If you’re a fan of fusion cuisine, it doesn’t get any more fusion than sushi wrapped in seaweed to resemble a burrito.
Japan meets Mexico at the Kazu Sushi Burrito that opened last week at 117 W. Adams St., in the former Pho A Noodle Bar space.
Owner and sushi chef David Chen came to Jacksonville from Xenia, Ohio, where his family has been in the Chinese restaurant business for decades.
He often visited friends in Northeast Florida and it occurred to him there wasn’t enough good sushi in Jacksonville.
Chen opened his Kazu Japanese Restaurant in 2013 in Mandarin, near San Jose Boulevard and Crown Point Road.
After establishing a regular clientele in the full-service restaurant, Chen brought the sushi burrito concept to the area with his first fast-casual operation along Belfort Road that opened in September.
The idea was to provide the same quality sushi as he serves at the restaurant, but with much faster service designed for the 60-minute lunch hour and the grab-and-go crowd.
“It’s very fast and very consistent. We’d like to be the Japanese Chipotle’s,” said Chen.
When guests arrive, they fill out an order blank to select a burrito, poke bowl or salad.
More than 10 proteins are on the menu, including tuna, salmon, smoked eel and grilled tofu.
A list of 15 “mix-ins” includes fresh fruits, vegetables, seaweed salad and herbs.
Chen makes 10 sauces fresh daily, such as sweet yuzu, wasabi mayo, ginger dressing and sweet kimchee.
He has fresh fish for sushi flown in three of four times a week from vendors in Atlanta, New Orleans and Miami, he said, and he makes a trip to the Jacksonville Farmer’s Market on Beaver Street just about as often.
“They have gotten to know me there,” said Chen.
When the order form is filled out, the custom-built sushi burrito is turned out along an assembly line of ingredients and it’s finished almost as fast as the customer can walk to the cash register.
If you need really, really fast service, Kazu has online ordering at kazusushiburrito.com. Fill out the order form and schedule the time to pick up the food.
“Downtown office workers don’t have a lot of time to enjoy lunch. They want something fast and convenient, but it also has to be healthy and high-quality,” Chen said.
With a successful restaurant and the first sushi burrito concept established in Southside, Chen hopes the Downtown location will be the second phase of planned expansion.
“Everybody knows Kazu for quality, but not everybody in Jacksonville has had a sushi burrito. I’d like to expand all over Jacksonville and open in Riverside, Town Center and the Beaches,” he said.
Chen said last week he’s getting used to the rhythm of Downtown lunch traffic.
Kazu Sushi Burrito is open at 10:30 a.m. Monday-Friday for lunch. Chen said the restaurant will have flexible closing hours on weekdays. Kazu Downtown also will be open for events like Art Walk.
There was a steady stream of customers each day last week and Chen hopes the sushi burrito concept will continue to be a hit in the urban core.
“It’s fast. It’s healthy and no chopsticks required,” he said.