From South of the Border to the Far East

Photo By Patrick Ciccarone | Colorful burrito-centric magnets and keychains adorn the register area in Rock-N-Roll Burrito, a family-owned Mexican cantina-style establishment located near Naval Air Facility Atsugi. Featured near the register is a glass case filled with freshly made empanadas, and surrounding it is other Latin American specialties like Tres Leche cake, and horchata, a sweetened plant-based milk.



Story by Patrick Ciccarone 

U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Japan District  

‘Hecho con mucho amor’ – Made with immense love.

Written in vibrantly red cursive, the Spanish phrase adorns the entranceway to a kitchen, sectioned off with saloon-style swinging doors. The rhythmic beat of salsa music and scent of simmering meats and unique tang of cilantro embraces you. As you look around, your eyes are drawn to the red and yellow walls decorated with imagery of a sombrero-clad boy and his donkey, and the golden glow of still-warm empanadas resting, bringing you back to your local Tex-Mex joint back home.

But outside, a banner written in Japanese Katakana spells out ‘burrito’ and menu items are similarly translated. Friendly and lively chatter from behind the counter and in the kitchen is in Japanese, but for a second, you almost forget you are in Japan.

This harmonious dissonance of South of the border and Japanese cultures belongs to local restaurant Rock-N-Roll Burrito, a family-owned cantina-style establishment located right outside the front gates of Naval Air Facility Atsugi, in the Kanagawa prefecture, and only a 20-minute drive from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers – Japan Engineer District (USACE JED) headquarters building in Camp Zama.

Established in 2015, Hajime Higa and his family, Peruvian natives, and long-time Japanese residents, along with his staff, have been providing U.S. Servicemembers and their families authentic, delicious, and fresh, Mexican cuisine for nearly a decade.

“Our belief is that Mexican food is something that feels familiar, or comfortable to those who live in or come from the United States,” said Higa. “My sister Patricia, who studied the culinary arts in Mexico, along with our own passion for food, gives us a great opportunity to serve our customers.”

But while ‘The Land of the Rising Sun’ takes great pride in their own culinary prowess, famous for staples like sushi, ramen, rice, as well as numerous other culinary delights, it can often be intimidating for Department of Defense members new to Japan to find something familiar to their taste palette.

“I think Rock-N-Roll burrito is a great place for Americans to visit,” expressed Masateru Yamada, Kanagawa Resident Office Construction Representative for JED. “I had my first handmade burrito there, and I think for people new to Japan, the taste might bring back memories of their own hometown.”

Rock-N-Roll burrito scratches that itch with classics like burritos, chimichangas, nachos, quesadillas, and tacos, all built with the same care and finesse as their counterparts back home and packed with equally fresh ingredients and made to order.

“The flavor of their dishes is really similar to back home,” said Martin Taylor, JED’s Executive Officer. “The condiments they use for their burritos are really stellar.”

Taylor, a Chicago native, noted that while the ingredients might differ due to location, Rock-N-Roll burrito mimics the south-of-the-border taste from the States accurately.

Another of JED’s Engineers, 1st Lt. Andrew Gilbert, Project Engineer from the KRO, and a born-and-bred Texan, offered a sterling recommendation of Rock-N-Roll burrito’s food and service.

“I ate there my second week in Japan, and haven’t stopped going since,” said Gilbert, who is nearing the end of his 3-year tour of duty in the country. “They provide excellent food, for a reasonable price, and all within a quick timeframe – what more can you want?”

“Our U.S. military customer base is always very kind and polite,” expressed Higa. “We have been in Atsugi for over 7 years and have received a huge amount of support from them.”

Higa and his family procure their ingredients from local Japanese companies and farms, in addition to receiving ingredients straight from Latin America. They prepare their dishes in-house the day of serving, ensuring that their loyal customers are eating the freshest versions of their dishes from plate-to-mouth.

“Much of our supply comes from local businesses, but some of our specialty items are imported from Mexico, Peru, and other parts of Latin America,” noted Higa. “Everything is freshly made in our kitchen.”

This dedication to detail and customer service, or ‘omotenashi’ as they say in Japan, is a staple of Japanese culture, and when combined with the love and passion of serving authentic Mexican food prepared by South American hands, makes Rock-N-Roll burrito a food experience worthy of trying.

“Our customers will always find a pleasant place to greet and serve them with kindness and gratitude,” said Higa. “They contributed greatly to what we are today, and we are very grateful to each of them.”

Rock-N-Roll burrito is located 5-minutes from Naval Air Facility’s Atsugi main gate on foot, and a conveniently close 20-minute drive from Camp Zama. They are open Mon. – Sat. from 10:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m.

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