Rochester-based food truck Stingray SushiFusion, which has been around since 2013, blends Latin and Japanese cuisine. And just recently its owners Radhames and José Veras joined the ranks of other local food trucks who have expanded their biz to brick-and-mortar joints.
When I first learned about the food truck, I told this joke (to sparse laughs) for at least a week: "I'll bet it gets confusing when a customer says, 'No soy!'" Apparently not everybody loves a bilingual dad joke. But I won't be dissuaded.
In truth, Stingray was everything I needed but didn't know I wanted, even though everything about it initially threw me off: I prefer venues where I can sit down, so food trucks are generally not my thing. Ever-encroaching gentrification, my experience as an engineer working near nuclear submarines, and flat-out poor culinary attempts by other eateries make me bristle at the term "fusion." Also, I am deathly afraid of stingrays (RIP Steve Irwin). However, when I finally tried the food truck's offerings at a festival, I was in love.
After that I looked for its schedule like it was a band on tour. During the summer I feel like Ahab, searching for my whale each week. Father-son co-owners Radhames ("Rod") and José Veras were not playing around when they developed the idea for the food truck six years ago, and now I don't have to keep chasing them, because they opened a sit-down restaurant at 1921 South Avenue called Kocina Stingray SushiFusion 2Go.
- PHOTO BY JACOB WALSH
- The Merengue Roll (front) and Trasher Plate (back) at Kocina Stingray SushiFusion.
The basis of Stingray SushiFusion was Rod's desire to branch out on his own after working as a chef for years, including more than 10 years as a sushi chef. He says he loves making sushi, but also loves the food from his Dominican and Puerto Rican roots (as do I). Anyone can tell you that buying or leasing a brick-and-mortar restaurant can be prohibitively expensive, so his father José suggested and then acquired a food truck.
The truck's menu has been a hit for six years now, but Rod missed his customer base for the four months he had to shut down in the off-seasons. Additionally, the truck is limiting for his creativity; like a fish moving to a bigger tank, his innovativeness would be allowed to grow in a larger space. Eventually, he had to obtain a commissary kitchen to store and prepare his food, and he decided that he should make turn it into dining venue.
Kocina opened officially in February. Finally, Rod has the space to create his imaginative new dishes, his fans can patronize the business all year round, and new customers have an established place to try a new type of food.
- PHOTO BY JACOB WALSH
- The Merengue Roll features beer-battered shrimp, bacon, Sriracha, and avocado, and is topped with sweet plátanos and Stingray Sauce.
From bottom to top, Rod and José have made sure they stayed authentic and respectful of both cuisine styles and cultures that they merged together. The name "Kocina" is a play on the Spanish word for "kitchen" ("cocina"); using the K is an acknowledgement that Japanese does not use a hard C in its translations. The restaurant's interior merges both cultures as well: There is the traditional sushi bar to the left and big screen pictures of the menu with brilliant images of the menu items. Latinx music is bumping in the background, whetting your appetite for both food and dance. The artwork on the walls look similar to Japanese paintings, but depicts scenes of Central and South American folks enjoying life, and the walls are bright and the tables are vibrant colors. All of that paired with the nearly all-glass storefront, I felt like I was either be sitting in a beach café in Izu or Isla Verde.
Before Rod and José even founded their food truck, they experimented with numerous self-made recipes to make sure the various flavors and textures of the Dominican, Puerto Rican, and Japanese ingredients complemented each other. They were not going to be lazy and just throw Goya salsa picante on a California roll and charge $15. The food is unique, of excellent quality, and the effort they put into each dish shines through.
My first roll was a Pica Spicy Salmon Roll ($9), a "simple' roll stuffed with raw salmon in chili oil, scallions, and Thai basil, which tastes lightly spicy and fresh at the same time. The heartier Merengue Roll ($9.75) contains beer-battered shrimp, bacon, Sriracha, and avocado, and is topped with sweet plátanos and Stingray Sauce, a sweet-spicy sauce of Rod's creation.
- PHOTO BY JACOB WALSH
- The Trasher Plate: sushi rice topped with beer-battered shrimp, grilled steak, bacon, cucumber, tomatoes, scallions, sweet bell peppers, fried garlic and onions, ponzu, ginger mayo, Sriracha, and Stingray Sauce.
No Rochester restaurant would be complete without a "plate." Stingray's version is the Trasher Plate ($11), a bed of sushi rice topped with beer-battered shrimp, grilled steak, bacon, cucumber, tomatoes, scallions, sweet bell peppers, fried garlic and onions, ponzu, ginger mayo, Sriracha, and Stingray Sauce. If you're not a fan of steak and bacon, there is also a Trasher Maarino ($13) with tuna, salmon, and shrimp; or the Quinoa Trasher ($9) with the aforementioned veggies, tempura cauliflower, and red quinoa. Specials are always rotating; when I went I caught the Japanada ($5), a Panko-encrusted, extra-crispy empanada with beef cooked in sake and a sweet-spicy oil.
José gives his son a lot of for making a business out of merging two things he loves, and also bringing a style of cuisine to folks who may not think they would like it. He describes Rod's creations as a gateway to original sushi, which some don't think is enticing. However, I would also wager he is also bringing Latinx cuisine to folks who may not otherwise wish to try it.