By Margaret Stadtwald
When you think of eating out in Muscatine, fine Japanese cuisine may not come to mind, but, with the opening of Osaka Sushi and Steakhouse, you may want to think again. Located on the perimeter of the Muscatine Mall, Osaka provides a unique dining experience with a surprising history to it.
While Osaka serves authentic Japanese cuisine, its owners, Bin Lu and Kai, actually immigrated to Muscatine from China. However, before they came here, Lu explains they, “went to Japan for four years to learn Japanese cooking.” After receiving their training, they worked for many years in different Japanese restaurants before deciding to open their own.
Three years ago, Lu and Kai arrived in Muscatine, and began thinking about opening a Japanese restaurant. They, “realized people here thought Japanese food was good, and wanted to open a restaurant,” said Lu. He also added that Muscatine had, “no good sushi here before,” and wanted to change that.
Lu and Kai put their dream into action when they bought the China Buffet, the restaurant that previously occupied Osaka’s location. Lu and Kai then completely transformed the restaurant, which had fallen on hard times when they purchased it, to make it the successful business they run today. They completely redid the interior, improved the customer service, reduced the wait time for guests, and came up with a more efficient business model to help them run the restaurant more smoothly.
Lu feels these changes have made Osaka quite popular so far and will keep it strong for many years to come. “We do better than a lot of [places]. People from quite a ways away from here come,” Lu proudly explains. Since it opened last year, sushi takes the spot as the  most popular menu item. Lu attributes this to the many kinds of sushi on the menu. However, the hibachi grilled steaks and meats also sell well and will continue to gain popularity as more people discover this delicious dining spot. Osaka’s menu also continues to expand with new offerings, including a new afternoon happy hour menu with reduced price house specials, and new offerings including the Muscatine roll, a locally inspired dish made with tempura crab, cream cheese, and jalapeno, topped with red and white tuna as well as salmon.
As Lu reflected on his first year running Osaka’s, he could not come up with one thing he enjoyed most. “I enjoy doing everything!” he exclaimed. And, he and Kai really do everything. Whether they need to step in to cook the sushi, or work the hibachi grill, or occasionally, wait tables during peak times, in addition to their responsibilities running the business, they take a hands-on approach to running their business. Their dedication and passion for creating exquisite Japanese food and providing an enjoyable dining experience makes Osaka a top-notch restaurant and a wonderful addition to the Muscatine community.