When I heard that Matua’s Sushi Bar and Islander Grill (626 E Street, between Broadway and Jefferson Avenues) had opened in Chula Vista, it did not exactly tickle my culinary toodle. Chula Vista needs another Sushi Bar almost as much as Mission Hills needs another hair salon, which is to say: not a lot. The Islander Grill part of the name did not thrill me either, mostly because I assumed the “island” in question was Hawaiian
My assumption was wrong and, as a result, my conclusion was wrong. The “island” in question is Guam. While Matua’s, which opened in late January does offer sushi and some Hawaiian dishes, its focus is the Chamorro cuisine of Guam. Had I known that I would have been far more excited. Knowing that now and having tasted Matua’s fare I look forward to going back.
An exceptional way to start a meal at Matua’s is with the Chamorro-style corn masa empanadas filled with chicken and vegetables and served with a somewhat spicy finadene dipping sauce made from soy sauce, vinegar, scallions and chopped fresh chile peppers. The frying was perfect, crispy, and not greasy in the least. The filling was savory and delicious.
The standout dish I tasted at Matua’s was the chicken kelaguan, grilled and chopped chicken marinated and pickled in lemon juice, fresh coconut, green onions, salt and chile peppers. Matua’s also offers kelaguan dishes featuring raw beef and shrimp “cooked” – ceviche-style — in the same marinade ingredients. The chicken version reads like a fresher version of an Issan-Thai larb dish. It is worth the trip on its own.
The sushi dishes I sampled were good, but not exceptional. The ahi poke, on the other hand, was excellent. Perfectly diced ahi tuna and half moon slices of cucumber in a sauce of soy and sesame oil and glistened while doing so. The other Hawaiian and sushi dishes I tasted are good. The other Chamorro dishes I had the opportunity to taste on the menu are exceptional.
If Matua’s focuses on its Chamorro core it has an excellent opportunity to carve out a major niche in the regional culinary scene. San Diego County is the home to one of the largest Chamorro populations outside of Guam and the Marianas Islands. Conversely there is a relative dearth of Chamorro restaurants serving that population.
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Disclosure: The lawyer in me cannot help but mention one fact that might seem to mean more than it does. I start this post of saying: “[w]hen I heard that [Matua’s] had opened in Chula Vista…” I heard it from my client. One of the owners of Matua’s is a long-time client and good friend of mine and, in fact, I’m the lawyer who set up the limited liability company who owns the restaurant.