It was about 22 years ago when chef Luis Gaxiola heard of a restaurant in Culiacan, Mexico that merged Japanese and Mexican cooking, using sushi as a vessel for creative expression. In lieu of raw fish, protein and vegetables would be stewed or deep fried, coiled into rice rolls and elaborately garnished, marrying chile sauces with flying fish roe and kanikama.
“Suddenly it went from one restaurant to dozens of restaurants presenting this style of sushi,” said Luis, who opened Sinaloa Factory in Woodbridge during the pandemic with his partner Marielos Gaxiola. In the past couple of years, this style of sushi has picked up steam outside of Mexico, popping up in cities like Los Angeles and Houston.
“Sinaloa is a very creative place when it comes to food. This is the land of tomatoes and meat agriculture. We are surrounded by agriculture, farming and the sea. So there is always a lot of ideas being thrown on the plate, it is very progressive,” said Luis.
Located along Mexico’s northwestern coast, Sinaloa is the largest tomato producing state in the country and is also known for its fishing industries.
With Sinaloa-style sushi, classic Mexican preparations like carne asada — where beef is marinated and then seared — is rolled with rice, cream cheese and avocado and presented like Japanese sushi rolls rather than served as tacos.
“There are no limits when it comes to this style of sushi, there are hundreds of variations,” said Luis.
Pages of the menu are dedicated to more than 30 kinds of sushi. There’s one with breaded shrimp, cream cheese and avocado topped with thin slices of banana, siracha spicy mayo and chipotle sauce.
“It sounds crazy, but it is the most popular roll,” said Marielos.
There are other dishes that reflect the regional specialties of Sinaloa, such as the gobernador taco: a lightly charred corn tortilla topped with shrimp cooked with poblano peppers and finished with mozzarella cheese. There are a few varieties of aguachile: raw shrimp tossed with lime juice, chili peppers and a half a dozen other ingredients then served in molcajetes. “We are the aguachile capital of Mexico,” said Luis.
Recently, the restaurant added a birria sushi roll to the menu. Birria is a traditional slow-cooked stew of meat with many regional variations that’s becoming increasingly popular in Toronto. Luis cooks the beef low and slow and uses it to top a rice roll stuffed with avocado, cream cheese and chile tornado (blistered Serrano peppers).
“Usually we accompany our rolls with some soy sauce or a chili pepper to accent the flavors,” Luis said. “With the birria dish, we give them a cup of consommé on the side. Some of our guests love dipping each roll into the consommé.”
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