Fusion foods can be hit-and-miss. And when they miss, they tend to miss hard. So you can imagine Marc Shelton, the owner and chef behind Shinobu Diego Tacos y Burritos, had a difficult time convincing anyone -- even his mom -- that his idea to blend Japanese/Mexican foods would be a good one.
The business: Shinobu Diego Tacos y Burritos Truck
What you need to know: We've been known to show a little love for another Valley spot serving Asian food with a strong Mexican lean, so, really, Shinobu Diego Tacos y Burritos shouldn't come as that much of a culinary shock. But even Shelton admits that trying to imagine the taste of "Asada Yaki" and "Ginger Pork Carnitas" can be challenge. The remedy?
"Just let your mouth tell your brain," he says. "'Cause once you taste it, you're sold."
The story: Shelton's no wide-eyed rookie when it comes to kitchens. He's spent hours gaining experience in the restaurant biz. And like so many other culinary-minded folks -- rich in ideas and poor in capital -- he wanted to venture out on his own and decided to go the mobile route. He could save on capital and still get his fusion food to the masses.
Shelton also worked in marketing and played as a drummer in a garage band, so, he says, he's got plenty of skills to apply to his new venture. Drawing on his musical past, he compares inventing a new cuisine to creating a new genre of music.
"You go on tour and you play the same songs over and over again until the people are singing along," Shelton says. "It's like that when you create a cuisine and people don't know what to expect to taste."
So until Shelton can get Phoenix singing sweet to the tune of his teriyaki chicken tacos, he's keeping the menu short and simple. For now he has just four items, with both vegetarian and gluten-free options. He describes his food as "Japanese engine, Mexican vehicle" which means you'll get typical Japanese dishes wrapped in Mexican form (think tacos, burritos and quesadillas).
Where the name came from: Shelton wanted a name that easily conveyed the fusion-ness of the food. He took a Japanese name, "Shinobu," and gave it a south-of-the-border summation, "Diego."
"Plus, I already have San Diego hats," Shelton joked. "So I thought, 'Great now I don't have to buy a new hat.'"
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The driving vision: After living in Denver for several years, Shelton returned to the Valley with a very distinct idea in mind. He'd like to see the Phoenix food truck scene look more like that of the Mile High City, where he says most trucks also have brick-and-mortar counterparts. (For example, check out Steuben's Food Service and its street food sibling, Steuben's Truck.) In summer months, when the weather lends itself to outdoor dining, the trucks roam the city. When things cool down, they retreat to their traditional restaurant homes.
But before moving he can transition to the hard stuff (as in a "real" restaurant), Shelton's got plans for another truck in Denver and, possibly, San Diego. For now he's got good ol' mom helping out on the road -- which must be a real labor of love since he says the interior of the truck sits around 110 degrees. And that's with grill off.
You can find Shinobu Diego on Mondays at Lunch at Luhrs. Keep track of their upcoming events by following them on Twitter and liking them on Facebook. You can also check out their website for more information.