Do you ever get an insatiable craving for chicken heart? Or chicken gizzard? Or tonkotsu ramen made with a broth of pig bones boiled for 24 hours?
Izakaya Jinsei, a new restaurant on Alder Street a couple of blocks from the University of Oregon campus, has it all.
The restaurant is the new location of Sushi Pure owners Sunny Moon and Preston Shin’s Izakaya Oyazi, formerly located on 5th Avenue.
They needed a new location because Sushi Pure is moving to Izakaya Oyazi’s former location, which Shin bought. Moon chose a campus location because she just finished her M.B.A., her second degree at UO, and she wasn’t ready to leave the area.
Izakaya Jinsei, which means “life” in Japanese, features most of the same food from Izakaya Oyazi, plus a few new options.
Moon drew on elements of the izakaya style for both of the restaurants. Izakayas are Japanese tapas bars – small bites of food meant to be eaten with alcohol. They feature small plates of meat, seafood and vegetables that are simply cooked on a grill or served raw.
The food Jinsei serves differs from Japanese izakaya cuisine in a few ways; you would never find ramen or a sushi roll at an izakaya in Japan. But Moon does offer a few traditional options. For example, she serves kushimono — pieces of grilled meat or vegetables on a stick, which is standard izakaya fare.
The décor in Jinsei is also reminiscent of a Japanese watering hole. The posters of old Japanese advertisements on the walls and the dark wooden bar could just as easily furnish an izakaya in Shinjuku, Tokyo, as one in Eugene, Oregon.
“We want people to feel like they’re in Japan,” Moon said. Although she’s from Korea, one of her grandmothers is Japanese. Moon learned about the cuisine as a child by eating dishes that her grandmother cooked for her.
Her relationship with her grandmother is one of the main reasons she decided to work in restaurants in the first place. Her grandmother was an excellent cook but never had her own business.
She passed away while Moon was in Eugene, and Moon wanted to continue her legacy.
“I miss her a lot,” she said. “I’m doing this for [my grandmother].”
After she and her husband, Shin, finished their bachelor’s degrees at UO, their parents wanted them to continue their schooling. Shin’s parents wanted him to pursue a career in medicine. Moon’s wanted her to work in marketing.
But they had different aspirations. They opened Sushi Pure, their first restaurant, with money that their parents gave them to go to graduate school.
“Both of our parents got super upset, for like three years,” she said. But they feel that it was worth it, and business seems to be booming. Jinsei opens at noon on weekdays. It was packed by 12:05 p.m. on the Wednesday after it opened.
For a Japanese person, some of the food there, like the Osaka-style, box-pressed sushi, might seem inauthentic. Jinsei’s includes raw unseasoned tuna and excessive rice, leaving it somewhat bland. The original is always made with flavored cured or cooked fish.
But other dishes are excellent. The miso ramen is delicious and comes with a generous pile of tempura onion. The spicy poke bowl is a piquant, refreshing lunch. There’s also a large sake and cocktail selection for those looking for a tasty drink.
Jinsei is one of the best options for Japanese food in the campus area and it’s open until 12 a.m., making it a valuable addition to college nightlife for those who want to drink but don’t like the crowds, noise and cheap alcohol at other campus bars.
Going forward, Moon plans to diversify the menu to include more rice bowls and daily specials featuring seasonal ingredients.
“We’re just going to serve good food; we’re going to give good customer service, and we’re going to try our best to make people happy,” she said.