In the past two years, local food trucks have rolled a long way in terms of diversity and quality: sandwiches designed by a James Beard winner at Jose Andres’s Pepe, slices straight from a wood-fired oven at Frankly Pizza and Hawaiian favorites from Hula Girl. Starting in late October, Tokyo in the City — a venture founded by high school friends turned business partners Yong Yi and Min Song, both 29 — began rolling sushi to order for the Washington lunchtime crowd.
The Manassas entrepreneurs’ sleek mobile canteen stands out against the urban backdrop. Graphics of pink cherry blossoms and ruby red lanterns cover the truck, a mix of Top 40 hits and K-pop pours out of speakers by the order window, and the dapper employee who takes orders sports a preppy striped tie.
“I wondered whether people would want to eat sushi from a truck,” says Yi, who also owns the Asian-accented, D.C.-centric hoagie truck Wassub. “So I wanted our look to be clean and modern.”
A veteran of Ariake in Reston and Nippon in Herndon, Ming oversees the neat menu, which features a quintet of bento boxes, albeit in disposable plastic containers. Each comes with a five-piece specialty roll, a small by-the-books miso soup, two California rolls, a shumai shrimp dumpling, a few edamame and a pair of tempura-fried sweet potato slices. Ginger, a mini mound of wasabi and soy sauce round out the attractively arranged and ready-to-travel boxes. You can easily do without these condiments, because every roll comes topped with an aioli, and oftentimes a Kewpie-style Japanese mayonnaise.
The rolls here thumb their noses at traditionalism. The Gangnam Style ($10) is filled with thinly sliced Korean beef bulgogi, stalks of fried asparagus, cuke spears, avocado and a few disappointingly brown-tipped lettuce leaves. Gleaming orbs of orange roe and microscopic tempura crumbs speckle the sticky white rice that’s zigzagged with sweet sauce.
Like the city that inspired them, the Las Vegas rolls ($11) are over the top. A sloppy slaw of blowtorched crabmeat and spicy mayo that should have been edited out weighs down these satisfyingly crackly tempura-fried crab rolls. Osaka Chicken ($10) is simpler and more successful. Panko-crusted white meat winds through the center of the rice, dressed with a sweet mayo that I happily sopped up with the tempura sweet potatoes. A creamy, bubbly and not too sweet strawberry Milkis ($1) soda — think of it as a Korean egg cream — washes it down nicely.
The sushi is rolled to order, which takes about 10 minutes.
Don’t stop by Tokyo in the City expecting “Jiro Dreams of Sushi.” This is manga sushi: colorful, creative, poppy and just a little weird.
— Nevin Martell
Tokyo in the City (in the District). 703-987-8123. twitter.com/tokyointhecity. Hours: Mondays through Fridays, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.