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'It's very simple - fresh and good quality,' said Fusako Imai, who opened the restaurant in 1999.

Editor's Note: This story first appeared in our Hillsboro's Best special section. Every year, the Tribune solicits feedback from the public for our annual Hillsboro's Best awards.

PHOTO: CHRISTOPHER OERTELL - Syun Ivakaya, 209 N.E. Lincoln St., in downtown, has made a name for itself by offering simple, fresh Japanese food to Hillsboros hungry patrons. The restaurant was named the best sushi restaurant in town by Hillsboro Tribune readers.Tucked in the basement of the 100-year-old former Carnegie Library in downtown is a sushi restaurant alive with the tastes and scents of Japan.

Empty bottles of sake and shochu line the walls of the main dining area in a colorful array. Behind a bar, a chef expertly slices fresh, raw cuts of tuna, salmon, mackerel and eel, crafting them into popular nigiri and sushi rolls. In a small fryer they dunk shrimp and vegetables to make delicate, crisp tempura.

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Syun Izakaya, 209 NE Lincoln St.

Hours: Monday through Thursday 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m., Friday 11:30 a.m. to 11:00 p.m., Saturday noon to 3 p.m. & 5 p.m. to 10 p.m., Sunday 5 p.m. to 10 p.m.

Phone: 503-640-3131

Website: syun-izakaya.com

The restaurant has received praise from customers, food reviewers and local publications for years for its traditional Japanese fare and izakaya style. A relaxed atmosphere — similar to tapas — izakaya style food is served on platters meant to be shared by friends and sake shared and drunk from large bottles. Syun Izakaya offers more than 50 different kinds of Japanese rice wine and liquor. Buy a whole bottle and they'll even keep it behind the bar for you with your name on it so you can come back later to finish it.

Owner Fusako Imai never thought she'd own a restaurant. For 15 years she owned three flower shops while living in Anchorage, Alaska before coming to Hillsboro in 1997 for a fresh start. An acquaintance visited her in her new hometown, looking for a location to purchase and open a restaurant. They found an ad for the historic location in a local newspaper and quickly signed the papers.

"The next day, though, she changed her mind," said Imai. "So I thought, 'I'll open a restaurant,' and maybe sell it."

But Imai hasn't had a moment to think about selling since Syun Izakaya opened in 1999.

"I just opened and on the first day, so many people came in," Imai said .

At the time, there weren't many restaurants in downtown Hillsboro — and its residents were hungry, she said. Word of the quality food spread — all the way to Portland and down the west coast — bringing customers from far away. A typical lunch or dinner rush fills the small dining area to its brim, but Imai has never spent a dime on advertising, she said. A truly good restaurant does business by word of mouth, she said.

"It's very simple — fresh and good quality," said Imai. " We never think anything but just trying to bring good food. If customers are happy, then at that time I am happy."

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