With a steady stream of restaurants setting up shop along Newberg's stretch of Highway 99W, one new eatery is looking to cut through the array of options with a unique Japanese dining experience.
While Sushi Hunter Izakaya will of course offer sushi and related fare, Sihao "Leon" Chen plans for the restaurant off of Elliott Road to be a relaxed dining experience and a haven for Japanese beer, wine and, most especially, sake.
Although the restaurant emulates the Japanese "Izakaya" concept, the atmosphere may not be so strange to those accustomed to pub-style dining.
"Izakaya is a type of informal Japanese gastropub," Chen said in an email. "Izakaya is a compound word consisting of 'i' (sit) and 'sakaya' (sake shop), indicating that izakaya originated from sake shops that allowed customers to sit on the premises to drink," he added.
Sushi Hunter Izakaya opened its doors for business earlier this month at 2401 E. Portland Ave., the newest addition to the Old Mill Marketplace, which already houses Newberg Growler House, Starbucks Coffee, Cold Stone Creamery and Blimpie. A Panda Express will be located in a building yet to be built.
The Newberg sushi restaurant is the second iteration of Chen's business — the first being Sushi Hunter Asian Fusion Bistro in Lincoln City — but the decision to open a new restaurant in Newberg wasn't coincidental.
The idea arose in 2015 when a group of Japanese visitors rolled into the Lincoln City eatery, noting that they were actually in Oregon visiting Newberg, sister city to their hometown of Wadayama, but couldn't find a Japanese restaurant in town at the time.
It so happened that Chen's mother hails from Wadayama, a place that bears more than a little resemblance to Newberg, especially their shared specialty in making fermented beverages, Chen said.
"If you been to Wadayama, Hyogo (Hyogo is a county like Yamhill) you can find a lot similar between those two cities," he said. "Newberg area has so many vineyards and beer brewers, (and) Wadayama has so many craft sake brewers and sake bars," including locally available sake brands like Ozeki and Hakushika.
Wadayama technically no longer exists as a distinct municipality since it merged with several other nearby communities to form the city of Asago in 2007, according to Newberg sister city records. The Newberg sister-city relationship has since been extended to Asago.
Between the lack of sushi options in Newberg at the time — Ichi Sushi opened its doors last fall on the west end of town — and his mother's connection to town, Chen decided to pursue a new location in town.
While striving to offer a wide selection of Japanese beer, wine and sake, Chen said the restaurant goes beyond sushi to offer teriyaki, tempura, ramen, 20 varieties of appetizers and the option for diners to make "omakase" reservations.
Translated as "I will leave it to you," Chen explained that omakase is a Japanese custom by which the diner deferentially lets the chef choose the meal, an opportunity for the chef to be imaginative in his or her selection.
"It's a fine tradition that gives the chef creative freedom and the customer a memorable dining experience," Chen said.
While Sushi Hunter Izakaya does not have a website or social media page yet, those interested in learning more or making a reservation may call the restaurant at 971-281-8911.