2140 F St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20037 | Cuisine: Japanese | $ | ★★★★★
A longtime favorite of Arlington residents, Rolls By U has recently expanded its unique sushi bar experience to Foggy Bottom. Seating approximately 35 people, Rolls By U features trendy sushi burritos as well as rice bowls and traditional sushi rolls.
Located halfway between the Georgetown neighborhood and the White House, the Foggy Bottom Rolls By U is an excellent healthy food option. The Arlington location remains an equally convenient option as a seven-minute drive from campus on the opposite bank of the Francis Scott Key Bridge.
What distinguishes the eatery from crowded, or at least busy, D.C. culinary destinations is that diners receive their food quickly but can stay for hours, playing one of the plethora of board games available to guests and listening to playlists full of throwback hits from the 2000s. The staff is friendly, the restaurant is clean and the service is good, making Rolls By U the perfect place to settle down to avoid the mounting piles of schoolwork. Pick-up orders are available, however, for those who would prefer to get back to Lauinger Library.
The mission statement of Rolls By U reflects the ambience of the place: everything is about giving “the power to the people.” With its setup, similar to that of Chipotle, Rolls By U has done just that. Despite the presence of a more traditional menu offering pre-set items, guests can also elect to customize a bowl, a “rito” — a sushi and burrito hybrid — or a traditional roll. Customers can choose white or brown rice, a protein — raw fish, cooked fish or meat — as well as four vegetables, three toppings and sauces. The ingredients are fresh; chefs can be seen cutting fish and vegetables in the back. In its mission statement, Rolls By U also vows to “provide simple, fresh, flavorful, healthy food that is fully customizable by U” by “sourc[ing] the freshest ingredients and combin[ing] them with healthy sustainable counterparts so U can feel good about what U are eating.”
Rolls By U’s menu succeeds in offering traditional high-quality Japanese sushi but also provides a tasty experience for less adventurous sushi eaters. The menu is vast, making it suitable to any taste. My group, for example, had meat-eaters and vegetarians alike, yet each diner was satisfied with his or her fresh meal. The portions are generous and the pricing reasonable, as sushi of a similar quality often costs more at places like Buredo and the portions at other restaurants tend to be smaller. I typically order two rolls at sushi restaurants, but at Rolls By U, one roll is more than enough.
The favorites of my group were the By U Crunch ($11), a delicious roll-up of shrimp tempura, crabstick, cucumber, avocado, wonton crunch, spicy mayo and lettuce, and the aptly named Van Gogh ($14). The Van Gogh roll seemed itself a work of art, featuring fresh tuna, salmon and yellowtail on the inside, as well as avocado, tobiko — or flying fish roe — lettuce, spicy masago, lime and sesame oil. A close runner-up was the Volcano ($13), a more standard but nevertheless exciting roll. A shrimp tempura roll topped with a seared spicy crab salad, the Volcano mainly contains two flavors which combine magically when the roll is toasted. Equally as important as taste, the “ritos” are also Instagram-friendly.
A less adventurous diner might want to opt for a custom order. I personally ordered a bowl with brown rice, shrimp tempura, tuna, avocado, soy beans, wonton crisp and arugula ($13). My choice was a pleasant surprise, because of the heaping portions, which meant I could take my leftovers back to my dorm room for a midnight snack.
The sides proved equally as delicious as dishes on the main menu itself. The seaweed salad is a good healthy pick, as is the cucumber salad. The perfectly seasoned edamame was easy to share.
As newly converted Rolls By U addicts, my friends and I were thrilled to learn that our new favorite restaurant uses the FiveStars app, a reward program which offers points for every dollar spent. These points may be redeemed at either the Foggy Bottom or the Arlington location and can go toward a free drink, dessert, side or rito. We found this option especially convenient given the restaurant’s delivery option.
Overall, Rolls By U guarantees a good culinary experience. Its hours are great for late eaters — it is open until 10 p.m. on most days — and the delicious food and drinks could not be beaten. With the calm ambience, comfortable location and reasonable prices, customers will certainly be incentivized to go back.