Keeping Up With the Joneses: Fish Lips Mobile Sushi to Go

The Fish Lips sushi truck, in all its sparkly, sanitary glory. Note the flat-screen menu at left.
The Fish Lips sushi truck, in all its sparkly, sanitary glory. Note the flat-screen menu at left. Photo: Hadley Tomicki

We already know no one wants to eat anything in Los Angeles anymore unless the food comes from the flank of an exhaust-belching truck, but Fish Lips Sushi To Go’s combination of traveling, Twittering, and raw fish from a lonchera is something few Angelenos can resist. We love our sushi in L.A., and never more since its mercurial powers took Ari Gold’s swagger down a peg.

It was this passion for fresh flippers that brought a steady rolling crew of local foodies to Abbot-Kinney this past Friday evening to check out Fish Lips’s plastic bento boxes of rice rolls and balls. With a smoother-faced, better-dressed crowd than what Kogi draws when it stops at The Brig down the street, Fish Lips’s patrons and chefs gave the impression that they’re purely about the food, and really couldn’t care less about the mobile-food trend.

Two happy customers enjoy temari.

As much eye-rolling as all the popular meals-on-wheels bandwagons are causing, Fish Lips seems to have vision beyond just renting a truck from a Slauson depot — though their truck, it should be noted, gleamed whiter than any meat-slinging vehicle I’ve ever encountered, with flat screen menus to boot.

Inside, a group of thin men, including chief sushi chef Miki, formerly of Huntington Beach’s Tuna Town, sliced and diced their saltwater catches with little communication to the sidewalk massive. Fish Lips’s sushi has a unique concept, formed in Kyoto-style temari, little balls of rice with the fish clinging around the sphere, as opposed to the roll shape we’re familiar with. Fish Lips’s rice is the prized leading Japanese brand Koshihikari. The truck offers five different takes each on spicy tuna rolls, California rolls, and organic veggie rolls.

Fish Lips’ owner and general T.K. [Ed: That’s not a typo] explains that temari is a “new concept in the U.S.” before mentioning that serving sushi on wheels isn’t exactly a new fad: “The original idea comes from Japan’s Edo-era sushi cart called Yatai,” he says. “The current Sushi bar style was just established after World War II. So selling sushi in a cart or mobile truck is more like the classical sushi-sale style.”

Fish Lips’s sushi is absolutely fresh and full of clean, subtle flavors. I love experiencing my first temari; the surface area of the fish seems more substantial as it clings to the curves of the rice like a circus bear dancing on a ball, this mighty mouthful revealing more texture to the showcase seafood as it yields with a soft crunch.

Despite the food-truck craze and predictions that we’re just getting started, T.K. is not so concerned about being the next big thing. He wants to get in touch with sushi’s roots while serving the city that adores it. “We are just trying to bring sushi back to being fast food with high quality,” he explains. “But not refrigerated, packed sushi. Our sushi concept is a sushi bar’s sushi, with reasonable prices, at a truck. Our truck’s kitchen is almost same as a regular sushi bar restaurant.”

With his humble attitude and honest dedication to raising the standards of the food Southern Californians love, T.K. and Fish Lips does not seem to be cashing on a mere trend, but pushing the boundaries of what good food can do and where it can go.

Keeping Up With the Joneses: Fish Lips Mobile Sushi to Go