PICTURED: Patrons of SushiWay enjoying good times. Photo courtesy of Visit Oxnard

by Alex Wilson

rwilson@timespublications.com

SushiWay
455 S. A St., Oxnard
805-247-0998
sushiway.com

Gabriel Barajas has enjoyed a colorful career in the world of restaurants since he started selling hot dogs from a rolling cart outside a San Fernando Valley DMV office in 2009. He became a social media phenomenon as his TacosWay restaurants took off in Los Angeles. Barajas’ success even allowed him to recently open a restaurant in Tokyo, Japan.

His latest creation is SushiWay, tempting diners with a fusion of sushi and Latin flavors in Downtown Oxnard that opened just over a year ago. 

Fun with fusion

SushiWay is a spinoff from TacosWay, which now has six locations in Southern California as well as a Japanese outpost. In addition to traditional sushi dishes, the SushiWay menu also includes all the TacosWay favorites.

But the fusion of the two cuisines is where things get really interesting.

SushiWay fans can choose from a wide variety of items. Photo courtesy of Visit Oxnard

Fusion items include an appetizer called “Avocado Bomba,” a tempura dish mixing spicy tuna and salsa, “Sala De Mango” roll with salmon, shrimp, avocado, jalapeno and mango-chili salsa, and the popular lobster taquitos. Another Asian-influenced dish is “Carnitas Ramen,” with spinach, jalapenos and bean sprouts in a spicy pork miso broth, topped with a soft boiled egg and green onions.

Barajas was born in the San Fernando Valley but lived in Mexico between the ages of 5 and 12.

“I got to experience real Mexican food and every year I go back to Mexico at least three or four times, so I’m very familiar with all the Mexican flavors,” he said.

Social media spice

He didn’t always dream of owning restaurants, but started out in the food industry out of necessity.

“There was a huge recession, so I had to sell hot dogs outside of the DMV in Canoga Park,” Barajas recalled. “I realized during the recession that people were still buying food, so I realized I had to open a restaurant.”

He bought an existing Mexican restaurant in Canoga Park and renamed it TacosWay, but at first struggled to attract many customers. That all changed when he launched an Instagram page with memes and funny videos related to food. 

“I created an alter-ego. I showed up in a gold chain and sunglasses and people started calling me ‘Mr. TacosWay,’” he said. 

In one video, Barajas is in Mexico talking about how he drives Range Rovers and Maseratis when he’s in L.A., and then the shot reveals him riding a tiny donkey. 

“It blew up on social media,” he said.  “I created a buzz. So after I did the social media thing, people started going to my [Instagram] page, started going to my restaurant. It got to a point when it was super packed. And then I opened up my second restaurant, and automatically that one was already full.”

According to Barajas, when he opened his third TacosWay, there was a three-hour wait to get in. During the grand opening for the fifth one, there were over 1,000 people waiting outside.

“It was unbelievable, it was the highlight of my restaurant career,” Barajas said

Today he has more than 461,000 followers on the TacosWay Instagram page and SushiWay already has more than 14,000 followers. 

Sushi meets salsa

Barajas came up with the idea for SushiWay because he loved sushi but his parents were not fans, and always refused to go to sushi restaurants with him. 

“So I thought, how ‘bout we get a sushi place that sells Mexican food, too, so we can have a little bit of both? So that’s how SushiWay came about,” he said. “It seems like it’s been working and it’s a nice little niche to have.”

SushiWay offers unique flavor combinations. Photo courtesy of Visit Oxnard

He partnered with an established sushi chef who was a fan of TacosWay, Michael Cardenas, also known as “Sushi Mike.”

“His whole life he’s been a sushi guy. He has multiple restaurants all around. He’s half Mexican-half Japanese. He knows his stuff,” Barajas said. “He has his flavors and I have my flavors, and we combine them together. And that’s how some of the rolls came about, from Mexican and Japanese fusion.” 

The combination has been nearly as big a hit as his social media.

“People like it. They like the combination of Mexican food and sushi. They really enjoy it. They’re catching on to it. Now my dad loves sushi. By taking him to a place that has both Mexican food and sushi, he went ahead and started trying sushi, and now he loves sushi,” Barajas said.

SushiWay has a fun atmosphere, with outdoor patios and a hip yet luxurious vibe. The restaurant has a stage for DJs and a full bar specializing in micheladas.

Barajas said he’s happy he chose Oxnard as the location for his first SushiWay.

“I really love Oxnard. I love the whole downtown area, the whole old-town feel. I wanted to bring something really nice to downtown. And it was a good fit for my brand. Thank God we’re doing good and people like it,” he said.