Skip to Content

From Narco to Sinaloa Sushi Chef: How a Kid from East L.A. is Building a Mexican Sushi Empire

3:57 PM PST on November 27, 2018

[dropcap size=big]N[/dropcap]estled on Holt street in Pomona, El Sushi Loco is already poised to serve quite the experience to San Gabriel Valley patrons and beyond. It's an experience underscored by the story of it's East Los-born owner — one rife with narcos, years of incarceration, a Tijuana street cart, and even a kidnapping.

El Sushi Loco serves a unique Sinaloa-style sushi, or Sushinaloa style, a hybrid of mariscos and baked rolls filled with proteins and cheeses. The result is a delicious Mexican and Japanese fusion.

The Emperador – the emperor roll – is made with cream cheese, carne asada, and cooked shrimp. Then it’s bundled up in seaweed, tossed in some batter, and deep fried. It only gets better when the sushi is topped with spicy kanikama, house made eel sauce and served with a little pool of a creamy cilantro sauce. There is that initial soft crunch that quickly makes way for the other flavors to mingle and create a delightful experience.

L.A. Taco recently got an exclusive soft opening preview of El Sushi Loco's fourth location, which is officially opening Dec. 3 with a party and ribbon-cutting by members of the Mexican norteño supergroup, Banda MS.

Dynamite Roll. Courtesy of Sushi Loco.

El Sushi Loco is a mishmash of the streets of East Los Angeles and something unmistakably Sinaloense. The savory endproduct is wrought together by hardship, grit, and a passion for food. Parked in front of the new restaurant was a beatdown food cart, with a faded “Sushi Island” logo on top, an homage to El Sushi Loco’s humble past.

'I became a narcotraficante.'

Frank Mendoza, sushero and owner of four El Sushi Loco restaurants, looked at the old cart fondly. The smiling chef has come a long way. Born in East Los Angeles, Mendoza was kidnapped and whisked away to Culiacán, Sinaloa by a rogue father as a young child. “He literally kidnapped me, what happened to the Amber Alert back in the day?” Mendoza laughed.

After a while, Mendoza’s father realized that his son needed a mother, so he returned the child to East L.A., where Mendoza would spend the rest of his childhood. Mendoza graduated from Roosevelt High School. While he showed promise in baseball, nothing came of it.

“My uncles were narcos. My mentors were drug dealers. What did I become? A drug dealer. I became a narcotraficante,” Mendoza explained.

Sushi Loco chef and founder Frank Mendoza. Photo by Erick Galindo.

[dropcap size=big]A[/dropcap]fter getting caught, 23-year-old Mendoza was hit with an 11-year prison sentence in 2000. Despite initially feeling like prison was the end, Mendoza realized that it was the beginning of his process. He wanted his life to be significant and have an impact.

Immediately after prison, he set out with a new purpose, and a sushi cart that he bought from Tijuana. There were setbacks. The cart would violently shake when it was hooked to the back of Mendoza’s truck, and the small business was shutdown by police. Still, the customers kept coming back for more.

Eventually, Mendoza was successful enough to retire the “Sushi Island” and get his own brick-and-mortar restaurant. He just needed a new name. One day Mendoza passed an El Pollo Loco and it hit him, El Sushi Loco would be the new name for his friendly and over-the-top culinary experience.

Mendoza and his daughter. Photo by Erick Galindo.

Mendoza now has two locations in Downey, one in La Puente, and the new Pomona one. He sees it as the start of a Mexican sushi empire.

I can’t say El Sushi Loco has a home kind of vibe, because that would imply mundane, and El Sushi Loco is anything but. However, this establishment has the energy of a good friend that just really wants you to try something special they created.

Besides celebrating the grand opening of Sushi Loco No. 4, this holiday season Mendoza and El Sushi Loco will also be giving back, joining forces with East LA Alcance, Victoria Church, and Angel Tree for a Christmas toy drive, which will begin soon after the new restaurant is open. Mendoza said the donations will help "bring smiles to children whose parents are currently incarcerated."

“My biggest joy is to give back to the community," he explained. "As opposed to being the problem back in the day, El Sushi Loco wants to be a part of the solution."

RELATED: A Family-Owned Gastropub in Monterey Park Is Putting an Asian L.A. Twist on Classic Burgers and Brew

Already a user?Log in

Thanks for reading!

Register to continue

Become a Member

Stay in touch

Sign up for our free newsletter

More from L.A. TACO

L.A.’s Best Secret Ecuadorian Restaurant Opens Weekends Only at This Wilshire Blvd. Cafe

On weekends,Cafe Fresco transforms into one of the rare places in the city to find seco de chivo, llapingachao, guatita, and other regional Ecuadorian eats.

September 26, 2023

The Seven Best Poke Places In Los Angeles

In Los Angeles, the poke scene is starting to heal from a bit of a hangover caused by rampant overindulgence. These are the true Hawaiian-inspired, fresh fish spots that endure for good reason. Most, located right by the beach to enjoy L.A.'s crisp ocean breeze with your sashimi-grade fish.

September 25, 2023

Spot Check: Colombian Desgranados In Echo Park, Mexican Wine Festival At Mírate, and Perverted Waffles in DTLA

Plus, a party highlighting pan-African cuisine, a new Taiwanese cookbook by an awarded local from the San Gabriel Valley, and a Little Saigon food festival that starts tonight! Welcome back to Spot Check!

September 22, 2023

This 24-Year-Old Latina Mortician Beautifies the Dead and Influences the Living

Growing up in Arleta with a first-generation family from El Salvador, Berrios admits that her family only embraced her career choice two years ago, after she started to win awards like “Young Funeral Director of the Year.” The 24-year-old works as the licenced funeral director and embalmer at Hollywood Forever cemetery. As a young person born in peak Generation Z, she's documented her deathcare journey on TikTok and has accrued more than 43K followers on the platform. 

September 21, 2023

Meet ‘Carnitas Rogelio,’ The Family-Run Stand With The Best Michoacán-Style Carnitas O.C. Has to Offer

Michoacán-raised Rogelio Gonzalez slices the cuerito (the pig skin) in a checkered pattern to ensure a light crunch in each bite and utilizes every part of the pig, from the feet to the liver and intestines, which he binds together in a braid. 

September 20, 2023
See all posts