When I think of the word “wrap,” I can’t help but think of the ’90s. Of course, versions of handheld wrapped dishes existed before then, from all over the world, but it was during that era that wraps became noticeably ubiquitous. At the time, and at their worst, wraps meant rolling the contents of a sandwich in a gummy flour tortilla and calling it a day. They were marketed as a healthy option, sometimes because they had more veggie-focused fillings, such as alfalfa sprouts, or had something like grilled chicken breast inside. Wraps also seemed to be a way for eateries to offer an approachable and watered-down (read: less “ethnic”) version of something more flavorful and spice-laden. In some ways, they became shorthand for an appropriated version of another food. Not quite a burrito, or a kati roll, or a gyro enveloped in lavash, a wrap might take one or two ingredients from another culture and market it as a brand new thing.
Thankfully, mainstream tastes have evolved, and so has the notion of what a wrap might be. Some of the tastiest snacks I’ve eaten recently are a version of a wrap. The list below highlights four noteworthy takes, all priced under $10, at (mostly) new spots in Berkeley.
Okinawan onigiri at Riceful
Riceful is the first East Bay café we know of to offer Okinawan-style onigiri. It was opened last month by husband-wife team, Kai Tang and Tiffany Chen. Unlike the traditional Japanese rice balls or triangles, these versions are bigger, stuffed with heartier fillings, folded in half with a larger sheet of nori to securely contain the rice and fillings. All Riceful onigiri come with Spam and fried egg, but vary in additional toppings, such as unagi (grilled freshwater eel), simmered beef, fried tofu or pork katsu. I enjoyed mine with fried aji (Japanese horse mackerel), priced at $6.99. Riceful, 2435 Durant Ave. (near Telegraph), Berkeley
Shish tawook wrap at Wanted Halal & Tasty
I recently moseyed over to University Avenue to try Wanted Halal & Tasty. The six-month-old restaurant with a Wild West-themed name and signage offers Middle Eastern platters and wraps of barbecued halal meats, as well as burgers, cheesesteaks and fried chicken. The shish tawook ($8.99) is made with grilled marinated chicken breast, a meat that can be dry and flavorless when by cooked by less skilled chefs, but at Wanted, was juicy and well-seasoned. Pickles, lettuce and a white garlic sauce are added before the whole thing is rolled up in a flour tortilla. Yes, a flour tortilla. That might seem a strange choice for a wrapping, but it works well with the fillings, especially since the tortilla is lightly grilled before serving. Wraps and sandwiches can be ordered as a combo with a choice of drink and a side of fries for $3 extra. Wanted Halal & Tasty, 1160 University Ave. (near Curtis), Berkeley
Teriyaki beef crispy wrap at Bag O’ Crab
Asian-Cajun seafood boil is the draw at this year-old downtown Berkeley restaurant on Center Street, but on a day when I had a lighter appetite (and wasn’t in the mood for donning a bib), I came in to try one of its wraps. The teriyaki beef wrap ($5.99) is filled with sweet-savory marinated beef, shredded iceberg lettuce, red onion and tomato with a generous slather of mayo. The contents are held together in a flakey chive paratha, a pan-fried South Asian flatbread akin to a Chinese green onion pancake that adds a crispy texture and an added dimension of savoriness that makes this sandwich stand out. Other wrap options are teriyaki chicken, shredded chicken and spicy shrimp tempura. The wraps are on the spectrum of snack-size, so if you’re hungry, you might want to order one as a combo, with a side of fries or salad and drink for $3 extra. Bag O’ Crab, 2124 Center St. (near Shattuck), Berkeley
Grilled salmon sushi burrito at Sushinista
Sushinista isn’t new (it opened four years ago), but I wanted to include it on this list because whenever I mention it, most people haven’t heard of it or tried it. (Granted, Sushinista is across from Berkeley High, so it is a popular lunch spot for students there.) Couple Hirokazu and Takako Nishikawa run this dependable, mostly take-out spot offering fresh build-your-own sushi “burritos” and rice bowls, made with raw, fresh and pickled vegetables and other Japanese ingredients and seasonings. The burritos look like large, uncut sushi rolls, and while they are made up of rice wrapped in seaweed, these aren’t the typical rolls you’ll fine at many Japanese restaurants. Sushinista focuses on cooked ingredients rather than raw fish (although they do now offer sashimi-grade tuna and salmon poke). As Takako Nishikawa told Nosh in 2015, their food is inspired by the healthy homecooked bento boxes that Japanese moms make for their kids. My go-to is the sushi burrito filled with lightly grilled salmon, radish, corn, pickled scallion, sesame seeds, cabbage mix and wasabi mayo ($9.75). For indecisive or new customers, Sushinista now offers a specials menu and set combos to make ordering easier. Sushinista, 2235 Milvia St. (between Kittredge Street and Bancroft Way), Berkeley