Restaurant of the Week: Imperial Sushi

Imperial Sushi, 108 W. Holt Blvd. (at Euclid), Ontario; open 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday to Thursday, until 10 p.m. Friday to Sunday

Downtown Ontario now has a sushi restaurant — but not a Japanese restaurant. That’s because Imperial Sushi, reflecting the demographic, is Mexican-run and Mexican-focused. They have sushi, but also tacos.

I was skeptical, but when a friend proposed meeting there for lunch, I was willing. Imperial Sushi is a couple of storefronts west of the downtown epicenter of Holt and Euclid, in a former mariscos spot.

There’s no sushi bar, just a kitchen, plus booths in the fairly large dining room. To start, a server brought out a cup of tortilla chips and, for dipping, a cup of ceviche. Right off the bat, this was going to be a different experience.

The menu has sushi rolls (but no nigiri or sashimi), plus ceviche, fish tacos and cooked seafood dishes. Just to further mix up the cultures, one of the latter includes fettucine.

We got a spicy tuna roll ($10), a crunchy roll ($11) and a guamuchilito roll ($12), pictured in that order below.

Overall, this is the brownest sushi I’ve ever seen. These and all other rolls use cream cheese. The spicy tuna was close to a Japanese restaurant version, except for the spicy orange sauce squirted on it; the others appeared to have added crunch through deep-frying rather than using tempura.

There was no wasabi, although we were given a small carafe of what the server called salsa soya, or soy sauce.

At another table, a man was matter-of-factly shaking Tapatio sauce on his roll.

“For a Mexican place i’d say the sushi’s not bad,” my friend observed. “For a sushi place it’s … adequate.” We didn’t finish our rolls and I doubt I’ll be back.

Imperial Sushi would be easy to mock, but let me say something in its defense. Americans are notorious for adapting foreign cuisines to their taste. This includes Mexican food, Chinese food and Japanese food. In Japan, they do not eat California rolls, obviously, nor do they serve the kind of party rolls many Americans love.

So, Mexican-Americans have adapted Japanese food to their taste too. Good for them. Imperial Sushi isn’t to my liking, but it’s a fascinating cross-pollination of two cultures, and I wish them well.

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