Lomo Arigato, Mr. Roboto: Peruvian-Japanese fusion food truck hopes to roll out
The operation is almost entirely a one-man show that's driven, staffed and cooked by Eric Nakata, 27. Growing up in Gardena and West L.A., Nakata always had a thing for food and started in the industry as a dishwasher at Torrance ramen shop, Men-Bei. He went on to work at Kamiyama Sushi in Lomita, where he spent two years training as a sushi chef under Travis Kamiyama. Around 2006, Kamiyama partnered with Rocio Yamashiro to open Kotosh, a Japanese Peruvian sushi bar in Lomita.
"I knew the catering part and the food is good, but we never really got new customers," Nakata says. "Not a lot of people looked at Peruvian food and Japanese food and thought: That's a pretty good fusion. From there, I thought we had to let other people in L.A. try this."
While still working at Kamiyama and Kotosh, he moved into catering, providing sushi for celebrity birthday parties, working with the Patina group to bring sushi to the Hollywood Bowl and feeding the Dodgers before Friday home games.
Inspired by a trip to Osaka, Japan, Nakata found, "You could walk down the street and within two blocks you'd be full because there were so many street vendors." Back in Los Angeles, he was thinking of ways to advance his culinary career beyond sitting around and waiting for people to call. And then came Kogi.
"I was like . . . 'Why did I wait so long to do this?' " Nakata says. "Oh, right. I didn’t have the capital."
He briefly had a partner but after she pulled out Nakata had to go it alone. He sank his life savings into developing the recipes and renovating the truck, even signing over his Scion XB as collateral for a loan. "And I had just paid it off," he moans. "This is the biggest risk ever."
The centerpiece of the menu is that staple of Peruvian cooking, saltado: your choice of beef, chicken or tofu stir-fried with onions, tomatoes, cilantro and French fries in a sauce made with soy and red wine ($7 to $8). You can also get it with spaghetti instead of French fries (tallarin saltado, $7 to $8) or fried rice ($7 to $8). Every meal comes with a side of creamy jalapeno hot sauce, and drink options will include Inca Kola. Nakata is also planning on weekly specials like a California tostada made with a creamy imitation crab mix on top of a tostada and topped with salsa.
That's if he manages to get the truck rolling. On his test runs, his six-wheeled baby broke down the first time out. Then it overheated. Another time, a fuse popped. Then one of his cooks quit. Barring more catastrophes, Nakata hopes to roll out Lomo Arigato at the end of next week or the beginning of the week after on a route that hits art walks, gallery openings, special events and local bars.
If Peruvian and Japanese don't seem like an obvious flavor combo, Nakata urges: "Try something different."
-- Elina Shatkin
Photo credit: Lomo Arigato