Story and photos By Rachel Verbits, June 2018 Issue.
Unfortunately, we still live in a world that’s quick to prejudge and label, to cramp people into boxes based on beliefs and ideas and to assume everything’s black and white, right or wrong, male or female.
But the creative landscape of culinary fusion is still a space where everyone can celebrate mashups, hybrids and the wonderfully unique gray area without judgement (we do like labels when we’re grocery shopping, however).
In case you’re wondering what this has to do with a restaurant review, your answer is this: Mexican sushi.
The Mexican sushi craze rolled into the West Valley a few years ago and is only gaining momentum, as there are four restaurants in about a 2-mile radius of 43rd Avenue and Thomas Road alone. And, after hearing enough buzz, we had to check out this fresh and funky fusion ourselves and dish all the delicious details.
As a lover of both Mexican and Japanese cuisine, I was a bit hesitant at this combination initially. But after digging in to the scene, I quickly learned that a number of Phoenix eateries are jumping on board to meet a growing demand from intrigued and excited palates – and they aren’t disappointing.
We visited a few of the most popular spots serving up Mex-sushi, as it’s often referred, including Señor Sushi. Located on the northwest corner of 43rd Avenue and Thomas Road, Señor Sushi looks unassuming from the outside, and offers an intimately lit lounge featuring Japanese-inspired accents and an unmistakable vibe that this place is still a bit of a hidden gem. The menu is just as straight forward as the atmosphere: appetizers, soups and salads, friend rice and noodles, traditional sushi and “Latino rolls.”
Most Mex-sushi rolls are deep fried to golden perfection, providing an additional layer of crispy crunch – above and beyond what you’d expect of traditional tempura offerings – and fillings can include anything from chicken and bacon to shrimp and jalapeños. (I promise no one will force you to eat eel sauce with your carne asada or American cheese with your octopus.)
Opting for the full, label-free and unbiased experience, we started with the fire cracker jalapeños (the wonton tostadas that originally caught our eye were no longer available). It was no surprise that these jalapeños aren’t anything like a traditional popper. Instead, they’re lightly fried in tempura batter and stuffed with spicy tuna, crab mix and cream cheese, topped with orange and eel sauce. The result is an adventurous crunchy and creamy upgrade from the typical appetizers that grace most menus.
Next up was the Carne Asada Roll. Traditional in appearance only, this roll is filled with carne asada, cream cheese, avocado, cucumber and cilantro and is one of the restaurant’s signature items. Deep fried and filled with perfectly tender steak, the roll embodied exactly what I pictured when imagining what Mex-sushi should be. Simply put, it’s was like eating the best street taco with chopsticks rather than your hands. Not to mention the perfect amount of each ingredient in every bite.
The rest of Señor Sushi’s menu shows its commitment to Mexican/Japanese gastronomy, with such rolls as Tres Quesos, stuffed with three cheeses; Cielo Mar Y Tierra, containing chicken, beef and shrimp tempura; and the Milena Roll, chicken, bacon and Chihuahua cheese.
Consistent with the emerging trend, most of the rolls were deep fried, but we were able to find one – the Mexican Roll – that wasn’t. Possibly the best blend of both Mexican and Japanese flavors, this extra large roll is filled with salmon tempura, spicy crab mix and cucumber, topped with avocado and yellow hot peppers and a drizzle of orange, eel, “señor” and sriracha sauces. Without the layer of deep fried crunchiness, the flavor of the crispy salmon, crab and the hot peppers took center stage and made this one a standout (and probably on the lighter side, if you’re keeping track).
Fair warning: most of the rolls are filled with jalapeños for a spicy kick. While it brings flavor and a fresh crunch to each bite, the taste can be slightly overwhelming if you are not a fan. But in my experience, the essence of the jalapeño was perfect: strong enough to provide flavor while letting the meat and seafood shine.
While Señor Sushi has a wide selection of Mexican sushi and new flavor combinations to try, it definitely has a fair amount on competition in the area.
Sushinola Roll is another hot spot in the area that highlights seafood dishes from the coastal state of Sinaloa, Mexico. Their signature roll, the Sushinola Roll, is filled with avocado, shrimp, bacon and cream cheese and is topped with Tampico and eel sauce. If you don’t find yourself near their brick and mortar location on West McDowell Road very often, they have a food truck that brings their creations to every corner of the Valley!
And if you’re looking for the place that started it all, Sushi Sonora is the original Mexi-sushi spot in Phoenix (now with three Valley locations). Here you’ll find rolls inspired by the popular Sonoran dog, a Vegetarian Roll and a Ceviche Roll.
Our list is just a sample of the Valley’s growing Mex-sushi scene. I predict as many readers will be delighted as hesitant, scared or even completely against this new(ish) trend. But if you can set your preconceived palate preferences aside, Mex-sushi a tasty reminder that food should never be black and white.
4324 W. Indian School Road, Phoenix