The new concept makes Mexican food with Japanese ingredients, adding a local twist.
When the Daikaya Group opened Tonari in 2020, they made “wafu” a buzzword in D.C.’s restaurant industry. Media outlets all over town asked Chef Katsuya Fukushima what the term meant — including our own article on the topic. Fukushima reiterates over and over that “wafu” means food from other cultures made with Japanese ingredients. At Tonari, this means wafu pizzas and pastas, familiar dishes made new.
After hearing about Mexican chef Marco Garcia of Los Tacos Azules in Tokyo, Fukushima knew he wanted to expand on wafu in D.C. He and Chef Jose Maldonado (lovingly dubbed “Niño” on the menu) created a wafu Mexican pop-up concept in Shaw’s Haikan.
Running through the summer, the pop-up menu includes dishes like a chasu taco, made with roasted chashu (a popular pork topping for ramen); a super verde ramen made with epazote and salsa verde; and Okinawa camote ceviche, made with Japanese sweet potatoes and coconut leche de tigre.
“My chef Jose ‘Niño’ and I did a lot of brainstorming after a lot of eating and a lot of research,” Fukushima says. “Final product had a lot to do with the reality of the state of the restaurant industry. We kept things simple, executable, but still tasty.”
As the restaurant industry deals with staffing shortages and rising food costs, Fukushima says he had to let some dreams go. He had plans to make fresh tortillas using dashi and vegetarian tortillas flecked with nori, but that would add more labor and higher costs in food and equipment.
“Maybe one day,” he says.
Fukushima’s unrealized ideas don’t show in the dishes, though — each is crafted carefully, full of flavor and texture and color. Paired with available wafu drinks like agua frescas with hibiscus, cantaloupe or ginger beer, as well as peach and mango frozen margaritas, the menu is an exciting addition to the Daikaya Group’s offerings.
“Doing this pop-up was a way to jump on the bandwagon at its infant stage and have fun with it,” Fukushima says. “This could be the beginning of something big.”
While the dishes evoke Japanese and Mexican ingredients, a few have a surprising local twist. There’s the crab rangoons made with jalapeño jelly and Old Bay seasoning and the soft-shell crab battered in Sapporo beer and fried, served with Veracruz sauce and stewed vegetables.
Sourcing local ingredients and influences is more than a trend here in D.C. — it’s an indelible part of menus all over town.
“We need to represent,” Fukushima says.
As for Fukushima’s favorites on the menu, he recommends trying the grilled avocado — an evolution of the same dish available at Daikaya’s Izakaya — and the lengua taco.
“The taco has a built-in umami from being boiled with dashi,” Fukushima says. “I do something similar at Bantam King; I brine the chickens in a solution that has dashi, and the broth from braising the lengua becomes a consommé flavored with the Shio tare. It’s delicious.”
Though the menu is in its beginning stages, an experiment in wafu Mexican, the concepts feel solidified. The pop-up offers something completely new to D.C. residents all summer long.
“Wafu Mexican is a thing,” Fukushima says. “It’s happening in Japan, in Mexico, and now, D.C.”
Check out the wafu Mexican menu, Señor Fukushima, at Haikan through the summer. You can make a reservation here.
Want to know more about the latest food hotspots in the city? Join the District Fray community for exclusive access to neighborhood guides and recommendations. Become a member and support local journalism today.