When it comes to fresh, fine seafood in the Valley, one name reigns supreme.
Supplying many of the Valley’s most acclaimed restaurants — trendy places like Virtu and Citizen Public House — for years now, Chula Seafood has built their sterling reputation amongst restauranteurs as the finest purveyor of seafood in town.
But it’s with their barely two-year-old South Scottsdale storefront —indiscriminately tucked away in the middle of an unassuming strip mall on Hayden and Roosevelt — that this family owned business has garnered an almost cult-like following for their carefully crafted poke bowls and delectable sashimi platters. Open just five days a week (they take Sunday and Monday off), Chula has earned its almost unprecedented flawless, five-star rating on both Yelp and Google by delivering to its ever-expanding fanbase the purest, most perfect seafood experience in town.
There you can find a concise and straightforward, yet encompassing array of fresh, never-frozen, and sustainable fish-by-the pound, poke house-smoked fish, daily specials, and more. Need some top-notch salmon to grill for your next dinner? How about some mouth-watering New Bedford scallops to help elevate any home-cooked meal? You just can do no better than the options here. The fish from Chula possesses an unmistakable freshness — one that one doesn’t ever get to experience in the desert — evidenced in every flavorful bite, that leaves you longing for more.
Nowhere is this incomparable freshness more evident than in their signature gourmet creations. For just a few dollars more than what one would pay at a generic, frozen-fish chain poke place (bowls at Chula average 14 bucks), you can experience the incomparable pleasure of enjoying something that is no less than an edible work of art, bursting with flavor and the pride of the passionate artisans who crafted it. My personal favorite is the Sweet + Sour Salmon Poke, consisting of delectable pieces of Faroe Island salmon, charred onion, jalapeño, blistered sweet peppers, smoked pineapple, carrots, edamame, sesame, and scallions, over a bed of rice.
But no matter which bowl you choose, you cannot go wrong. The Hawaiian Style Poke has Yellowfin tuna has vegetables pineapple, macadamia nuts, soy, and ginger, for truly an authentic flavor profile. The popular Thai Peanut Noodle Bowl offers Albacore tuna, veggies, and house kimchi, over rice noodles and flavorful accents like Thai basil and mint. And the Spicy Tuna Bowl is a more elegant twist on a classic with spicy Yellowfin, charred shishito peppers, masago, daikon, bok choy, avocado, pickled mushroom, nori, sesame seeds, and yuzu-kewpie over rice.
And then there’s the famed specials, day-specific creations like a green chili tuna melt on Wednesday and the best smoked salmon bagel you’ve ever had on Saturday morning. (Pro Tip: You’re best to come early if you want to try the latter because they have never not sold out before noon.)
Still, as good as the bowls and specials are there is perhaps no higher expression of the artistry of the craftspeople at Chula than their masterful sashimi platter. With it you get a chef’s choice tour of their daily catches: typically Fiji Tuna, Faroe Island salmon, tuna belly, and New Bedford scallops accompanied by a simple scoop of rice, some shishitos, some roe, and the now-legendary Juan’s Sauce, a spicy concoction so addictive that Chula devotees are rumored to drink every last drop from the tiny plastic cup it’s served in.
The Cult of Chula can be traced back to San Diego. It is there that the boat that gives the restaurant its name has been commercial fishing for decades, specializing in only the highest quality fish. Eventually, the F/V CHULA’s owners, the Heflin family, decided to expand into wholesale distribution, before setting their sights on the desert. Today Jon Heflin runs the operation out here with his lovely wife Mandy and local restaurant guru Hogan Jamison. Together they have helped cultivate the passionate culture and formed the devoted team of experts that have made Chula such a phenomenon. They really do feel like a family when you step foot inside the restaurant, and for the duration of your meal, you feel like a part of it.
I should point out that Chula Seafood is a fast casual restaurant. You walk in, order at the counter, and then enjoy your blissful meal to the pleasant sounds of light reggae music and fawning customers in the background. It’s BYOB, which is a nice touch if you’d care to bring a bottle of wine or beer to pair with the prime seafood, but it’s a pure, no-frills experience. You come for the seafood, and that’s it. It is a purest’s experience. But it’s worth noting that the next step for the Chula family is a move somewhat closer to fine dining, with their soon-to-be-opened Uptown location. Whether or not they can maintain the perfect rating with that more persnickety culinary crowd remains to be seen.
But what we do know is that Chula will continue to offer what is, without question, the best seafood experience in town. I have personally sent over two dozen people to the restaurant, and not one has left unsatisfied. No, it indeed seems like a Chula fan is born every day in the Valley. And after getting to know the passionate, kind, hard-working people behind this nascent culinary institution, I must say that I could not be more happy for their success. In every conceivable way, they have earned their reputation.
Chula Seafood’s South Scottsdale location is open Tuesday to Saturday from 10 am to 7 pm. For full menus and to learn more about the almost mythological Chula story, visit ChulaSeafood.com.
|About Author Ty Fahlman
The former Managing Editor of Jetset Magazine, Ty Fahlman has earned a stellar reputation for his probing, introspective interviews of celebrities, as well as his in-depth profiles of resorts, restaurants, and destinations. With over 150 articles published, Ty has ghostwritten for New York Times bestselling authors and celebrities, and given thoughtful and in-depth profiles and interviews of dozens of A-List celebrities including Tom Hanks, Matt Damon, and Leonardo DiCaprio. He currently lives in Scottsdale, Arizona but travels as much as he can.