Say ‘Hai’ to your new favorite ‘burrito’ place

They had us at Japanese burritos.

Much like its Far East-meets-South of the Border cousin the Korean taco, the Japanese burrito is capturing the imaginations of the patrons lined up for the refreshingly new take on the favorite mealtime staple served up by Hai Street Kitchen, which recently opened in Center City.

Much like the assembly-line model of Mexican burrito chain peers, the concept at Hai Street is simple but effective. You have the option of ordering a burrito or a bowl — either Hai’s signature dishes or build your own. Favorites include The Crunch ($9.24 regular, $11.23 “go-zilla”-sized), with shrimp tempura, spicy mayo, lettuce, cucumber, pickled jicama and grilled zucchini; and the Slammin’ Salmon ($9.78 and $11.77) with tataki salmon, gochujang sauce, romaine, cucumber, pickled jicama and red cabbage.

There are a variety of proteins, sauces and veggies available for people who want to build their own burritos, including grilled and fried chicken (chicken katsu), yellow-fin tuna, chili citrus pork and grilled steak. You can’t go wrong with any of them, and the salmon and tuna can easilycompete in popularity with the grilled and fried counterparts.

It’s important to keep in mind that this isn’t Chipotle on Qdoba. The fare at Hai Street is more “Japanese” than “burrito,” as the burritos are wrapped in nori (seaweed) and brown rice, creating a feel that is more akin to an oversized roll of sushi than a traditional burrito. And that is a good thing, because the fare at Hai Street is satisfying, addictively tasty and, at the same time, not the caloric gut-bombs that Mexican burritos are.

If the nori wraps aren’t your speed, the salads are just as good as the burritos, with the same ingredients available as well as Asian-inspired dressings like ginger miso and spicy peanut sauce. You can also add crunch to your burritos and salad with options like fried shallots, fried garlic or tempura flakes.

Sides at Hai Street have some interesting twists too. The guacamole ($3.49 with chips) is made with wasabi, giving the familiar dip a much-needed kick in the spice department. The karrage JFC (Japanese fried chicken, $3.98) tries valiantly to carry the vibe of chicken nuggets but they’re chopped too small to function as such. Toss them onto your salad instead and they are perfect.

If you are within walking distance of Rittenhouse Square and you are looking for something fast and fresh to refuel yourself, make a trip to Hai Street Kitchen.