Mexican sushi is everything that traditional sushi is not.
At its core, it employs a spicy, crunchy, tangy, and creamy flavor-bomb approach, not unlike Mexican food in general. It stands in stark opposition to the romantic, Japanese, "less is more" school of thought that makes sushi chefs like Jiro Ono look all the more admirable.
But can you hang with a heavily breaded, deep-fried sushi roll that replaces seafood with cream cheese-smeared grilled chicken?
In Los Angeles, we can. There are now seven Mexican sushi restaurants in the city, with names like El Sushi Loco, Sushilito, and—the most successful of all—Culichi Town. What else did you expect from the same city that birthed Korean tacos?
It all started when a customer at a sushi restaurant in Sinaloa asked the chef for "something different" one day. That led the sushi chef to procure a sizzling piece of carne asada from the taqueria across the street and create a sushi roll with it.
These establishments seem to only open up in LA County's suburban fringes, however, in neighborhoods like Bell and La Puente. These are still the true working-class areas of the city, and the most affordable to live in.
On a Wednesday afternoon, the restaurant could have been the setting for the opening scene in a Mexican soap opera ripoff of Keeping Up with the Kardashians—complete with its red carpet and tinted windows. A group of women wearing the shortest, tightest miniskirts made their way to the entrance after dropping off their GMC Suburban SUV with the restaurant's valet. It wasn't even 4 PM yet and the valet already had a small line of cars to park, from Camaros to rusty Datsun pickup trucks stacked high with landscaping gear.
Inside the restaurant, about a dozen booths were filled with mostly young Latino men and their dates, along with a few older men just stopping in to day-drink and sit out the peak of LA's brutal midweek rush hour commute. There was a family of six celebrating a birthday, too. "We were craving sushi, and this is the closest thing to sushi that this part of town has," said one diner.
The Spanish-only menu is a study in Mexican seafood, boasting items like scallop aguachiles and smoked marlin quesadillas on handmade white corn tortillas on one page, and sushi rolls that are named after iconic Mexican folk singers who sing about drug cartels on another page. The cuatro quesos roll—filled with queso fresco, cotija, Monterey jack, and cream cheese slathered in chipotle mayonnaise—immediately stands out. Not a single roll had any raw fish, but all of them included cream cheese.
"The food is comforting and soulful, and it is stuffed with things that you typically get inside a taco or burrito," says Robin Chopra of the James Beard Award-nominated Corazón Y Miel restaurant, located next door to Culichi Town. "It may have Asian roots but it has completely become its own thing."
According to Ronald Guerrero, a sushi chef at Culichi Town. It all started when a customer at a sushi restaurant in Sinaloa asked the chef for "something different" one day. That led the sushi chef to procure a sizzling piece of carne asada from the taqueria across the street and create a sushi roll with it. Thus, Mexican sushi was born.
"Just look at how many other Mexican sushi restaurants have opened up in this area since we opened up a few years ago?" says Culichi Town's head sushi chef, Gerardo Vazques, with a grin.
"Right now, Mexican sushi is a novelty food, but give us three years and we will take over the rest of the US—not just California."