Sushi burrito with sliced beef and pickled ginger. Photo: Sushinista/Facebook
Sushi burrito with sliced beef and pickled ginger. Photo: Sushinista/Facebook

Giant sushi roll fans now have a new spot to satisfy their cravings — Sushinista.

The “sushi burrito” restaurant run by the husband-and-wife team of Hirokazu and Takako Nishikawa is currently in soft opening mode in the former Mix Plus location at 2235 Milvia St., across from Berkeley High School (and former home of the notorious Sumo Grub). It will hold its grand opening Friday, Dec. 18.

Sushinista is a little like Chipotle and a little like a sushi joint. Customers order the build-your-own burritos and rice bowls at the counter. Much of the ingredients are, however, Japanese in style.

But Sushinista doesn’t have a typical sushi menu. Instead of making large fish-based rolls like Sushi Secrets or Sumo Roll (also both in Berkeley), the restaurant is serving sushi burritos based on bento boxes. As the Nishikawas explained: “Japanese mothers make bento box lunches for their children every morning. These bento boxes are full of mom’s love. … This is what busy people nowadays seek. We want healthy and well-balanced food but, at the same time, we want convenience for lunch.”

Each burrito consists of a cooked protein (or grilled portobello mushroom), vegetables and a crunchy “topping,” all wrapped up in sushi rice and nori. “Bento boxes are nutritionally balanced, colorful and creative,” said Takako. “Our burritos borrow from these ideas.”

Takako’s favorite roll is made with honey-grilled chicken with “teri mayo” (teriyaki and mayonnaise) sauce. It comes rolled up with fresh mint leaves “for an extra punch,” said Takako. “All of the rolls have something a little unique.” Indeed, the pork cutlet option comes with pungent mustard leaf, sliced beef with pickled ginger, grilled salmon with pickled scallion and corn, and grilled portobello with cilantro and pickled daikon.

Pork cutlet sushi bowl from Sushinista. Photo: Sushinista/Facebook
Pork cutlet sushi bowl from Sushinista. Photo: Sushinista/Facebook

These flavor combinations, Hirokazu adds, help Sushinista stand out by “integrating American and Japanese styles.” Sushinista’s sourcing model is also distinctly Californian — the Nishikawas are using as many local, organic ingredients as possible. Kale is included in all burritos and bowls (as are raw carrots, snap peas, and cabbage).

Don’t let the vegetable-happy rolls fool you, though — the Nishikawas also want Sushinista to be a friendly and fun place. Two of the side dishes on the menu are deliberately playful. “Mochi’n Cheese” is a take on the comfort food classic, but made with mochi cakes instead of macaroni. There’s a layer of bacon in there for good measure.

Even more intriguing is the “Shake Shake Chicken Karaage.” The Nishikawas take classic fried chicken karaage and serve it in a paper bag with a choice of salt topping (curry or five spice). Customers then shake the bag themselves to coat the chicken. (Perhaps the calories burned while shaking the bag make up for the fried chicken.)

Sushinita’s location on Milvia makes it a prime dining spot for Berkeley High students, but Hirokazu said that he hopes the healthy menu and fast service will make the restaurant a destination for downtown Berkeley office workers. He is also currently applying for an ABC license. Once the license is approved, he plans to sell beer, wine and sake, all of which will draw an older crowd.

This week, Sushinista is open from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tuesday and Wednesday, closed on Thursday, and opening with its full hours (11 a.m. to 6 p.m.) on Friday. After Friday, it will be open from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Saturday.

Sushinista is at 2235 Milvia St. (between Kittredge Street and Bancroft Way), Berkeley. Connect with the restaurant on Facebook.

Kate Williams has been writing about food since 2009. After spending two years developing recipes for cookbooks at America’s Test Kitchen, she moved to Berkeley and began work as a freelance writer and...