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Raw Deal

A fashion entrepreneur ditches the runway for ramen, and we get the preview on his latest couture masterpiece: the sushi burrito.

The sushi burrito offerings at Pokirrito include the tuna classic, portobello panko-katsu and Rakiraki chicken karaage.

In the three years since chef Junya Watanabe opened his ramen shop, Rakiraki, it has twice been named one of Zagat’s 10 hottest restaurants in San Diego. It’s the kind of success restaurateurs dream of. And he’s barely gotten started. In the coming months, he plans to open four exciting new restaurants, two of which will be devoted to an original creation with a name to rival the cronut: Pokirrito, a mashup of the popular Hawaiian dish poke and the sushi burrito.

Watanabe’s success in the kitchen is all the more impressive considering that this is his second career. Formerly the jet-setting business partner of red-carpet gown designer Tadashi Shoji, the Tokyo native quit the fashion business in 2000 and studied with not one but three Iron Chefs in Japan before opening Rakiraki on Convoy. “That’s why my ramen is invincible,” he laughs. “The thing is, I believe when you make something, there is no easy way to do it. The easier it looks, the more detail you have to put in to make a difference.”

Now, the La Jolla resident, who dons tinted statement glasses and Comme des Garçons sandals, hopes San Diegans will notice the difference with the pokirrito, which comes with macrobiotic vegetables and fresh tuna marinated in a sophisticated blend of soy sauce, mirin and sake.

But come summer, the place to spot Watanabe will be at the grand opening of his new Convoy shabu-shabu eatery, Tsuru Tsuru, where he’ll be in the front window rolling udon by hand. Says the tireless chef, “I just want to blow people’s minds.”

Chef Junya Watanabe