When Seattle cooking legend Toshi Kasahara invited me for a teriyaki lunch at his restaurant in Mill Creek, Washington, about 30 minutes outside of the city, I hadn't pictured a strip-mall storefront with just three tables and a view of Staples and Rite Aid out front. But that's where I find him, tucked away in the tiny kitchen of Toshi's Teriyaki Grill, a space filled with the iconic aromas of ginger, garlic, and grilled meats.
Toshi smiles as he cooks, sharing his story in a soft voice that is nearly drowned out by the dull hum of the range hood. He arrived in Seattle in 1976 with a business degree and a plan: to change the city's understanding of what teriyaki should be. Toshi's teriyaki sauce is simple, tasting only of soy sauce, sugar, and a mildly boozy splash of mirin. The sauce doubles as a marinade when he adds ginger and garlic. It's a balanced combination that resembles nothing of the cloying, overly sweet versions of teriyaki that pass at many restaurants.
Customers responded favorably, and Toshi's business grew. He franchised the concept, and at one time, more than 30 restaurants bore his name. Many still do, but Toshi is no longer involved with them. His focus is here at his shop in Mill Creek, where his attention is on the food. Its pristine execution is what fulfills him.
Today, regulars line up for Styrofoam containers of chicken and beef teriyaki served with rice and slaw. Toshi moves with focus and intensity to fill the orders. He knows what he's doing.
Editor's note: As of May 5, 2020, Toshi's Teriyaki Grill in Mill Creek, Washington, is still offering takeout. Call ahead.