrito great.
Although sushi burritos aren’t new, not even to this region anymore, they are novel in terms of the dining scene in Northern Virginia. If that’s not enough to get butts in the seat at Rolls By U, then their stellar service and fresh ingredients should be. Oh yeah, and the endless free sauce.
Rolls By U | 1713 Wilson Blvd. | Arlington | 703-485-1169 | rollsbyu.com