I never thought I’d say it, but Pueblo, Colorado has become a sushi town.
By my last count, there are almost a dozen different places around the city to get fresh-made rolls from full-time sushi chefs. A short stroll along Union Avenue will take you past not one, but two different upscale Japanese restaurants in rapid succession. Hell, there’s even have two competing restaurants called “Mo Mo”.
Even King Soopers, which for as long as I can remember sold sushi that was barely palatable, let alone enjoyable (anyone remember the unsatisfying crunch of California Rolls stuffed with carrot instead of avocado?), now offers a full menu of rolls, nigiri, and even poke.
It’s all made fresh throughout the day by a team of chefs, and served under the Snowfox brand, it’s the same adorable pink logo which in 2015 opened its first grab-n-go sushi cafe in the Gangnam district of Seoul, South Korea.
But despite all of this, the best sushi in Pueblo is still exactly where it has always been — ever since the early 90’s when it was the only game in town.
Walking through the doors of Suehiro Japanese Restaurant is like entering another world. From the twin teppanyaki tables at one end of the multi-tiered space to the tatami-floored Japanese tea room at the other, where guests must sit either cross-legged or on their knees in traditional seiza, Suehiro quite simply feels like nowhere else in Pueblo.
I’ve been visiting Suehiro just about since the beginning. I’ve watched them grow from the small slip of a bar they operated when they first opened almost thirty years ago into the sprawling space they occupy today. It remains the only place in Pueblo I will go to get sashimi, the über-fresh cuts of raw fish that are heavenly when served properly fresh — and smelly, expensive torture when served any other way.
I’ve visited often enough that Ishikawa Ishi, who co-owns the restaurant with his wife Sachiko, will invariably offer me a strong handshake and a tall bottle of Asahi beer, on my way in the door. He serves Sapporo as well, of course, but prefers Asahi, as it hails from his native city of Osaka, Japan.
Where nearly every other sushi restaurant in town caters to a, shall we say, less than traditional flavor, stuffing their rolls with cream cheese and bits of deep-fried tempura batter, Suehiro tends toward a lighter, more traditional style.
Take, for example, their Pueblo roll. It’s about as simple as it gets: crunchy Pueblo chile and jalapeno pepper, sliced raw and wrapped in nori and rice. And it packs one hell of a punch.
That’s not to say that they don’t break away from this from time to time. One of my personal favorites, the Ishi roll, is a dish of Ishikawa’s own creation. It’s made by topping a California roll with a medley of fresh-grilled squash, onion and beef, passing the whole thing under a blowtorch, then drizzling with spicy sauce and Japanese mayo. It’s simple, delicious and filling — the perfect comfort food.
The Ishi’s are part of a proud line — a dynasty, almost — of sushi makers in Colorado and beyond. Sachiko’s family owns its own sushi restaurant in Colorado Springs, and Ishikawa’s brother owns Kodama, a New York City sushi restaurant in the heart of Times Square. He tells me his brother has asked him many times to go and start working there instead of in Pueblo, but always he declines.
“He tells me, ‘Come out here. Why do you stay in Pueblo? They don’t know good sushi!’” He waves off the idea like a bothersome fly.
Pueblo, it seems, does, in fact, know good sushi when given the chance, a fact to which Suehiro’s success can openly attest. The Ishi’s have been in business far longer than most restaurants here in town, especially those that fall outside the holy trinity of Mexican, Italian, and American cuisine.
With luck, they’ll be here for many more years to come.