Edgy. Experimental. Imaginative. These words describe the vision behind Buredo, Downtown’s recently opened burrito-sized sushi restaurant that offers unprecedented creativity. The fast-casual storefront puts forth a strong effort to marry two of millennials’ favorite quick bites: sushi and burritos.
In many respects, they succeed, offering imaginative variety on the menu, a modern atmosphere and fiercely efficient service. In other respects, they fall flat, with some menu items that need obvious reworking. But despite its shortcomings, Buredo offers an adventurous experience that is well worth the trip from the Hilltop.
I’ve been lucky enough to eat at Buredo three times now since the storefront opened Downtown on 14th Street NW in late June. The first time I visited, I ordered a Hanzo roll, described on the menu as “bright” and “fresh” and boasted yellowfin tuna, avocado, cucumber, fennel, arugula and lemon aioli. The second time, I ordered a Beatrix roll, which was described as “umami” and “sweet” and included both tuna and salmon, cucumber, green onion and unagi sauce. Each roll is wrapped in sushi rice and a large sheet of seaweed.
In all honesty, I was unsatisfied by my first two trips. The oversized sushi rolls are an obvious departure from traditional sushi, which is typically crafted with exact proportions of ingredients. Consistent with its edgy, creative theme, Buredo disregards these proportions in crafting its menu. For traditional sushi, fish is the main focus; for Buredo, the hefty portion of vegetables commanded the flavor of each menu item I tried.
Furthermore, wrapping each roll in such an expansive quantity of seaweed provided its own challenges. The seaweed generally failed to adequately hold the entire roll together. Also, the tactile sensation of biting through a skin-like layer of seaweed into a mushy combination of rice, fish and vegetables was certainly unnerving (although it appeared to bother me more than it bothered any of the people who joined me at Buredo those days). These factors detracted from the novelty of the oversized sushi, especially as the only clear alternative to the seaweed wrap was salad.
This is not to say, however, that these rolls did not have highly redeeming qualities. The flavors were bold, and the myriad of vegetables listed in some of the menu items demonstrates a deliberate effort to make the Japanese-inspired food imaginative yet decidedly healthy. Kimchi slaw, red onion and jalapeno are included in one roll. Pea shoot leaves and daikon are included in another. But these vegetables easily overpower the seafood elements, which left me seriously doubting if each seafood roll was worth its hefty price tag. (Rolls with pork, salmon, shrimp or tuna range from $10.75 to $11.75; rolls with vegetables only or tofu begin at $8.85.)
Just this past week, I traveled to Buredo once again, ordering the Sofie roll this time. Featuring shrimp tempura, avocado, pickled cabbage, red tobiko and sriracha mayo, this item was described on the menu as “crunchy, tangy.” I expected to taste mostly vegetables, similar to what I had experienced before. But Sofie’s shrimp tempura brought far more flavor than the tuna or salmon-based rolls I had previously tried. The shrimp was warm and tender, and the tempura added an additional crunch, providing much-needed variety to the roll.
In contrast to some of the failed experiments of Buredo’s menu items, the physical storefront offered a modern atmosphere that paired well with the restaurant’s creative vision. A distinctive D.C.-inspired mural covers one wall, with the rest of the store clad in light-colored wood and glass. The store space is large enough to accommodate only one picnic-style table, so the four-man line staff worked at a tenacious pace to keep people moving in and out of the store. The intimidating lunch-rush line I encountered moved quickly, and the wait did not feel inconveniently lengthy, even at noon. This style seemed appropriate for the store’s location, which is set among office buildings downtown – not along the trendy 14th-Street corridor to the north with which more Georgetown students are familiar.
All in all, Buredo is worth a try. If it piques your interest, try it. But be wary that the rolls aren’t just huge, uncut pieces of sushi. Each roll takes inspiration from its traditional Japanese counterpart, but none are – strictly speaking – modeled after it. Overall, each trip to Buredo has given me an adventurous experience that I could not find anywhere else.