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    Putting It All Together

  • Fusion provides chefs, operators with a path for innovation.

    Burrito San
    More operators are fusing two distinct styles on their menus, as Burrito San did with its Masala Chicken Roll.

    The influences are from across Asia—Japan, Korea, China, Thailand, India, and the Philippines. The Mt. Fuji features sashimi tuna, cucumber pickles, and mango sauce, while Masala Chicken has spiced chicken, curry, Yukon gold potatoes, and Asian slaw.

    Asian ingredients dominate at Komotodo Sushi Burrito in Denver, but there are also Western flavors, including avocados, cream cheese, sweet corn, and jalapeños. One of Komotodo’s rolls, El Frito Suave, is deep-fried. It has king salmon, cabbage, carrots, avocado, cucumber, tempura asparagus, and cream cheese.

    “The wrap is battered and the roll goes in hot oil for two or three minutes,” says founder Alonzo Martinez.

    Corn or flour tortillas—mostly in the form of tacos—serve as the carrier for many other fusion dishes across the U.S. The idea of combining Mexican flavors with other American regional foods and serving them in a taco is behind U.S. Taco Co.

    Company chefs traversed the country “to find the absolute best ingredients to bring America’s favorite regional dishes served in a taco,” says Rob Poetsch, spokesman for Irvine, California–based Taco Bell, parent of U.S. Taco.

    Not My First Rodeo, one of 10 featured tacos on the menu, includes brisket, molcajete salsa, slaw, pickled onion, and cilantro on a flour tortilla, while lobster is in the 1-Percenter, along with garlic butter, slaw, roasted poblano crema, and cilantro on flatbread.

    “There’s a lot of pressure to come up with something streamlined but also different, and fusion does that.”

    Velvet Taco, a four-unit chain based in Dallas, has a core of 19 chicken, beef, pork, seafood, and vegetarian tacos, plus one special variety in each store and a weekly special taco.

    “When we started, we decided to create a concept that’s a [quick serve] and find the best, eclectic, interesting, seasonal, international entrées and put them on a taco,” says executive chef John Franke. “It’s not just a taco joint. It’s a restaurant without a plate.”

    The result is dishes like Shrimp and Grits, with blackened shrimp, Creole mayonnaise, Pepper Jack cheese grits, charred tomato-poblano salsa, and cilantro on a corn tortilla. “When people try our tacos, we want them to say, ‘Holy cow, that really works,” Franke adds.

    Other tacos feature tikka chicken, falafel, brisket, fried oysters, fish and chips, and flank steak. The Chicago taco is made to resemble a Windy City–style hot dog, with pork belly, pickles, mustard, celery, poppy seeds, and more on a flour tortilla.

    The combination of two cuisines is behind Gigi’s Mexican and Peruvian Fusion, a Tucson, Arizona–based food truck that launched three years ago but which was conceived even earlier, when owner Sandra Campana met her husband, whose family is Peruvian.

    “We have similar ingredients in our cooking, and we decided to put them together,” she says. The result is a menu rich in Latin flavors and includes the likes of El Chicharron, which is roast pork with sweet potatoes and onions on French bread.

    Chimichurri is a Peruvian favorite, and Campana whipped up her own take on the sauce, which is served with rice in a bowl. But it’s also on the truck’s Chimi-Dog, which is a bacon-wrapped beef hot dog with seasoned salad, chimichurri, and avocado sauce.

    Mixing American favorites with cuisine from other cultures appears from coast to coast, from New York’s Ramenburger (a burger in a bun made from ramen noodles) to Seattle’s Gourmet Dog Japon (a hot dog with a Japanese twist).

    “Hot dogs are a very popular item in the United States, and I thought I could do something different with them that could be interesting,” says Shinsuke “Nick” Nikaido, who opened his first food stand in 2010 and now has five. His most popular item is kielbasa on a bun topped with carrots, nori, sweet mayo, and teriyaki-glazed onions.

    Fusion is not new with pizza, an Italian dish that has become very American. Pizza fusions—from Hawaiian to Mexican—have been around for years, but these days, chefs are doing even more.

    “You think about pizza being America’s No. 1 food, and consumers are looking for different ways of experiencing that,” says Jared Drinkwater, vice president of marketing for Plano, Texas–based Pizza Hut, the nation’s leading pizza operator.

    When Pizza Hut re-engineered its menu last year, it launched several new crust flavors, including the Asian varieties ginger, curry, and sriracha. It also added spicy-sweet Peruvian cherry peppers as a topping for the Cherry Pepper Bombshell and other pizzas. This year, the company added a crust with hot dog bites baked in and served with mustard for dipping. The idea was adapted from a similar pie that gained favor at Pizza Huts internationally and shows the company’s global creativity, Drinkwater says.

    Pizza Patrón, which has a large Mexican-American following, has included chorizo as a standard topping for years, “and we probably sell more jalapeños per capita to our base than other chains,” says Andrew Gamm, the Dallas company’s executive vice president.

    Among its offerings is La Choriquezo, based on a Mexican dish, chori queso. The pizza features spicy ranch sauce, red onions, chorizo, and Mozzarella, which stands in for traditional melting cheeses like Oaxaca or Chihuahua.

    Pizza Patrón expects to add a black bean sauce as an option for its pizzas this month, timed to launch on Mexican Independence Day, Gamm says.