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  • Tara Crutchfield

Tsukiyomi Sushi Bar & Grill

When I first heard that Tsunami Sushi was closing Downtown, I thought, ‘Noooooooo!’ It was a favorite and frequent lunch spot for the Haven team. Fortunately for hungry Downtown Winter Havenites, what took its place is just as delicious.

Tsukiyomi Sushi Bar & Grill owner Jimmy Van is a restaurant industry veteran. Van, who is originally from New York, moved to Orlando in 2001. Van worked for Japanese restaurants Kobe Steakhouse and Benihana for some 15 years as the head chef and eventually restaurant manager.

Central Avenue eatery Tsukiyomi Sushi is Van’s foray into restaurant ownership. The New York native first came to Winter Haven to help a friend open a business, but he stayed for the community. Small town life agreed with Van. “I saw that the people here are really nice compared to where I lived. In a big city, when you manage a big store, it’s hard for you to maintain because they have a lot of competition,” he said.

Van knew if he could handle the hundreds of customers per night at a large establishment in a bigger city, he could certainly do it – and do it well – in Winter Haven. He went on to say, “This town has very nice people. […] The way I feel like they kind of welcome you to the neighborhood, it’s easy to talk [to them].”

Tsukiyomi Sushi opened its doors on July 15 with a fresh look and menu. So anticipated was their grand opening, Tsukiyomi was booked up on the first day. According to Van, ‘Tsukiyomi’ is a Japanese word meaning “god of the moon” and comes from the Shinto religion. The restaurant’s brushstroke logo even looks like a crescent moon with chopsticks grabbing a piece of sushi.

While spiffing up the interior with a fresh coat of deep blue paint, Van opted to keep some accents from Tsunami Sushi, including some of the black and white sushi paintings. The updated digs pay homage to its previous life but have a distinctly updated feel. Van plans to put booths in the restaurant as well. His goal with renovations was to improve the space for a clean look that would leave guests feeling impressed and respected.

Tsukiyomi boasts a sizable menu of modern Japanese fare, including nigiri and sashimi, sushi, basic and special rolls, teriyaki, tempura, entrees, and more. Everything on the menu is prepared fresh and is so good that when asked, Van couldn’t single out a favorite.

With so many menu offerings, Van says guests often come in and choose a few rolls (there are 60 specialty rolls alone) and work their way across the menu with each visit. Number one on that specialty roll list, their namesake roll, has spicy crab salad, crispy onion, and avocado within it and is topped with Wagyu steak in spicy mayo, fresh jalapeno, eel sauce, masago, and scallions.

“We have a lot of customers, and they love it. I’m really happy about it,” Van said. “I walk to each table and ask them [about] my food so I can know from them if there’s anything I can do better, I will. So far, everyone tells me they love it. They love the food.”

On the Monday afternoon we visited, the expert hands of Tsukiyomi’s sushi chefs worked carefully behind the bar to craft us a Fancy Rainbow roll. The aptly named dish was vibrant and delectable, filled with tuna, salmon, cucumber, and topped with a variety of raw fish, three tobiko, and spicy ponzu.

Though he’s only been in town for around four months and Tsukiyomi has been open for a little over two, Van says Winter Haven has warmly welcomed him and his business. Customers are talkative and curious to know more about Van. “I fell in love with that,” he said. “Living in the big city, your neighbor doesn’t know your name for a year.”

“My favorite part is the people here,” said Tsukiyomi Sushi owner Jimmy Van. “I worked hard so I could be a manager of the big company, but when I managed the big company in the big city, I never saw the personality of the people.”

317 W Central Ave, Winter Haven

(863) 293-2395

FB @tsukiyomisushi

IG @tsukiyomisushi

Photography by Amy Sexson


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