Food & Drink

Ridiculous Fusion Restaurants That Are Actually Fantastic

Published On 06/27/2016 Published On 06/27/2016
Flickr/T.Tseng

Mexican-Chinese: Mission Cantina

New York, NY
Restaurant-goers brave enough to wade through the ever-present, cocktail-sipping crowds at Danny Bowien's two-year-old Lower East Side hotspot are rewarded with the celebrity chef's undisputedly talented approach to lowbrow, hipster-friendly cooking. Fat Mission-style burritos reveal crispy, peppery General Tso's chicken, tacos are dotted with everything from shrimp and beef tripe to chicken and octopus, while the sunflower seed guacamole does a great job of balancing buttery avocado with a satisfying, nutty crunch.

As with Bowien's first venture, Mission Chinese, the street food-inspired lineup has little in common with push-cart prices, but what Mission Cantina lacks in affordability it assuredly makes up for in fresh, bold flavors.

Korean-Polish: Kimski

Chicago, IL
White Sox fans, rejoice! As of May 2016, historic Southside fixture Maria's Community Bar is now home to Kimski, a casual joint serving up a curious assortment of Korean-Polish hybrids to hungry (and grateful) Chicagoans.

To bring this wacky idea to fruition, the 30-year-old, Polish-run taproom collaborated with chef Won Kim and each item on the shiny new restaurant's menu is specially crafted to honor each culture's distinctive cuisine. Tangy, savory kimchee pierogies rub elbows with potato-scallion quesadillas and thick Polish sausage covered in soju mustard, a sauerkraut-kimchee blend, and scallions, just to name a few. And, of course, everything is meant to be enjoyed in the company of a nice cold beer.

Flickr/Gary Stevens
Flickr/T.Tseng

Korean-Colombian: Escala

Los Angeles, CA
Korean-born, Colombian-raised LA faithful OG Chino has been seamlessly fusing classic Asian and Latin flavors at this Koreatown favorite since 2012. Slow-roasted, Korean-style beef ribs are paired with sweet guava BBQ sauce and presented on a dreamy, tropically scented bed of coconut creamed corn. The steaming-hot empanadas come filled with kimchee and chorizo fried rice, served on a shareable plate next to a ramekin of kimchee-spiked aioli. And Chino, a DJ and lifelong hip-hop head, is responsible for Escala's vibrant, whimsical decor, a style that playfully complements the mash-up-heavy menu -- what might look unbalanced on paper tastes meant-to-be on the palate.

Japanese-Jewish: Shalom Japan

Brooklyn, NY
Since coming onto the scene late in 2013, Shalom Japan has been quietly taking over the Williamsburg restaurant scene with some of the strangest, most lovingly executed cross-cultural cuisine in New York City. Co-owners Aaron Israel and Sawako Okochi merged their respective culinary traditions (and their lives -- the two are married) to create a shockingly fluid menu that includes strange-yet-delicious combos like challah bread made from sake yeast, matzoh ball ramen garnished with a foie gras dumpling, and a mind-meltingly satisfying lox bowl teeming with rice, cucumber, Japanese pickle, avocado, and salty salmon roe.

Belly Shack

Korean-Puerto Rican: Belly Shack

Chicago, IL
Husband-and-wife team Yvonne and Bill Kim are the folks behind Chicago's best (and possibly only) Korean-Puerto Rican restaurant, a cozy spot nestled underneath the Blue Line in Logan Square. Belly Shack's atmosphere is just as fun and inviting as its food, with bright floor-to-ceiling windows, sleek repurposed fixtures, and soul-soothing comfort dishes like the Boricua sandwich (fried plantain, tender Korean BBQ beef) and the Belly Dog, an all-beef dog smothered in crunchy egg noodles, kimchee salsa, and pickled green papaya and snuggled up to a stack of fiery togarashi fries. With a menu like this, it's no wonder Belly Shack has become a cult favorite amongst even the most chi-chi Logan Square foodies.

