True confession: I have eaten way too many salmon bento boxes. But any fan of Sushi Ya can tell you: That place is great! Fresh, fast, not expensive. Perfect for a pre-show dinner if you’re heading out on a weekend, family-friendly. I’d go for the honey ginger tea alone. (Really, try it.)
Husband and wife team DJ Kang and Jennifer Lee came from Busan, South Korea, 13 years ago, settling first in Junction City, then Eugene, where the couple bought the popular downtown eatery Sushi Ya eight years ago.
But what about our pals on the north side of town? Sure, they’ve got their fancier digs popping up, but with the demise of Mio Sushi in the Oakway Mall, Kang and Lee saw their moment to bring their brand of Japanese/Korean cozy to Umiya Sushi.
“Personally, Oakway Center is my favorite place to go to, to release stress,” Lee says. “My favorite thing to do there is to sit on the bench out in the courtyard and just relax and watch people just live their lives. When I’m there just living in the moment for a brief second, all of my worries go away. I wanted to be able to create a safe, comfortable and welcoming environment for our customers. I also love how beautiful the garden is outside.”
On a cold, rainy Friday night, Umiya is bright and warm, with people of all ages tucking into favorites, like California, spicy tuna, Texas, rainbow and Machu Picchu rolls, along with tempuras, salads, ramens, nigiri and new Korean specialties, like bibimbap, a warm rice dish topped with vegetables and protein. There’s also champon, a Korean noodle soup, sundubu, a soft tofu stew, and kalbi, famous Korean braised short ribs.
“The reason why we have Korean dishes at the restaurant is because while working at Sushi Ya, there have been little occasions where our regulars ask us to make some delicious Korean dishes,” Lee says. “Every time I’ve made a Korean dish for someone, they have told me that they are mind-blown that we don’t sell it at Sushi Ya, so I decide to incorporate some Korean dishes to the menu in Umiya.”
“I’ve always wanted to provide service for people in this side of the town. I know that sometimes it’s hard to commute all the way to downtown, especially over the bridge that seems to have a lot of traffic,” Kang says. “I also live nearby, and noticed that there weren’t any sushi restaurants around, and thought that it’d be a great place to open our next restaurant. Plus, it has great parking available.”
Providing tasty food in a friendly atmosphere has helped Lee to feel more at home.
“I’m not very good at speaking English, and even though I’ve been here for long, it’s pretty hard for people my age to learn a new language. Whenever people talk to me, they are all so nice and understanding. I feel very welcome and at home,” she says.
Food is a universal language, and anyone can enjoy Umiya’s fire show roll: A creamy combo of fresh scallop and salmon, dotted with spicy mayo and accompanied with a pleasing cucumber crunch. The signature Umiya roll, with its seaweed and salmon roe, is both silky and toothsome, a wonderful marriage of flavors and textures. And these dishes are Insta-worthy!
The restaurant’s Happy Chicken is a pleaser for all ages. (Hint: Even the pickiest little kids will love it.) And the chicken (or salmon) teriyaki bento gets my vote for MVP.
“The special thing about our menu is the fish,” Lee says. “The way DJ maintains and conditions his fish, is what makes our restaurant stand out. If he thinks that the fish he’s serving doesn’t live up to his expectations, he simply won’t serve the fish.”
Sometimes you can find home in a kitchen.
“I’m always searching for a good Korean food place to go to. I know there are tons of lovely and amazing Korean restaurants around the downtown and campus area, however some people do not like to go all the way to that side of the town,” Lee says. “And I haven’t found too many Korean food places to go to in this part of town. So, I thought it’d be a good idea to give more options for people who live around here.”
Adds Lee and Kang’s son, James, who manages Sushi Ya:
“Personally, when we first opened up, I think I ate the bibimbap about seven days in a row, so that kind of gives you a clue on what my favorite food item at the restaurant is.”
Umiya Sushi is at 132 Oakway Center and is open 11 am to 9 pm, Monday through Thursday, 11 am to 10 pm Friday through Saturday and noon to 9 pm Sunday. For more information, visit UmiyaSushiEugene.com