A Taste of Japan
With locations in Doylestown or Northeast Philadelphia, To-Yo Japanese Restaurant offers some of the area’s finest sushi, sashimi and other Japanese delicacies
by Leigh Stuart

To those who have an affinity for sushi, an expertly crafted roll is much more than a meal: It’s a work of art.

This is certainly the case at To-Yo Japanese Restaurant. To-Yo’s two locations—one in the heart of Doylestown and the other in the Bustleton section of Northeast Philadelphia—offer guests some of the most exquisitely prepared sushi and sashimi throughout the region, all crafted from the highest-quality fish and seafood available.

To-Yo’s devotion to superior Japanese cuisine stems from the wide-ranging experience of the restaurants’ chef and owner, Wilson Wong. Originally from Singapore, Wong was 17 years old when he, along with his older brother, moved to the United States. After he arrived in New York City, Wong began his restaurant career on the ground floor. His first job was as a dishwasher. From there he became a kitchen helper, then a chef. By the age of 30, he had become an elite sushi chef.

After many years of perfecting his craft, he felt he was ready to have his own restaurant, so he and his wife, Mei, who he met on a blind date in New York City, left Manhattan for southeastern Pennsylvania so he could pursue his dream. In 2002, at the age of 37, he opened the first To-Yo location in Bustleton. The Doylestown location opened its doors two years ago. Today, Wilson and Mei Wong work together to run both restaurants.

Although To-Yo offers “a wide menu selection for everyone,” as Wong says, sushi and sashimi are without a doubt its hallmark. “Everyone should try our sashimi rolls,” he adds. “Those rolls have no rice—no carbs and low calories.”

Signature sashimi includes the Spicy Tuna Sashimi Roll, which includes spicy tuna and cucumber topped with tuna and caviar. Another best-loved selection is the Mr. Wong Sashimi Roll, which features avocado-wrapped eel, shrimp, asparagus, cream cheese and cucumber, topped with eel and smoked salmon.

“The Lexus Sashimi Roll is the most popular one,” Wong adds. “It has avocado on the soy-paper-wrapped spicy tuna and cucumber inside and topped with tuna, salmon, yellowtail and caviar. It is a delicious dish with low calories and is very healthy. We also have a great selection of regular [sushi] rolls, which you can choose to be made with white or brown rice.”

Such house-special sushi rolls include the To-Yo Roll—chopped spicy shrimp tempura served “inside out” with masago—and the Banzai Roll, which features fresh scallop with scallion, cucumber and Japanese mayonnaise topped with masago, as well as the Red Dragon Roll, a special vegetarian roll offering a combination of sweet potato tempura inside a layer of avocado topped with spicy mayonnaise. The roll can be made vegan by eliminating the spicy mayonnaise.

Other house favorites include the Christmas Roll with salmon, crab meat, avocado, cucumber and Japanese mayonnaise and masago, and the Family Roll, a medley of shrimp tempura, eel, cucumber, avocado, seaweed salad and masago wrapped in soy paper. The eight-piece To-Yo Sushi Box includes a wide variety of sushi for the full spectrum of flavors.

Even those who do not care for sushi and sashimi will discover a wide selection of Japanese dishes from which to choose. This includes “traditional” cuisine such as Teriyaki, Tempura, Udon or Soba noodle dishes, as well as distinctive appetizers such as the Baked Scallop, Beef or Chicken Negimaki, which is grilled meat rolled with scallions, and Tatsuta-Age, which is a dish comprising Japanese-style deep-fried chicken nuggets. Of course, other favorite appetizers include Gyoza (pork or vegetable), Tempura (shrimp, chicken or vegetable) and Haru Maki spring rolls (pork and vegetable). Special appetizers include Usuzukuri—thinly sliced raw fish (salmon or white fish) with spicy ponzu sauce—the Tar-Tar (salmon or tuna) with wasabi sauce, and Nuta, which is diced raw salmon or tuna with a special sweet and sour sauce.

To-Yo also offers an exciting array of savory entrée options. The Special Dinner Box, for example, includes Shrimp and Scallop Teriyaki along with Shrimp Tempura, Shu Mai and Tatsuta-Age. There is also Chicken or Salmon Batayaki—grilled meat served with lemon butter sauce— and the Grilled Tuna Steak with special ponzu and teriyaki sauces. For hot entrées, guests can select from an Oyako Don, which is a mix of Chicken Katsu with egg and chopped onions served over rice and with a special sauce. All of these dinner special entrées are served with soup, salad and rice. To-Yo also offers a variety of gluten-free sushi and kitchen entrées.

“Everything on the menu was created by Wilson, from all the years working as a chef,” says Lia Sheng, manager of To-Yo, noting that all Wong’s recipes come from “knowledge, creativity and the passion of being a chef.”

The Doylestown location, which is just a few blocks from the intersection of Main and State streets, has a full bar and offers 10 rotating taps with Japanese beer, IPAs and even local beers; the Philadelphia location is a BYOB, so guests are invited to bring their favorite sake, beer wine or other adult libation to accompany their meal. At the Doylestown location, happy hour takes place from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. and offers a $2 discount on a regular roll, as well as $1 off draft beers and half-priced other items such as wine, cocktails, bottled beers and sake.

To-Yo’s Doylestown location has two floors, as well as two party rooms, and offers delivery within five miles of the restaurant. One of the party rooms offers seating for up to 10 people, and the other offers seating for up to 16. Although the Philadelphia location does not currently have a party room, one will be available by early 2016. The Philadelphia location does, however, offer a special section with seating for up to 20 people that can be made private for an event. Guests with groups of as many as 40 people can rent out the entire dining room.

Regardless of the location, To-Yo’s guests discover time-honored recipes that, in Wong’s words, “create wonderful meals for my customers” and a superior experience on par with Center City’s finest sushi restaurants. That’s no surprise considering Wong’s passion for his craft. With a happy family—including three children: Benjamin, 17; Jonathon, 15; and Elaine, 10—and two restaurants of his own, Wong is the first to admit that his American dream has come to fruition.

To-Yo Japanese Restaurant and Bar

34 W. State Street
Doylestown, PA 18901

13032 Bustleton Ave.
Philadelphia, PA 19116

Photograph by Allure West Studios