Don Bauder 7:49 p.m., May 22
Formerly the El Camino in South Park, Juan Chou is a fairly recent addition to the neighborhood. The illustrated sign, half kabuki masque and half day of the dead skull, is one of the more intriguing logos that's been put on the front of a restaurant recently. The simple declaration of "tacos and sushi" on the facade says it all.
The interior is very cool and richly decorated. If pressed, I'd say it tends more towards a modern sushi bar than an avant-garde Mexican restaurant because of the crimson and ebony color scheme. Still, the bathrooms are labelled for "hombres" and "mujeres" and there's an almost saloon-like effect on a hot afternoon when the air is still and the sunlight plays in from outside. I was reminded somewhat of Cantina Mayahuel, in spirit if not in appearance.
The nigiri and maki options are much like what's found in any other sushi place and prices range from $6-$12 for those reliable options. The 16 different kinds of specialty rolls, priced $10-$14, are all fairly intricate and seem to possess some degree of spiciness. The "coco island roll" stood out by virtue of being topped with cocount and mango in addition to the shrimp, crab, and tuna that comprised the rest of the roll. The fruit and dried coconut was an unexpectedly good match with the rest of the sushi. A more conventional "rojo roll" with tuna, shrimp, and avocado wasn't particularly innovative but the execution was artful.
Both rolls were enormously long, much larger than average, and the ingredients seemed to be of exceptional quality and freshness.
Though the sushi was of high quality, it was in the tacos department that Juan Chou distinguished itself most directly. An order of sweet potato rolled tacos ($10) could have been the grown-up cousin of the "5 rolled taco special" from any local taqueria. The resemblance was purely superficial, however, as the delicately fried tortillas contained a slightly sweet, deeply flavored potato puree that meshed perfectly with the crispy shredded lettuce and salty cheese that had been liberally applied to the top of the dish. It was an elegant version of a taco shop favorite.
Juan Chou maintains a full bar, as well as a short list of wine and sake, but I was drawn to a non-alcoholic drink. The "champurrado" is a chocolate milk drink thickened with hominy flour and sweetened with piloncillo (an unrefined sugar) costs $3. It's served hot, which I didn't expect and would have appreciated being warned about, and it's frankly a terrible drink for sushi, but on its own it's very interesting. Thickly textured and spiced with cinnamon, it's a change from the typical aguas frescas of taco shops and the hot drink actually goes down pretty smoothly on a hot day.
Delightfully, the bar's selection of Mexican beers can all be made into micheladas for another $1 and that might be the best crossover alcohol for sushi drinking and taco eating of which I can conceive at this point, though further experimentation has to be carried out.
I probably spend more time eating sushi and tacos than any other one kind of food, so it's interesting to get them under one roof. Juan Chou seems to be doing an adequate job of balancing the two, dissimilar cuisines without slighting either one.
3023 Juniper Street