Here, in the middle of the Sonoran Desert, surrounded by cactus and sagebrush and palo verde, there is a place where you can eat fish that was gliding in the Pacific yesterday. How Jon Heflin and Hogan Jamison pull this off at Chula Seafood is simple, really: They have a boat.
The boat, a 50-foot commercial fishing vessel owned by Heflin’s father, cruises the waters off of San Diego, harpooning and hand-lining to amass a sustainable catch. Two or three days a week, Jamison and Heflin drive to San Diego to make a pickup, returning with freshly caught fish with which they stock their eatery/market/wholesale operation in South Scottsdale.
Chula Seafood has a San Diego location, opened in 2009 and operated by Heflin’s father. The pair opened a wholesale market in Scottsdale two years ago from which more than 30 Valley restaurants and hotels source their fish. On a great week, Jamison and Heflin go through about 3,000 pounds of fish.
Chula’s fish is sustainably caught, never frozen. As the 50-foot vessel can only catch so much fish, Jamison and Heflin supplement their catch by purchasing from other fishermen. There are certain fish — salmon for one — that just don’t swim in SoCal waters. These, too, are sourced from other fishermen.
Ten months back, they expanded their operations to include an eatery, open only Wednesday through Saturday. There, the emphasis is on the freshness of their catch. How fresh? There isn't a stove or a freezer at Chula Seafood.
The tuna on offer is the color of bursting ripe watermelon. Black bass has veal-pink flesh laced with pearl-white fat. Tail cuts of swordfish glisten with a vivacious ivory sheen. Their seafood is immaculately gemlike and fresh, a rare commodity in a city hundreds of miles from the sea.
“When it comes to seafood, a big part of quality is how it’s handled,” Jamison says. “Knowing we’re in control from beginning to end is a reason why our quality is great.”
Everything on the menu is raw, smoked, or pickled. A series of globally inspired raw fish bowls anchor the short menu, served in a low-key dining room that gives off island vibes.
Painted descriptions of the fish hang on a long wall (Swordfish: “Firm, meaty texture. Moist. High oil content”). Reggae and tropical tunes play over a blue-and-white room where diners linger at tables, palming local IPAs and wine bottles from BYO coolers, the stream of fish-seekers flowing steadily, even at 3:30 p.m. on a Saturday. The crowd is mostly young, many drawn there by the daily special, as announced via Instagram.
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A tuna confit sandwich and a bagel-and-lox sandwich (Saturday only) round out the menu, with specials regularly appearing based on availability, and extra tuna yielding sashimi and iced tin of blue shells on nearly every table on National Oyster Day.
Most popular are Chef Juan Zamora's raw bowls, which are built with finesse and complexity that you won’t find at random poke joint #117. Each bowl nods to a location: Hawaii, Thailand, China, and Japan.
The Japanese-inspired spicy tuna bowl is a revelation. It comes with just enough togarashi-doctored Kewpie mayo to barely slick the fish. That fish has a clean marine flavor and lush texture. Charred shishito peppers are brightened with yuzu and beech mushrooms pickled in rice vinegar and sake. Nori flakes, black sesame, and scallions add filigrees to the flavors. Daikon and bok choy add some coolness and gentle snap. All said, the spicy tuna bowl has a rare blend of richness, lightness, and freshness that, flashing through your mind days later as a memory, may abruptly alter your afternoon lunch plans.
8015 East Roosevelt Street, Scottsdale
Open Wednesday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.