Opening a restaurant was never something that Peruvian-born Long Beach local Daiwa Wong imagined. And yet here she is, weeks away from opening Sushi Nikkei in the Bixby Knolls neighborhood of Long Beach with her best friend-turned husband, and now business partner, Eduardo Chang. The opening is part love story, part hustle, and has the potential to upend Long Beach’s dining scene. The area has long had a proud (and growing) culinary tradition all its own, but it’s never had a pair like Wong and Chang.
“Long Beach has been my home since 2014, and Eduardo’s since he joined me in 2018,” says Wong affectionately. “This is our community, and we want to invest in it, rather than another city.”
The opening of Sushi Nikkei signifies the first time a Peruvian chef will build a restaurant around Nikkei cuisine in Long Beach. Nikkei cuisine, which is derived from the Japanese word “nikkeijin” that translates to Japanese emigrants and their descendants broadly, has emerged from more than a century of Japanese immigration across Latin America; today Nikkei cuisine is most closely associated with the South American country Peru. Nikkei cuisine uses Peruvian ingredients — ají amarillo peppers, for one, as well as sea bream and other tropical fish— and Japanese influence both in its sourcing and techniques to create a cuisine that is unique to the country’s Nikkei culture. And now that culture is coming to Long Beach in a big way.
If Wong is the architect of the community dream that has become Sushi Nikkei, it is Chang who is building the restaurant’s culinary foundation. A decorated and celebrated chef in Peru, Chang graduated from the country’s Cordontec culinary school before spending years growing his reputation as an itamae sushi chef. His first big break came at Edo Sushi Bar, before expanding to his own restaurant Yume, which he co-owns with his brother and high school friends in Lima, Peru. Together the group has garnered a robust local following, even expanding to a second location in October 2021.
Chang is also a member of “Generacion con Causa,” a movement of more than 50 Peruvian chefs who have committed themselves publicly to maintaining the foundations of Peruvian gastronomy. Generacion con Causa is driven by Gastón Acurio, chef and ambassador of Peruvian cuisine who has helped to grow Peru’s culinary bonafides globally; and Mitsuhara Tsumura, head chef of Nikkei restaurant Maido in Lima, which is ranked number seven in the World’s 50 Best Restaurants. Being a member of Generacion con Causa is an honor for Chang as much as it is a mandate, purposefully driven to bring more eyes to Nikkei and Peruvian cuisine at large around the world.
Sushi Nikkei is Chang’s first American restaurant foray. The menu features tiraditos, raw fish that is sliced in the style of Japanese sashimi and served with a spicy sauce right before plating. The Japanese frying technique of tempura is used to craft nori tacos and sushi rolls as well, an ode both to Japan and Peru as well as Southern California’s own robust Mexican and Japanese influence. Chang also incorporates Peruvian ingredients like quinoa into fish ají sushi and grilled scallops (or conchas brasa) on the Sushi Nikkei menu, while also dabbing the finished dish with limo macha, a thick salsa that originates from Veracruz.
The restaurant’s larger entrees include traditional Peruvian chifa (the Chinese cuisine of Peru) options as well as staples familiar to many diners like lomo saltado, a stir fry of beef tenderloin, potatoes, onions, tomatoes, and rice. A whole fried sea bream is served with batayaki (a Japanese sauce with butter, garlic, and togarashi spice mix), fresh cilantro, and lemon, served to be shared among groups. It’s all part of the sprawling plan at Sushi Nikkei to bring people together, and to push Nikkei cuisine forward not just in greater Los Angeles — where the cuisine has been found for years — but in Long Beach specifically.
“Long Beach is our family’s home,” says Wong, “and we’re excited for people in the community to learn about our shared heritage from the dishes coming out of the kitchen at Sushi Nikkei.”
Sushi Nikkei opened January 28 and is located at 3819 Atlantic Ave., Long Beach, CA 90807, keeping dinner hours from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m., Tuesday through Saturday. Reservations suggested.