August 12, 2022

A sneak peek at Sakura, a brand new Japanese restaurant in downtown Urbana: Food and drink: Smile politely

Opposite Crane Alley and next to Rick’s Bakery there is a new restaurant called Sakura. The addition to Downtown Urbana serves Japanese cuisine. SP Editor Jess Hammie and I went to visit the new restaurant and try some dishes.

Inside Sakura there is a sushi bar with the name of the restaurant on wood on a black background.  There are two large beautiful golden light fixtures.  Photo by Alyssa Buckley.Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

The new restaurant is beautiful with warm wood and pretty light fixtures overhead.

Inside a building in downtown Urbana, there is an open safe with an intricate lock installed on the metal safe door.  Photo by Alyssa Buckley.Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

The Urbana Banking Company owned the space, and in the private dining room there is a safe. The building also housed a confectionery in the eastern bay and a hair salon in the center. Sakura made a few updates to the building, including new flooring, but in the kitchen they kept the original tile.

Owner and chef Bijaya Thapa worked in a Japanese restaurant in Japan for six years. He wants to bring Japanese cuisine to Urbana with this new restaurant. The chef wants to offer more than raw fish in his new restaurant, so the menu includes hot dishes as well as sushi.

The menu is small: apps, salads, starters and sushi. Entrees range from edamame to crispy squid to an avocado boat. The menu offers classic sushi rolls, tempura rolls, nigri and sashimi. Entrees include teriyaki dishes, chicken, beef, fish and seafood, fried foods, bulgogi, bento boxes and noodle dishes.

Inside Sakura, there is a table for four with no other tables set on the gray floor.  The sun shines through the front windows and the room is brilliantly lit.  Photo by Alyssa Buckley.Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

When we visited last week, the restaurant was preparing to open and not all tables had been set. Now the dining room is open and ready for dinner parties.

Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

The first thing we tried was the sushi, and our first roll was the red dragon roll. The roll was filled with shrimp, crab, cucumber, then topped with tuna, spicy mayonnaise and sriracha. Each piece was a big bite, but it was so delicious.

Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

It’s the California roll which had crab and avocado salad with eel sauce and yolks. The roll was well wrapped and tasted great.

In a textured blue bowl is a serving of edamame.  Photo by Alyssa Buckley.Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

The edamame appetizer was served in a shareable bowl with an additional bowl for the finished pods. The edamame had a delicious pinch of salt and was served warm.

Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

The homemade ramen was full of seafood bites on ramen noodles in a spicy broth. The ramen had crab, octopus, shrimp, mussels, shrimp shumai, radish and green onion strips. It was an excellent dish with perfect spiciness.

On a gray-blue tray there is a bento box with salmon and vegetables, steamed rice, four pieces of a Calfornia roll, edamame, shrimp shumai and pieces of tempura.  Photo by Alyssa Buckley.Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

The salmon bento box included marinated salmon with vegetables, steamed rice, shrimp and vegetable tempura, edamame, shrimp shumai and four pieces of California roll on this fresh platter which even had a place for soy sauce. The salmon had a crispy edge which was amazing and a very light teriyaki sauce which was neither too salty nor too sweet and sticky. This would be a satisfying option for anyone who likes to enjoy several different bites.

On a speckled plate of gray and white, there is chicken katsu with tonkatsu sauce and a nice garnish of very thinly sliced ​​purple cabbage.  Photo by Alyssa Buckley.Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

The chicken katsu was so good that I couldn’t stop eating it. The chicken was breaded with panko and fried until golden brown. It was cut into strips, which made it easy to dip in the sweet and tangy tonkatsu sauce.

On a black stone platter, there is a sushi roll that has been fried and covered in tempura crunches with an eel sauce.  Photo by Alyssa Buckley.Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

The Vegas roll was a sight to behold: a sushi roll filled with asparagus, shrimp, crab, and cream cheese, then fried, drizzled with eel sauce, topped with tempura crunch, and assembled in a freestanding arch. It was creamy, hot and really delicious.

Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

The new Japanese restaurant is now open daily for lunch and dinner at Urbana. There is street parking in front of the restaurant in addition to parking on Main Street.

Sakura Japanese Cuisine
136 Main Street West
11 a.m. to 3 p.m. + 4:30 p.m. to 10 p.m., every day

Top image by Alyssa Buckley.