Of the several Toshi’s Teriyaki shops in and around Seattle, the one to visit is Toshi’s Teriyaki Grill up in Mill Creek north of the city. Here in the kitchen of an unassuming shopping center storefront you will find Toshi Kasahara, the man responsible for introducing teriyaki to Seattle back in 1976.
Toshi’s success, and the success of his followers and imitators, made the Japanese-American dish of soy-marinated, char-grilled chicken with a sweet caramelized crust into a Seattle signature. Found almost exclusively in low-cost storefront neighborhood cafes, it was and continues to be a people’s food, more for hungry eaters than for striving gastronomes. At one point, Toshi oversaw a small empire of 17 teriyaki shops, but in recent years teriyaki’s star has dimmed in Seattle (even while it continues to brighten nationwide). Local foodies have discovered newer, trendier, more authentic, less hyphenate-American Asian specialties. There are still plenty of teriyaki shops around town, many of them named Toshi’s, but this is the one that is his. That’s why we recommend it… that, and the fact that the teriyaki he makes is out-of-this-world wonderful.
Chicken is the flagship: tender, marinade-infused meat with smoky char and salty-sweet savor. If truth be told, we like Toshi’s beef even better. It is medium-rare sirloin, sliced into bite-size pieces that are shockingly tender. House-blended teriyaki sauce, which is kaleidoscopic but gentle-tempered (unless you ask for red-hot) is beef’s best friend, its spices coaxing maximum umami from the red meat with which it’s paired.
While teriyaki has a somewhat healthy mien, chicken katsu bears the cross of being deep fried. Unless you are allergic to deep-frying, it is a must. The marinade-infused chicken is encased in crunchy batter that glistens with golden sweetness like some paradoxical savory honey. As far as I’m concerned, it is one of the most delicious fried foods anywhere.
Toshi’s is so inconspicuous that when we first looked for it, we drove right past without even noticing it. Sharing a small section of the shopping center with a gyro shop, it is as simple as a restaurant can be. All meals are presented in Styrofoam containers for taking elsewhere or for eating at one of the bare tables inside or picnic tables just outside the door. The lady who takes orders at the counter is extraordinarily friendly; Toshi himself is a charming host with endearing humility that belies the fact that he changed American food history.