Smile Politely

From sushi to udon to wings, Sakanaya is consistently stunning

In Champaign-Urbana, we have lots of options for sushi, but sushi from Sakanaya is special. In fact, it’s been one of my go-to carryout options over the last several months. Before COVID, Sakanaya was a cozy spot on Green Street in Campustown to grab a romantic dinner or enjoy a night out with friends. The inside of the restaurant was beautiful with modern lighting, comfy chairs, and a waiting area in front of the sushi bar. WIth only 12 tables, there was usually a wait, and the restaurant was often buzzing with a crowd of sushi-lovers. 

Currently, Sakanaya is only serving food to go. You can order online for pickup or delivery. I like to do pickup because just stepping foot into that pretty little restaurant takes me back to when I’d sit on those chairs by the door, waiting for a table, thinking about what sushi we’d order and whether we should get the expensive sake.

Now, I walk in (in my mask), tell the staff (in their masks) my name, and within seconds, my order is found and handed to me. The table by the register was usually holding several other orders to go: for pickup by patrons or pickup by delivery drivers. I’m usually only inside for a minute, but I still enjoy the ambiance of the restaurant, especially in the middle of a pandemic.

In the interior of Sakanaya, there are glass pendants above a sushi bar with a honey-oak wooden panel with two staff in masks. Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

For this review, I tried all sorts of dishes: sushi rolls (of course), several chicken dishes, and a shrimp udon. I found that each time I ordered, my order was always correct, well-packaged, and consistently outstanding.

Let’s start by talking about sushi. I’ve tried many of Sakanaya’s rolls, and my favorite is still the restaurant’s namesake roll Sakanaya. For my first article as Food & Drink editor, I shared the Sakanaya roll in my five favorite C-U foods list.

In a white styrofaom container, there are two sushi rolls from Sakayana. The roll on the left, Sakanaya, is a roll with white rice on the outside and grilled scallops on top with crunchy topping and eel sauce. The roll on the right is a spicy tuna roll with cucumber. Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

Sakanaya roll (left) and spicy tuna roll (right). Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

The Sakanaya roll ($16) was filled with raw salmon, crab salad, and avocado with grilled scallops on top. The grilled scallop on top was drizzled with eel sauce and a dusting of bonito flakes. Inside, the salmon, crab, nori, and rice were all light, classic sushi flavors. The salmon was mild and smooth with a hint of fishiness. The crab salad paired well with the silky avocado inside the nori and sushi rice. For most sushi rolls, the deliciousness is inside the roll, but for this roll, the scallop on top was clearly the star. Bright and delicate, the scallop was so tender that it practically melted in my mouth. The sweet and salty eel sauce and the crunch from the flakes were welcome finishing touches.

For a classic roll, this spicy tuna ($7) was a great option. Sakanaya’s spicy tuna roll included cucumber as well as a big portion of spicy tuna. It was a simple roll with a great tuna taste which made it a good accompaniment to the fancier rolls. Because some of the other rolls on the menu were pricier at $12-18, I think classic rolls ($5-8) like this one gave lighter — and still yummy — sushi at a lower cost.

An overhead shot of Sakanaya's crunch munch roll with lots of green crunchies on top in a black takeout container. Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

The crunch munch roll ($12) featured shrimp and spicy crab with crunch flakes. The green wispy flakes on top had a gentle crunch, and with a soft roll, the crunch was a satisfying addition. Inside the roll, the shrimp and crab were a scrumptious seafood medley with mellow fish flavors that were easy to savor. The crunch munch roll would be a good option for those new to sushi.

Sushi is great; fried food is great — and putting them together? Super great.

A fried roll from Sakanaya called Champaign-Urbana is filled with salmon, cream cheese, and avocado. The roll has a light brown crispy exterior. Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

This Champaign-Urbana roll ($12) was filled with salmon, avocado, and cream cheese and then deep-fried. I love the crunch on the outside from the batter against the warm, gooey texture of the cream cheese and avocado, and the final flavor was the raw salmon. The decadent texture inside paired with the fried outside of the roll made this a roll that was hard for me to share. The flavors in this roll weren’t very strong, so the textures got to have their moment, and it was a good freaking moment.