Flickr/kennejima

Japanese-Burgers: Fukuburger

Las Vegas, NV
As one of Las Vegas' most beloved food trucks, Fukuburger continues to charm the late-night Sin City crowd with its twisted roster of Japanese-influenced "all-American burgers." The lineup includes gut-busting originals like the Buta Burger, where its signature "Fuku patty" (a secret blend of top-quality beef and Asian spices) is stacked with miso-glazed bacon, melted American cheese, onions, and pickled ginger, then drenched in Japanese BBQ sauce. And an order of spicy togarashi garlic fries, served with banana ketchup and sweet Thai chili-mayo "crack" sauce, is a must with any sandwich.

Flickr/T.Tseng

North African-Mexican: Revolutionario

Los Angeles, CA
L.A. Taco's 2016 Taco Madness champ Revolutionario is just one in a seemingly endless line of baller SoCal fusion joints. Inside his nondescript food truck perpetually parked on USC's sprawling campus, French-Algerian chef Farid Zadi spices up burritos, bowls, and tacos with distinctly North African ingredients like black-eyed pea falafel, vegetable tagines, halal smoked lamb and duck hash, and shakshuka, a succulent mix of poached eggs atop a cumin-rich tomato-chili sauce. Better yet, Revolutionario also offers a $2 value menu of sample-sized munchies to keep the hungry college students a-callin'.

Japanese-Latin: Japaneiro's Sushi Bistro & Latin Grill

Sugar Land, TX
A suburban strip mall might not sound like the ideal setting for one of Greater Houston's most innovative eateries, but Sugar Land's Japaneiro's is set on winning over the skeptics with its bizarrely approachable Japanese-Latin cuisine.

The menu moves from mash-up appetizers (molten mashed potatoes inside battered and fried tempura balls, served with a side of garlic chimichurri) to a massive selection of fresh sushi. The Ensalada roll is packed tight with crisp Japanese vegetables, jalape√Īos, sweet plantain, and kaiware sprouts, then topped with avocado, sesame seeds, and a garlic cilantro sauce, and the menu is rounded out with Texas-sized pepitos sandwiches, filled with everything from juicy cheesesteak to tempura shrimp.

Flickr/anokarina

Korean-Mexican: Kimchi Grill

Brooklyn, NY
Kimchi Grill began as a single taco truck in 2011 and quickly blossomed into a multi-location Brooklyn mainstay. Finally able to properly showcase his unique take on Korean-infused Mexican street food, mastermind Phillip Lee keeps borough dwellers fed and happy with a menu of oddly familiar Frankenfoods like crispy kimchee rice balls filled with kimchee (obviously), gooey queso Oaxaca, and Parmesan; Korean BBQ beef- and spicy pork-topped nachos; and the lettuce-wrapped Ssam burrito (kimchee fried rice rolled with two different kinds of kimchee, scallions, and a traditional Korean chili paste called ssamjang). Simply put, Kimchi Grill is the stuff of morning-after greatness, each dish a hangover-curing mix of fermented condiments and just-greasy-enough slow-cooked meats.

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1. Mission Cantina 172 Orchard St, New York, NY 10002 (Lower East Side)

Danny Bowien may be best known for his creative eats at Mission Chinese, but similar culinary aptitude is found at his Mexican outpost, Mission Cantina. The cooking is playful, clever, and often includes Asian touches. The vegetarian options are as good as the braised meats, and no matter what you order, be sure the tortillas make it to your table. The unforgettably golden, hot corn rounds are durable enough to support whatever you pile on top. If the food isn't enough of a pull, Mission Cantina's fiesta-forward atmosphere surely is, but the most entertaining part might be watching the chefs crank out tacos in the partially open kitchen.

