Buddakan. Ruby Foo’s. Tao. These glitzy pan-Asian caverns call to mind a Manhattan of the mid-2000s, a simpler time when “Sex and the City” was edgy, cosmos were cool, and all you needed for a swanky night out was dim lighting and a fat budget.
Iverson Guo came from that world, working at Ruby Foo’s, a 300-seat fusion factory in Times Square. Now he wants to bring something “trendy, modern” to the suburbs in the form of Karma, with restaurants in Westford, Andover, Concord, and now, the Burlington Mall —marrying city glamour with suburban friendliness.
“We’re a community-based restaurant. The customer comes in and they care about the business. They care about employees. They know everything about it. They know my wife, they know my kids, everything. We feel like just members of this great family,” he says.
Guo lives in Quincy now. He’s originally from Fuzhou, China; after working in New York, he moved to the Boston area, working at Tsunami in Brookline and at restaurants near Gillette Stadium, ultimately catering for Patriots players such as Dan Koppen, who helped coin the Karma name.
“Karma is a Buddhist concept. What goes around, comes around,” Guo says.
Hopefully good karma has finally arrived for him at the Burlington location. The opening was delayed three times due to COVID-19, and it’s been hard to find staff.
Happily, this doesn’t show in the food. Sushi is the thing to get here, especially Karma Three Layers ($16), delicate rolls of torched albacore tuna on top of folds of spicy minced crabmeat, scallops, and salmon. Regulars often make a meal of two orders of that alone. Tuna “tacos” on crispy chips, smeared with spicy mayo and fish roe ($17), are a familiar fusion snack. For a cheaper takeout meal, try a duo of $12 duck bao: buttery confit duck inside springy buns and just the right amount of hoisin.
There are also Chinese classics, like kung pao chicken (sadly devoid of peanuts) and beef with broccoli, but Japanese is the strength.
For someone who grew up going to the Burlington Mall — and even worked at Filene’s, sneaking trips to the food court when things got slow in the moderates section — an upscale restaurant seems almost out of place. Back then, Jimmy’s on the Mall was the fanciest game in town, serving steak tips and rice pilaf for a fair price and a side salad to boot.
But times are changing. This is not a restaurant that prides itself on restraint: If big corporate dining ever comes back, $36 fatty tuna with caviar is sure to follow.
Karma, 75 Middlesex Turnpike, Burlington, 781-365-0660, www.karmaasianfusion.com