Japanese “Burrito Bar” opens in Philadelphia

Leah Korn, Eastside Opinions Editor

Watch out Chipotle, there’s a new fast food burrito bar in town. There is one small difference between Chipotle and the newly founded Hai Street Kitchen though. Hai Street Kitchen, located on 32 South 18th Street in Philadelphia, is a totally different genre of food than the beloved Chipotle. Hai Street Kitchen is a Japanese “Burrito Bar.” The concept might seem a little confusing, but upon walking into the small yet modern restaurant, it all starts to make sense.

As I walked in I was instantly taken aback, yet reassured by the large pack of people that squished into the rather small restaurant. If it’s this crowded it must be good, right? The line moved surprisingly quickly and soon enough I was nearing the front of the line. The menu was listed on boards behind the counter, very much like Chipotle. The concept is simple. You can either choose from a roll, with the option of white or brown rice, or a bowl–with the option of rice or mixed greens. There are suggested roll options or you can make your own. First, you choose a main ingredient (which is the same for the roll or the bowl). These include, grilled portobello mushroom, shrimp tempura, Tataki Salmon, Chicken Katsu, Mexican grilled pork belly and flank steak. Next, you can choose a sauce. The options are Chimichurri, Spicy Mayo, Tomatillo Salsa, Black Pepper Teriyaki and Spicy Gochujang. The next step involves picking four toppings, some of which are: romaine, cucumbers, carrots, green papaya salad and red onion. The final step in making your own roll or bowl is to “finish off with a crunch” as the restaurant says. You have your choice of Fried Garlic, Fried Shallots or Yucca Chips.

I opted to order a bowl and my mom ordered a roll and we were going to split everything. At first I wanted to have chicken in my bowl, but was disappointed to learn that the only chicken they had was the Chicken Katsu, which was fried. Instead, I ordered the Flank Steak, with brown rice. I wasn’t sure what sauce I wanted, for I had never heard of any of the options. The woman working there was very helpful when she suggested that the Black Pepper Teriyaki would go best with the steak. I later learned that she was definitely right. For my toppings I got romaine, cucumbers, carrots, and the spring mix. I then “added my crunch” by finishing off my bowl with Yucca Chips.

My mom ordered the Shroom roll, which was suggested on the menu. It included grilled portobello mushrooms, tomatillo salsa, spring mix, carrots, roasted beets and asparagus. After quickly preparing our meals, at check out my mom and I decided to try a bag of their seaweed chips. There is very little seating in the actual restaurant. There is only a counter with a few stools and maybe one small table at most. It is mainly a takeout place. Our food was put into boxes that were very easy to transport without making a mess. Rittenhouse Square is just a close walk away so my mom and I ate on a bench in the park, as well as many other people sporting Hai Street Kitchen food boxes.

After a few mandatory pictures of the delicious looking food, I dug in. By my first bite of my bowl, I was hooked. The teriyaki sauce complimented the steak so well you would have thought they were made for each other. The steak was tender, juicy and not too chewy. The fresh romaine and spring mix added the perfect crunch, making the bowl into the perfect salad. However, the brown rice added a unique twist to the salad. There is absolutely nothing I would change about my bowl. I loved how I could make it exactly how I wanted to, and the taste exceeded any standard that I could have imagined. The portion size was perfect because the salad did not disappear right away, even though I ate it quickly. I never wanted it to end.

Next, I tried the Shroom roll that was unlike anything I had ever seen before. It was a burrito, but instead of a tortilla roll, it was wrapped in seaweed. This roll stayed together perfectly and did not fall apart, like burritos often do. The Shroom was a perfect combination of sweet and spicy, as well as soft and crunchy. While I would have never put all the ingredients together on my own, I am happy that Hai Street put the combination together for me to try.

After we unfortunately finished our food, we opened up the seaweed chips. I was skeptical at first–they literally looked like a piece of seaweed. They really just taste like air, but are so addictive because of the added olive oil and salt. They are a harmless snack when you want something crunchy, being less than 50 calories for a whole bag of them.

I wholeheartedly recommend making the trip into Philly to try out Hai Street Kitchen. It is a quick lunch option that tastes delicious. As my mom and I walked back to the car to head home the first thing I asked her was “Mom, when can we come back?” If that doesn’t sum up my experience at Philadelphia’s first “Burrito Bar”, I don’t know what does.