2016 will always be remembered for the rise of poké in L.A. And also for a bunch of beloved people dying and for tons of other bad, extremely scary shit happening on the global level, but the poké thing, too. No neighborhood was safe from some new fast-casual, hacked-up-fish-on-overcooked-rice place popping up, trying to take advantage of L.A.’s unquenchable trend thirst one $12 bowl at a time.
The poké trend — may it please end sooner rather than later — is so, so, so tiring. It’s impossible to keep up with the constant openings, and most of these new places do a serious injustice to the Hawaiian staple. Squirting sriracha mayo at raw salmon and calling it poké is like throwing a ball of ground beef at a wall and calling it a hamburger.
But the poké explosion won’t be the worst crime against raw fish to befall L.A. in the near future. That title belongs to the sushi burrito. If you don’t know what a sushi burrito is yet, consider yourself lucky.
To make a sushi burrito, the burritero first lays down a sheet of toasted nori, aka seaweed. That nori gets blanketed with cooked rice, some sort of raw fish, possibly a few different vegetables and maybe a sauce or two. Here’s the important part: That mixture of raw fish, rice and seaweed then gets rolled up tightly — often with the help of a flexible bamboo mat — in the shape of a burrito.
That general format may seem familiar. You may have even seen something similar at a sushi bar, or perhaps in the prepared-food section of a Whole Foods or 7-Eleven. That’s because this thing used to be called a maki roll. Sushi burritos are literally the exact same thing except not cut into slices, making the eating experience exponentially worse by forcing you to try and rip through seaweed with your teeth, which shreds the not-actually-a-burrito wrapper and makes all the filling spill out. Eating a sushi burrito is like eating an unsliced pizza: completely grotesque, bordering on barbaric.
But the single worst thing about sushi burritos is what they do to our collective understanding of words. Sushi is raw fish and rice; burritos are a regionally specific, tube-shaped taco. But you don’t get to pick and choose which parts of those definitions you‘re going to honor. If that logic holds up, then we should be calling the handrolls at Kazunori “sushi taquitos,” and that’s not a world we want to live in.
The sushi burrito thing started with trucks in L.A. like Jogasaki and Kimbobrex, and that was cool because food trucks are novelties that are designed to sell novelties. But as the poké craze has emboldened the city’s entrepreneurs to slap more raw fish in and around rice, we’re starting to see the first wave of brick-and-mortars devoted to sushi burritos show up. And that’s frightening.
At least with the poké explosion, there was this general sense of earnestness, that we as a city wanted to embrace flavors from a culture we’re not that familiar with but feel a beachside kindred connection to. The sushi burrito thing just feels … dirty.
If we as a city pledge to eat at our local sushi bars instead of sushiburritoerias, we can stop the trend we’ll be ashamed of in five years before it ever happens. For all those who wish we could take back kale, this is your shot at redemption.