Story: Jodi Heckel
Sakanaya is a Japanese restaurant in Campustown that offers something different from the many fast-food options.
Owner Jin Park said he had long wanted to open a restaurant in Champaign when he met Tommy Lim, who is now Sakanaya’s chef. The two opened the higher-end sushi and ramen restaurant in November 2013.
“Everything is cafeteria-style (in Campustown),” Park said. “I wanted to give a better dining experience to students.”
The appearance of the restaurant at 403 E. Green St. stands out as well, with a wood-paneled exterior and a modern industrial feel inside.
Japanese ramen dishes have become very popular in big-city restaurants, Park said, and he wanted to offer it here. Sakanaya also offers a variety of sushi.
The restaurant has become quite popular, particularly with international students, Park said. He said one draw is the high-quality fresh fish the restaurant offers. The name of the restaurant means “fish market” in Japanese.
He and Lim kept the menu simple and relatively small because they wanted to maintain the quality of the food they served, and also because the kitchen at the location has limited space.
The restaurant is more expensive than many surrounding eateries, but it draws a good crowd, even during University of Illinois breaks, Park said.
And it still caters to students, staying open until 1 a.m. One of the more popular items, especially for late night, is its soy garlic chicken wings.
Sakanaya’s ramen noodle dishes, served at both lunch and dinner, include miso, tonkotsu (made with pork broth) and shoyu (made with broth with soy sauce).
The lunch menu includes a more limited offering of sushi rolls, while the dinner menu offers a wide variety. It includes classic rolls such as the California roll with crab, avocado and cucumber, and the Alaskan roll with salmon, avocado and cucumber.
Several signature rolls at Sakanaya have proven quite popular, including the OMG roll of shrimp and shrimp tempura with avocado; the VIP roll of grilled salmon and lobster tempura with asparagus and onion, flamed with Bacardi; the Playgirl roll of tuna and shrimp tempura with avocado and crunch flakes; and the Sakanaya roll of salmon, crab salad and grilled scallop with avocado and fish flakes.
Dinner offerings also include a variety of nigiri and sashimi (sliced raw fish served with or without rice), including eel, tuna, shrimp, scallop, squid, octopus, sea urchin and salmon.
Diners can also order entrees that include chicken and salmon teriyaki dishes and katsu dishes featuring deep-fried pork or chicken. The menu includes sushi bar entrees and combo plates as well.
Sakanaya is open Monday through Saturday for lunch from 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. and for dinner from 5 p.m. to 1 a.m. It’s open 5 to 10 p.m. Sundays.
Following the success of Sakanaya, Park has a new venture in downtown Champaign. He opened Miga this past fall on North Neil Street. It offers contemporary American food with an Asian influence.