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2. Kimski 960 W 31st St, Chicago, IL 60608 (Bridgeport Sox)

Korean and Polish fare collide in epic fashion at this casual, street food-heavy expansion of Maria's Packaged Goods and Community Bar. Mouthwatering eats include meat potskis filled with ground beef and potato, a "Maria's Standard" house-made sausage decked in soju mustard, kraut-chi, and late-night-only Kimski poutine drenched in kimchi beer gravy and a potato scallion quesadilla -- both of which are only served after 9pm. And, of course, everything is meant to be enjoyed in the company of a nice cold beer.

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3. Escala 3451 W 6th St, Los Angeles, CA 90020

This Koreatown favorite blends the flavors of Korea and Colombia in mash-up entrees, like slow-roasted Korean-style beef ribs paired with sweet guava BBQ sauce and presented on a dreamy, tropically scented bed of coconut creamed corn. With antique wooden furniture planted throughout the room, and Latin music playing in the background, a decidedly LA feel complements the space's cultural fare.

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4. Shalom Japan 310 S 4th St, Brooklyn, NY 11211

This Williamsburg fusion Japanese-Jewish spot marries the heritage cuisines of the shop's married owners, with plates like Panko Caraway lamb ribs and pastrami chicken that are meant to be shared, and paired with your choice of wine, beer, or cocktails. In keeping with the fusion cuisine, the decor is also a cultural mix, with highlights like a high-tech Japanese toilet, Star of David kosher soap, and Japanese lantern-esque lighting that romantically softens the whole space.

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5. Belly Shack 1912 N Western Ave, Chicago, IL 60647 (Logan Square)

Opened by the Urban Belly folks, Belly Shack is Chicago's best (and possibly only) Korean-Puerto Rican restaurant, a cozy spot nestled underneath the Blue Line in Logan Square. Designed with industrial-feeling black and white graffiti'd murals adorning gray walls and a menu of options like lemongrass chicken sammies and hot & sour soup, it's no wonder Belly Shack has become a cult favorite amongst even the most chi-chi Logan Square foodies.

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6. FukuBurger 3429 S Jones Blvd, Las Vegas, NV 89146

Because a burger truck is not enough, Las Vegas now has a brick-and-mortar version of Fukuburger, fusing a lil' Japanese and a lot of beef to create meaty beasts like the Buta Burger, where its signature "Fuku patty" (a secret blend of top-quality beef and Asian spices) is stacked with miso-glazed bacon, melted American cheese, onions, and pickled ginger, then drenched in Japanese BBQ sauce. A must is an order of spicy togarashi garlic fries, which is served with banana ketchup and sweet Thai chili-mayo "crack" sauce.

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7. Revolutionario 1436 W Jefferson Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90007

This Exposition Park fusion joint lives up to the "Join the food revolution" declaration marked on the store facade with eclectic North African-Mexican fare in which French-Algerian chef Farid Zadi spices up burritos, bowls, and tacos with distinctly North African ingredients like black-eyed pea falafel, vegetable tagines, halal smoked lamb and duck hash, and shakshuka. The space is bare-bones, but a $2 value menu of sample-sized munchies make the no-frills aesthetic a very dismissible reality.

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8. Japaneiro’s Sushi Bistro & Latin Grill 2168 Texas Dr, Sugar Land, TX 77479

Located in a Sugar Land suburban strip mall, this unexpectedly high-achieving fusion restaurant serves up Japanese-Latin cuisine, to the tune of Texas-sized pepitos sandwiches, filled with everything from juicy cheesesteak to tempura shrimp, fusion sushi rolls, and margaritas. Service is fast and friendly, and if it's your birthday, you'll even get a fried oreos and ice cream treat.

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9. Kimchi Grill 766 Washington Ave, Brooklyn, NY 11238

This former taco truck turned no-frills store showcases Mexican street food through a Korean lens, with a menu of oddly familiar Frankenfoods like crispy kimchee rice balls filled with kimchee (obviously), gooey queso Oaxaca, and Parmesan; Korean BBQ beef- and spicy pork-topped nachos; and the lettuce-wrapped Ssam burrito. The Brooklyn museum is just three blocks away, so you can get cultured, and relax with a frozen margarita and energy-renewing fried chicken taco here.

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