Photos courtesy of Kawaii Sushi and Asian Cuisine
Two bustling Japanese and Chinese fusion restaurants in North Phoenix are beloved for much more than their handmade rolls and Cantonese wok cooking.
“We’ve brought our culture to Arizona from Canton, China, where my grandma used to cook banquets for the whole village,” co-owner Kelly Yu says. “Those family recipes were passed down from my Grandma and Grandpa Deng.”
After working 10 years in the restaurant industry and managing a restaurant in Scottsdale, in 2014, Yu and her aunt Lisa launched Kawaii Sushi and Asian Cuisine on 67th Avenue and Happy Valley Road in Glendale to help make her aunt’s dream a reality. In 2018, they expanded to 83rd Avenue and Deer Valley Road in Peoria. Yu became the “face of the Kawaii franchise,” handling all its business operations and community relations.
In Japanese, “kawaii” means cute, reflecting the warm and inviting atmosphere they strive to create. From family roots to a diverse menu and full bar, the restaurant is more than just a place to eat — it’s where people come to create a sense of community.
“We have three in one — sushi, a Chinese kitchen, and a full bar,” says Yu, adding that it’s unique for an Asian restaurant to have all three.
“There would be a line out the door, whether it was hot or cold weather,” she says.
Despite its success, Kawaii Sushi and Asian Cuisine faced problems like most restaurants during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We wanted to protect our family,” explains Yu. “Grandma is almost 90 years old, so the Glendale location was open for dine-in and Peoria for takeout only.”
The pandemic break and slow return to indoor service in 2021-22 allowed Kawaii Peoria to renovate by relocating the bar to the front of the restaurant and adding more chairs around its new L-shape — a change of paint and different décor rounded out the updates. Another change during this time included Yu transferring to the Kawaii Peoria location to focus on its success. That’s when she added her grandpa’s last name, Deng, to the Chinese fan in the logo to honor her family’s heritage.
Yu says Kawaii Peoria’s regulars love the fresh layout, and first-time guests are welcomed by the lively conversations at the bar now that it’s close to the entrance.
“It’s like a new community, and Kawaii Peoria aids it,” Yu says.
For Yu, the Kawaii Peoria community welcomes her in return.
“The community, the people, make me feel like a part of the neighborhood,” she says. “I’m grateful for the loyalty and support of the residents. When people come to Kawaii Peoria, they are not just customers but part of our family.”
Yu conveys the love and camaraderie that make Kawaii Peoria feel welcoming for many with her touching anecdote of patrons who recently drove across the Valley to visit the restaurant.
She explains, “I hugged them for driving to my restaurant from across town.” Yu’s tradition is to drink a shot with another regular customer.
The delight among Yu and her customers extends to employees as well. One of the unique aspects of Kawaii Peoria is its commitment to hiring and training young workers.
“Young people are highly trainable and bring a fresh perspective to the restaurant industry,” says Yu, adding that it allows Kawaii Peoria to give back to the community.
Yu supports many charitable causes, such as hosting regular restaurant nights for nearby high schools and sports teams and fundraisers for area churches, the Peoria Police Citizens’ Academy, and more.
She says her community involvement was passed down from her grandparents, who shared the family recipes with their village in Canton. Today, Grandma and Grandpa Deng’s recipes significantly shape Yu’s menu at Kawaii Peoria.
Kawaii Peoria offers something for everyone. The Canton-style Chinese selections include classic dishes like Wonton Soup, Orange Chicken, Walnut Shrimp, Shui-Zhu Beef, Chicken Fried Rice, and Beef Chow Fun. All menu options can be modified from mild to spicy, such as how Yu’s fiancé, Aldo, likes it. Regulars know to ask for “Aldo-style” if they want spicy meals.
The sushi menu is just as diverse, including Blue Point oysters, poke tuna salad, baked green mussels, spicy tuna jalapeño poppers, Kawaii Love Boat, various sashimi and nigiri, along with an expansive selection of house specialty rolls created from scratch like the fan favorites Diablo tower, Samurai roll, Tsukiji roll, Lucky Crab roll, and Cha Cha roll.
Yu says she’s adding more tofu options for vegetarians, no-rice selections for low-carb diners, and gluten-free choices. Yu says Ramen noodle soup, a good lunch choice, will be available soon, too.
The full bar features a refined wine list, various sake, and beers from Japan and Asia. Happy hour is from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. every day, including daily specials like Mai Tai Mondays and Sake Tuesdays.
You can meet Kelly Yu at Kawaii Peoria on 8385 W. Deer Valley Rd. She’ll also be on hand for the restaurant’s 10-year anniversary on April 20. Follow Instagram (@kawaiipeoria) and Facebook (@KawaiiPeoria) to learn about upcoming events and specials, such as the Chinese New Year (February 10) menu and their $20 for $40 worth of Chinese cuisine deal on
From family legacy to a diverse menu and full bar, it’s more than just a place to eat — it’s where people come together to create a sense of community — including hugs and shots.
This content sponsored by Kawaii Sushi and Asian Cuisine.