WILSHIRE BLVD — It’s a fast food place with fish that could be served as quality sashimi. It’s a restaurant chain that is growing throughout California and now across the ocean to Tokyo, but its owners still would rather wear T-shirts and board shorts than slacks and a tie at a press event.
Wahoo’s Fish Tacos celebrated its 25th anniversary last month at a special event in West Los Angeles, debuting new menu items and showcasing several promotions through which its customers can win special prizes.
Customers who visit Wahoo’s during August and September and get a loyalty card stamped each time can be entered to win a trip to Hawaii or a Wahoo’s electric scooter, prizes that will be awarded at the end of the year.
Wahoo’s is also giving back. For instance, on July 27, customers who visited a Wahoo’s location in Southern California with a special flyer from the Wahoo’s website got 20 percent of their purchase donated to the Sheckler Foundation, which provides services to injured athletes and opportunities for autistic children to skateboard. The foundation was started by pro skater Ryan Sheckler.
Among the new food items, the restaurant has added wild Pacific salmon to the menu, which is well-paired with spicy white Cajun beans and brown rice.
Other new menu items include the SCReaM’n burrito, filled with spicy grilled chicken, mushrooms and Mr. Lee’s Spicy Chili Sauce; and the Citrus Slaw Taco, containing a cool cabbage mix infused with cilantro, spices, lime juice and other vegetables that tastes like the Wahoo’s signature salsa.
The citrus slaw and wild Pacific salmon will be added to the eclectic list of Wahoo’s menu items, including marinated steak bowls and Wahoo’s signature charbroiled fish taco, often paired with white rice and black beans.
Wahoo’s Tacos’ three founders — brothers Mingo Lee, Wing Lam and Eduardo Lee — grew up in the food business. They were raised in Sao Paulo, Brazil and lived above their family’s Chinese restaurant, where they would help prepare food and wash dishes, Mingo Lee said. The food business is in their blood.
After moving to Orange County, the three thought of combining the Mexican food they loved with a Southern California vibe, Lee said, a vibe of skateboarding, surfing and sunny beaches. Thus, Wahoo’s was born.
The casual skateboarding and surfing vibe is prominent in each restaurant, where the walls, doors and windows are all smattered with boarding stickers, some from Wahoo’s and others from those who stop by.
Now, Wahoo’s has 67 locations, many of them in Southern California (including one in Santa Monica), but also in states as far as New York and Hawaii. It is opening its first international location in Tokyo next month.
Despite the company’s success, however, its management refuses to compromise quality for profit, said Steve Karfaridis, chief operating officer of the company and a former restaurant manager.
Wahoo’s prides itself on using fresh fish instead of fish that has been long frozen then fried. Food is prepared and cooked in small batches rather than all at once to save time, Karfaridis said. The company, however, has still felt pressure to find ways to make money, he added.
But the management at Wahoo’s Tacos has chosen to make their own sacrifices such as pay cuts rather than give up food quality, Karfaridis said.
“We don’t make the same profits other companies make,” he said. “But I don’t think [compromising quality] is an option.”
If you go
Wahoo’s Fish Tacos
418 Wilshire Blvd.
Santa Monica, Calif.