The volcano roll from Sakanaya is a deep-fried roll topped with tiny cubes of raw fish, dusted with green topping. Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

Another great fried roll was the Volcano roll ($18) which had tuna, avocado, and crab inside; then was deep-fried and topped with tuna, salmon, and escolar. It was a gorgeous looking roll, and since I eat with my eyes first (and love to take pictures for Instagram), this roll was one of my favorites. Tuna, crab, and avocado in the center made for a tasty middle: the tuna was a good portion and had a firm, not fishy taste with the crab offering a delicate sweetness and the avocado bringing it all together. The topping was indulgent: chunks of more tuna, raw salmon, and escolar, a buttery fish with a velvety texture. It was like sushi sprinkles, honestly, and I was down for it.

The yaya roll from Sakanaya is in a black takeout container. From the side, the egg, crab, cream cheese are visible and the outside has a light brown crunchy batter. Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

The third fried sushi roll was the Yaya roll ($11). This roll was filled with crab meat, cucumber, cream cheese, tamago, shitake mushroom, and then deep-fried. This roll was still warm even by the time I drove across town for 15 minutes. The cream cheese makes this roll: it was melty from being fried and gave an unctuous mouthfeel to the crab, mushrooms, cucumber, and tamago (egg). 

Six tempura battered wings have a light, sticky sauce sit on a parchment paper in a takeout container with a giant piece of kale on top in the middle. Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

I am a pretty big fan of Sakanaya’s wings. I’ve ordered the small ($9 for six wings) and the medium ($16 for 12) soy garlic wings. These wings have a sticky soy glaze on top of the fried goodness. These unique wings made it into my wings roundup earlier in July. Deep fried with a light, airy batter that floats above the chicken, these wings are a must add to your takeout order from Sakanaya. They were savory and crispy with a slight sugar aftertaste from the glaze. Both times I’ve ordered these to go, the wings were still hot when I got home.

Chicken udon from Sakanaya sits in a black, plastic takeout container. The udon noodles are plentiful with bell peppers, onions, zucchini, and pickled ginger. Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

I also tried the chicken yaki udon ($13). This dish had stir-fried udon noodles with chicken, vegetables, and a special house sauce. I super loved these udon noodles: thick, soft, and plenty of them. The chicken had a tempered soy sauce flavor from the sauce. The vegetables were well-cooked and gave a much needed variety to the chicken noodle dish. I quite liked it the night I ate it, but I also enjoyed the leftovers the next day; this dish heated up as delicious as the previous night.

In a mint green bowl, udon noodles, two sticks of fried shrimp tempura, a boiled half egg, and veggies were a spicy shrimp udon from Sakanaya. Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

I also tried the spicy shrimp tempura udon ($13). The spicy shrimp tempura udon had a pork-based spicy soy broth with shrimp tempura, dry yubu, dry seaweed, and wakame. All of these items were packaged separately for takeout which kept the shrimp crunchy. I added the shrimp to the herby, spicy broth, and the dish had lots of udon noodles which I enjoyed. The egg unfortunately did not carryout well and was more of a boiled egg which isn’t my favorite. This dish would be lovely on a cold evening or any evening where you want a good, shrimpy soup.

Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

Lastly, I tried the chicken teriyaki ($14). This dish had grilled chicken with house teriyaki sauce​ and was served with miso soup, salad, and steamed rice. The way that Sakanaya packaged this meal was visually appealing: a perfect scoop of white rice, a miniature salad, and lots of saucy chicken. Under the chicken, there were layers of vegetables, sliced beautifully. The teriyaki had a mild flavor and was not overly salty like some teriyaki sauces can be. The salad dressing was on the side, allowing me to pour as much as I liked and also keeping the salad from wilting in transit. The chicken was a good contrast from the tender crisp veggies. The soup was fine, and there were also two California roll pieces and two tiny bites of something that was good — but I’m not sure what it was. I really enjoyed this entree.

Several dishes from Sakanaya lay in their takeout containers on a black table with two sake glasses and a bottle of cold sake. Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

Photo by Alyssa Buckley.

Sakanaya menu is expansive with sushi rolls and entrees like the ones I’ve tried, but they also have appetizer options, chef specials, ramen, katsu, poke bowls, and squid karaage. Everything I’ve had from here has been pretty good, so if you’re in the mood for Japanese food, go ahead and order some Sakanaya.

403 E Green St
M-Sa 11:30 a.m. to 1:45 p.m., 5 to 9 p.m.
Su 4 to 9:30 p.m.

Top image by Alyssa Buckley.

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