Steve's Gastronomic Home Page

Sakura Japanese Restaurant (Closed)

3140 N. Lee Trevino Dr.
El Paso, TX

Sakura Japanese Restaurant

Sakura is one of the oldest Japanese restaurants in the Sun City, having replaced the YYY Restaurant and establishing the area of Lee Trevino Drive near Pebble Hills as a mecca for good Japanese cuisine. Sakura was always a haven for Japanese businessmen from the nearby twin plants and customers who appreciated being able to expand their scope of Japanese cuisine beyond the typical knife throwing shows and California rolls found at many restaurants. These days, with a competent sushi chef who is beginning to bring back the quality of sushi that was once served at the restaurant, the traditional Japanese style sushi bar is becoming the main attraction at Sakura.

My introduction to sushi was in Seattle, but the "old" Sakura was the first restaurant I tried in the Southwest that provided quality that was relatively comparable. The colorful sushi chefs who were there when Sakura first opened made customers feel welcome and provided the necessary assurance that it was OK to eat raw fish. I do not think Sakura is now attracting the number of sushi diners it did in the past, nor do I think it is west coast quality, but it is pretty good for a restaurant that is so far inland.

Around 2003 Sakura had a change of management, and that is the time the original sushi chefs left. Not only was the sushi not the same after that, but I did not care much for the cooked food either. As of 2005, though, there has been another ownership change and I have seen an improvement in the food. I still do not like it as much as the original Sakura, but it is a lot better than it was a few years ago.

My first sample from the current sushi bar was a California Roll that came with the box lunch special, and its freshness indicated that other items from the sushi bar would be good as well. The wasabi was quite fresh, and contributed as much as anything to enjoyment of the roll. Unfortunately, subsequent California rolls have not been up to the quality of the first one, and I now think it is something I would not order unless it was part of the box lunch special.

Nigiri from the sushi bar has been better than my experience with the California roll, however. The Salmon Sushi was the wild Alaskan variety rather than the farm raised salmon found at some Southwestern restaurants. I did not believe it to be King salmon, but it nevertheless was some of the best salmon I have had in the area. Experience with this sushi has shown that high standards of quality are maintained.

Tai, or red snapper sushi was another variety I sampled, with this usually being either one of my favorite varieties or one of the most disappointing if it is not done correctly. At Sakura is was kind of a combination of the two: the flavor was very good and it seemed to be very fresh, but the toughness of the fish was a little disappointing.

Chicken Teriyaki came in a box lunch I tried, along with several side dishes and the California roll. The teriyaki was not among the best I have ever eaten, with the meat being a little dry. The sauce was a vast improvement over that which was served previously, though, and there were quite a few compartments to the box lunch that were at least as enjoyable as the entrée, if not more so (the vegetables were the best).

Box lunch with salmon teriyaki
Box lunch with salmon teriyaki

Salmon Teriyaki that I tried on the lunch menu had a very good sauce and was made with Alaskan King salmon. The high quality of fish was unusual in El Paso, and I would have to say was even better than the dish I used to order regularly at the pre-2003 Sakura. The freshness of the fish was certainly within acceptable limits, but reminded me of what I was missing by not being able to order salmon at one of the Japanese restaurants within a few minutes radius of Pike Place Market in Seattle. The ginger salad served as a side dish on Sakura's lunch plate was excellent, and overall I would highly recommend the lunch plates (keeping in mind, though, that it probably takes even longer to get the food here than across the street at Shan Dong).

Tempura comes as a side dish in the box lunches or can be ordered as a main course. I thought the best feature of the tempura was the flavor of the vegetables. In fact, this may have been the best onion ring and sweet potato tempura I have ever eaten. The shrimp tempura was about average, and the breading was not as good as the items it encrusted. The tempura dipping sauce was rather thin, but tasty.

The Miso Soup seemed rather thin, and I wish it had had more substance. It was a big improvement, though, over the soup that was served by the previous owners.

Box lunches are more than filling, but are on the expensive side. I was impressed, though, that there are quite a few more menu items that at most other Japanese restaurants, and I believe most people will be able to find an appropriate sized and priced meal.

Other than the prices, the main drawback I have found at Sakura is the inconsistency. The California roll is the best example of this, with it varying from something that was very fresh and flavorful to a roll that seemed to be largely without flavor. The tempura is not something I can count on to be great, except for the vegetables. Salmon teriyaki seems to be the best dish I can find, but sometimes the sauce is too sweet.

Even with some variation in the food, though, Sakura is still better than many other Japanese restaurants in the city. The question is probably whether it is better than Riyoma, a short distance away on Lee Trevino Drive. My feeling is that I like Riyoma better overall, but Sakura is better for specific things, chief among them being the salmon teriyaki. I have not had enough experience with the sushi at Riyoma to compare it with Sakura.

For anyone who wants to explore the world of sushi, the sushi bar at Sakura is a good place to start, and is probably the feature that will be the most popular at the restaurant. It has been quite crowded when I have gone on weekends, meaning they are doing something right.

Restaurant Blog Site




Cuisine: Japanese
Cost: $$$
Hours: Closed Sun. & Sat. lunch
Accessible: Yes
Tea: Green (brewed)
Smoking: No Smoking

Most Recent Visit
Sep. 28, 2007

Number of Visits: 10+

Best Items
Sushi, Salmon Teriyaki

Special Ratings
Sushi: Salmon
Sushi: Red Snapper
Salmon Teriyaki:
Chicken Teriyaki:
California Roll:
Miso Soup: