If you've been paying attention to the East Valley, then you already know that downtown Gilbert has exploded with restaurants over the past year. But the suburb's historic downtown isn't the only place to find new eateries. Located just off Cooper Road and Warner Road, Yanagi Sushi opened a few months ago but it can be hard to find an empty table in the dimly lit and simply decorated dining room. The restaurant's owners came to Arizona nine years ago from Oahu, Hawaii and opened in Gilbert after seeing how popular the area's dining scene has grown.
The menu at Yanagi Sushi has all the elements of a proper Japanese sushi restaurant, from elaborate specialty rolls to udon bowls. You’ll also notice some Korean entrées like bulgogi and kalbi, little tributes to the Korean descent of Yanagi’s owners, according to our server.
The list of specialty rolls at Yanagi aims to please any preference, with some fish-focused options and others with no raw fish at all. We prefer more fish than less and were captivated by the description of the White Dragon roll. The inside offered spicy tuna, cucumber, chopped garlic, and a sprinkle of shitsumi while the outside came topped with white tuna sashimi and torched wasabi mayo. The roll offered a subtly savory, slightly smoky flavor. The garlic hummed faintly in the background, and the spicy tuna gave life to the deeper flavors. The white tuna sashimi topping was generously sliced and fresh, while the streak of wasabi mayo gave just enough creaminess to each bite without overwhelming.
We also put in an order for something that not listed on the menu at, but that can be prepared upon request: ikura (or salmon roe) with a quail egg. The two pieces of ikura and quail egg sushi arrived at our table, and there really is no better way to describe how the dish looked than otherworldly. You absolutely must eat each piece in a single large bite, but do so and you’ll be rewarded with a moment of pure bliss. The ikura salmon roe was bright and briny, perfectly countering the creamy quail egg.
For those less inclined to consuming raw fish, Yanagi makes sure to have a variety of cooked entrées and bento boxes. To get a taste of several different dishes, we ordered the dinner bento box, which offered the choice of anywhere from three to five small dishes to make up a box. We went with the pork gyoza, the chicken katsu, and the spicy yellowtail roll.
The spicy yellowtail roll was simple and straightforward — not bad but not memorable. And upon sight, we had high hopes for the pork gyoza; the first bite only solidified our expectations. The exterior was golden and crispy thin. Despite being a fried, there was no hint of oiliness, and the pork filling was moist and flavorful.
By far, our favorite dish in the bento box was the chicken katsu. When done right, chicken katsu should be ever so thin but still offer a moist and meaty bite. The panko-crusted exterior should be evenly applied and extra crispy. In the case of the chicken cutlet at Yanagi, all bases were covered.
We left Yanagi Sushi with a warm sendoff from the entire restaurant staff (as did every other table that night). The entire experience certainly left a good impression, and it won’t be long before we return.
884 West Warner Road, Gilber