With more than 85% of the fish consumed by Americans being imported, most seafood you’ll ever eat was frozen at some point—often right on the boat. Let this soothe any fish-in-the-desert concerns you might have and set adrift in the knowledge that new sushi truck Jesushi (2217 Cerrillos Road, (505)204-5330; Monday-Wednesday Noon-5 pm; Thursday-Saturday Noon-6 pm) from local chef Jesus Mendoza is excellent.
And I know from whence I speak. Yes, we’re all sushi geniuses around here, and we all know what we like, but my dad’s family lived in Japan for years, and the whole raw fish thing has been a mainstay of my life since I can remember first grappling with the concept of flavor. I’ve had staunch requirements because of that, and a schooling in the ancient art of raw fish that I can only truly describe as intensive. Mendoza’s new truck satisfies my criteria with only the smallest of downsides (more on that later) and some of the best and freshest-tasting fish I’ve ever had in New Mexico.
“I’ve been doing it for three months now,” Mendoza says on a late Monday morning. The food truck world is, to say the least, demanding, and though Mendoza still has an hour to go before he opens up for service, he’s still prepping and finalizing when we speak by phone. In those three months, Jesushi has proven a word-of-mouth powerhouse with even the most discerning (read, jerkish) of my friends singing its praises. This isn’t 10 or more years ago, when self-proclaimed foodies would have simply pooh-poohed the idea of sushi from a truck, either, and the ever-evolving food truck movement has proven fine dining need not be attached to a brick-and-mortar kitchen. Even so, Mendoza says he’s still considering a possible patio build-out when the winter passes next year; one that might include beer and wine.
Regardless, he’s got the sushi pedigree, including a stint at the sadly-defunct Osaka restaurant on the Southside that now houses, sigh, Buffalo Wild Wings. Mendoza started there at 15, when, he says, he believes he became the youngest chef in Santa Fe—sushi or otherwise. He’d work Osaka’s teppan grill as well, though, Mendoza says, “I liked making sushi more. It’s more like an art.”
After Osaka, he worked at Española’s Jo-Ji’s for a few years, but took back up with Osaka and, eventually, moved over to Midtown’s Kai Sushi for a three-year run. Then the COVID-19 pandemic kicked in.
“We were closed for two months, but my bills didn’t stop,” he tells SFR. “But I had this truck in my yard, and I was asking myself what I should do—and my mind said ‘sushi on wheels.’”
He worked on the truck, developed a menu and a relationship with seafood importer Arizona Mutual Trading Co. (much of his fish comes from California and Japan and arrives in Santa Fe twice weekly) and now spends every day preparing, as he says, art.
That’s the right word, too, because on the day my companion and I arrived to sample Mendoza’s food, everything looked clean and gorgeous. Jesushi’s menu is more complete than you’d expect from a truck (of which, Mendoza says, he’s proud), and being unable to settle on specific nigiri ($2-$6) or roll -($6-$12) selections, we opted for the chef’s choice chirashi bowls as well as the California roll and shrimp tempura roll (sushi standbys that are, at the very least, decent pretty much anyplace). At $18 apiece, the bowls were worth every penny thanks to the crab meat, salmon, tuna, yellowtail and shrimp served atop freshly made rice with pickled carrots on the side (a brilliant and delicious addition to the already brilliant contrasting flavor profiles and textures of the fish). The shrimp, admittedly, felt a tad deflated and listless, but every single other piece of fish was a prime cut with the kind of marbling that makes one perform a double take. By the time we got to the rolls ($8 and $10), we had already been transported to the too-full dimension, but we powered through in the name of science. And though the California roll’s avocado flavor was right in that perfect avocado window, the shrimp tempura roll contained cream cheese which, though I’m not against it in theory, dominated the flavor. That’s a small misstep in an otherwise flawless operation, though.
“I know how to take care of my fish,” Mendoza says of the flavor. “I don’t prep a lot for two or three days—I prep day-of, rice, too. Because I’d rather tell my customers I’ve run out than prep too much fish. You eat with your eyes, too, and I serve my sushi looking like I’d want to eat it, you know?”
Indeed, and Jesushi’s presentation wins big points, as does Mendoza’s commitment to quality. He advises calling in for takeaway—at least until he has seating options, as Jesushi currently has none—or at least being OK with a 35- or 45-minute wait.
“It’s not like a fast food truck,” Mendoza explains. “Nothing’s ready to go, everything is from scratch. Sometimes it takes time.”
And that’s OK. It was nice to catch up with a buddy and tailgate a bit in the early autumn sun. And when that patio comes, I’ll be the first in line. Until then, any sushi aficionados should put Jesushi up at the top of their list. This stuff’s magic.