Fast Food International: Taka Taka
Country of origin: Mexico
Locations worldwide: Nine in Mexico and NYC
NYC locations: One in Soho
Lower Manhattan just went from zero to two kaiten (conveyor belt sushi) spots in the same week. One kosher, one Mexican. Yes, Mexican.
Known as Moshi Moshi in Mexico City, where the stylish chain has flourished, this sushi en banda concept took a new double name when it crossed the border. They tout Mexican sushi and Japanese tacos, but the menu covers much more territory than that. You'll also find shabu shabu, salads, robatayaki, and all sorts of hot and cold appetizers. And that's before taking in the parade of eye-level color-coded plates snaking past the counter and booths.
Twenty-four different types of sushi are prepped for the conveyor belt and range in price from $3.50 to $6.50. Each is given a number which corresponds to the description on the placemat.
If you've ever eaten sushi in Mexico City (I can't resist trying cuisines that aren't native to foreign cities I visit, even if it rarely ends well) you know that Chilangos have a penchant for cream cheese in their rolls. The same is true at Taka Taka; more than half of the pick-your-own sushi styles contain spreadable dairy. Oh, and they also have no fear of combining eel with mango.
While the maki isn't wildly unorthodox--various chiles grace a few offerings--dipping sauces are provided in addition to the standard bottle of soy. Continuing the love of all things creamy, mayonnaises come spiked with both wasabi and chipotle, and chopped serranos infuse the more traditional soy sauce.
Visually reminiscent of a Taco Bell pizza (though infinitely better tasting) the tostada ($11) topped with salmon sashimi, black olives, jalapeños, tomatoes, red onions, masago, and drizzled with chipotle mayo, is a worthwhile starter.
The idea of sushi caliente was off-putting at first, but frankly the more the rolls stray from their Japanese roots, the better they are. The Garces ($9) contains tempura shrimp and avocado, and the rice is capped with a thin bubbly layer of melted Manchego crowned by jalapeño slivers. If cream cheese gets a go, why not Spanish cheese, too? It adds an unexpected savory quality and isn't obtrusive at all.
The tacos are the most inexplicable part of the menu. They're more like what we'd call a burrito in the US (the dreaded wrap might be an even more apt description) and are priced like a rare delicacy. Miss Carnitas ($18) were described as tuna marinated in soy-yuzu and served with guacamole and pico de gallo. In practice, the dish is like something I'd throw together in desperation while scavenging my fridge and cupboards. Curious diners should focus elsewhere at Taka Taka.
Overall, the concept is fun--if you know what you're getting into. Currently, the cultural mash-up isn't explicitly apparent from any outdoor signage, which resulted in a lot of confused walk-ins during my visit. Anyone seeking serious sushi will be undoubtedly disappointed. Everyone else has the potential to be pleasantly surprised by chipotles and cheese.
About the author: Krista Garcia is a freelance writer and reformed librarian. Being obsessed with chain restaurants and Southeast Asian food, she would have no problem eating laska in Elmhurst and P.F. Chang's crab rangoon in New Jersey on the same day. She blogs at Goodies First.