Smile Politely

A preview of Sakura, a brand new Japanese restaurant in Downtown Urbana

Across the street from Crane Alley and beside Rick’s Bakery, there’s a new restaurant called Sakura. The addition to Downtown Urbana serves Japanese cuisine. SP Managing 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 top of a black background. There are two big beautiful golden light fixtures. Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

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

Inside a Downtown Urbana building, there is an open vault with an intricate locking set up on the metal vault door. Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

The Urbana Banking Company used to own the space, and in the private dining room, there is a vault. The building also used to be home to a confectionary in the eastern bay and a barber shop in the center. Sakura has made some updates to the building including new flooring, but in the kitchen, they kept the original penny tile. 

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

The menu is small: apps, salads, entrees, and sushi. The appetizers range from edamame to crispy squid to an avocado boat. The menu offers classic sushi rolls, tempura rolls, nigri, and sashimi. The 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 is shining through the front windows and the room is brightly lit. Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

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

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 mayo, and sriracha. Each piece was a big bite, but it was so delicious.

Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

This is the California roll which had crab salad and avocado with eel sauce and yellow roe. The roll was wrapped well and tasted great.

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

Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

The edamame appetizer was served in a sharable bowl with an extra bowl for finished pods. The edamame had a tasty salt sprinkle and was served hot.

Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

The house ramen was full of seafood bites atop ramen noodles in a spicy broth. The ramen had crab, octopus, shrimp, mussels, shrimp shumai, radish, and green onion slivers. It was a great dish with a perfect spiciness.

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

Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

The salmon bento box included marinated salmon with veggies, steamed rice, shrimp and vegetable tempura, edamame, shrimp shumai, and four pieces of a California roll on this cool tray that even had a spot for soy sauce. The salmon had a crispy edge that was amazing and a very light teriyaki sauce that wasn’t too salty or too sweet and sticky. This would be a satisfying option for anyone who likes to enjoy several different bites.

On a gray and white speckled plate, there is a chicken katsu with a tonkatsu dipping sauce and a pretty garnish of purple cabbage sliced super thin. 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 to golden brown. It was sliced into strips which made for easy dipping in the sweet and tangy tonkatsu sauce. 


On a black stone tray, there is a sushi roll that has been fried and covered in tempura crunchies with 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 deep-fried, drizzled with eel sauce, topped with tempura crunchies, and assembled in a freestanding arch. It was creamy, warm, and freaking delicious. 

Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

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

Sakura Japanese Cuisine
136 W Main St
11 a.m. to 3 p.m. + 4:30 to 10 p.m., daily

Top image by Alyssa Buckley.

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