The aroma of the charred meats, freshly made tortillas, and Sunday menudos that permeate from the kitchen of Taqueria y Cenaduría Triangulo Dorado in Southwest Detroit have already attracted a loyal following of fans in its first few months in operation.
Norteña music hums in the background and walls are painted bright orange with unapologetic displays of the coat of arms representing the three states that make up the restaurant’s namesake Golden Triangle: Chihuahua, Durango, and Sinaloa, all located in northwestern Mexico. The eatery’s slender burros with housemade flour tortillas are stuffed with carne deshebrada roja (shredded beef in red sauce), tacos are available Chihuahua-style (known here as chihuas), and also in other forms like the meaty vampiro or the sandwich-shaped mulitas.
“It’s like the street food you would find in Culiacán (Sinaloa’s capital), but indoors,” says Santiago Torres, who co-owns Triangulo Dorado with wife Rocio Karina Rocha.
Indeed the new-to-Detroit flavors that make up the northern Mexican menu and the restaurant’s aesthetic could easily fit in in any plaza throughout the region, as well as in parts of Arizona, which borders Chihuahua and is where Torres is from (his family has roots in Sinaloa).
And now that followers have embraced the restaurant’s taco-like creations, the husband and wife duo are experimenting with a Sinaloa specialty that has already surged in popularity elsewhere in the U.S. Southwest and West Coast but has little, if any presence in Metro Detroit.
We’re talking about Sinaloa sushi.
Sinaloa-style sushi is quite unlike the Japanese version. First off, none of the fish used is raw but is instead cooked before it’s rolled with rice and seaweed paper, then breaded and finally fried. In its earliest iteration, known as mar y tierra, inspiration was drawn from the ubiquitous Calfornia roll and utilized surimi (imitation crab meat), avocado and cucumber as well as cooked steak and shrimp, cream cheese, and a sweet, creamy, and spicy assortment of condiments.
Like most food origin stories, the beginnings of Sinaloa sushi aren’t exactly well-documented though theories abound. Torres says he heard that it might have come to be when an Asian immigrant came to Sinaloa, brought the culinary tradition with him, and locals made their own adaptations little by little. Author, food journalist, and creator of the upcoming Taqueando festival in Los Angeles (taking place this weekend, in case any of y’all are reading this from the LA area) Bill Esparza recently covered the topic for Eater. He tells Tostada Magazine that it appears to be the invention of Mexicans from the region who’d worked in sushi restaurants in the USA and returned with California roll-making wisdom.
“There’s this interchange between the Sinaloan community in LA and in Culiacán… if you ever go to a sushi restaurant, there are always Latinos making sushi,” he says.
The writer goes on to say that its formative years start sometime back in the early aughts and remained concentrated locally mostly in small eateries in Culiacán. It soon migrated to neighboring Sonora and took on increasingly extravagant fillings like boneless Buffalo wings, bacon, and cordon blue and more recently has landed in parts of the USA like Phoenix, Tuscon, Houston, Las Vegas, and Los Angeles.
And now, it’s found its way to Detroit.
To be clear, sushi served at a Mexican restaurant isn’t entirely brand new for Detroit. Since opening in 2016, Mariscos El Salpicon has served sushi on occasion, prepared by the Geisha Girls popup sushi bar. Chino Loco Taqueria in suburban Highland, Mich. offers a brief menu of rolls such as spicy tuna, Cali-style, and “loco” shrimp to complement its fusion tacos. And plenty of restaurants that feature Japanese-style sushi often have some form of a “Mexican” roll.
The difference at Triangulo Dorado is that its focus is on emulating the Sinaloa concept. In addition to its defined cooking methods and ingredients, Torres says Sinaloa sushi is considered street food its stalls are just as likely to be spotted in a plaza as a taco cart or burger stand.
Another distinction, the menus at Sinaloa sushi spots are also comprised of ceviche, cocteles, and other Mexican seafood specialties. Triangulo Dorado follows suit, with a variety of mariscos, including the classic mar y tierra with drizzles of eel sauce and a sriracha-infused mayo, ceviche tostadas also garnished with ribbons of eel sauce, and the gargantuan torre de mariscos, a birthday cake-sized tower made entirely of chile-laden seafood and topped with avocado.
Torres tells Tostada that the restaurant will slowly roll out other Sinaloa sushi varieties as diners become more familiar with its mar y tierra. And plans could also include branching out of its tri-state food offerings, possibly adding other northern Mexican favorites like the bacon-wrapped Sonoran hot dog (if only he can properly source the dogo’s requisite sweet bun).
In the meantime, he’s intent on educating Detroiters on the foods that speak to his roots.
“I’m just trying to bring something different to Southwest, you know, I’m just trying to bring what I like to eat. I mean, the things that I love,” he says. “Since I’m here, I’m just trying to get it out and show people so they can try different food.”
This article was made possible by the Detroit Journalism Engagement Fund, a project of the Community Foundation for Southeast Michigan, that’s working to increase quality journalism and help better inform communities.
Author: Serena Maria Daniels
Serena Maria Daniels is an award-winning journalist based in Detroit. She specializes in reporting on issues that intersect food, identity, and culture.
Find her one Twitter and Instagram @serenamaria36!