If You’re in Austin and Like Sushi You Must Go to Kyōten Sushiko Now

In the two years I’ve lived in Austin I’ve developed some real favorite foods — Lamberts for barbecue in a sit-down restaurant, Home Slice for Pizza, Clark’s Oyster Bar, Peached Tortilla, Chi’lantro for kimchee fries and bulgogi tacos.

On the whole the biggest thing I’ve given up compared to DC is Asian food. Though plenty of people have their favorites, I don’t find the Thai or Vietnamese up to par (though there are places I’ll go to in a pinch). But there’s one Asian cuisine where Austin beats DC, and that’s sushi (though Takumi in Falls Church is recommendable).

And the best of the bunch is brand new. If you’re in Austin, and you like sushi — and can afford it — you must go to Kyōten Sushiko.

This is a former food truck (yes, a sushi food truck) that’s now a brick and mortar restaurant. They do a walk-in business at lunch. At dinner they do omakase, two seatings per night (5:30pm and 8:00pm) with 8 stools maximum around a sushi bar. It’s you and the chef and one waiter for a couple of hours. And I don’t think I’ve ever experienced anything quite like it.

Chef Otto Phan worked at Nobu and Masa in New York so in addition to time in Japan he has experience with top end sushi. He’s young and passionate about his craft which is taking the freshest and best ingredients, serving them as simply as possible but with the best technique, and doing it thoughtfully.

This isn’t inexpensive. It’s $150 per person, but in the proper Japanese tradition service is included and tipping explicitly discouraged. So think of it as $115++. I’ve now gone more than once, and I can say that though pricey it’s also worth it.

You’ll start with some of the basics, chef slices the fish and serves it one piece at a time, he encourages you to eat it right away and not wait for other diners to get theirs.

You’ll get more than one kind of mackerel, you’ll get perfectly cooked octopus and scallops, and a really wonderful bite of wagyu. I didn’t take photos of most of it, I was too focused on talking with the chef and thinking about what I was eating. That just means the most interesting courses will be more of a surprise for you.

I love his shrimp. He’s tweaked it slightly, but on my first visit it was grilled on one side, raw on the other, and I wish I could take home a bottle of his sauce.

He uses three different kinds of rice throughout the meal, paired to the fish. For tuna he shaves fresh wasabi.

His uni course is sea urchin on uni rice which gives a sweetness that’s unique and also makes it palatable for first-timers.

Chef Phan’s tomago at the end of the meal blows me away, I wish he served it to go and I’d love nothing more than to eat some with my morning espresso.


Credit: Kyōten Sushiko

If you’re afraid you’ll go hungry don’t be. In fact, chef will offer to use less rice if you’re filling up too quickly. The last savory course is a porridge of rice and fish, and you can have as much as you wish (seconds, thirds, whatnot, but you won’t need to).

To be sure, this is a spartan place. You’ll get a more refined experience at the also-excellent Otoko (a kaiseki experience, but also in a hotel, with good service and a gorgeous atmosphere).

Kyōten Sushiko is brand new, not even done yet, there’s a photo of the old food trailer on the wall and not much else. This isn’t a place you go for the ambiance, the place is spartan. You go for a serious chef who thinks deeply about his fish.

This isn’t the sort of restaurant you take someone graduating from UT Austin, or wine and dine colleagues — their alcohol is limited to beer and some thoughtful choices for sake by the glass or the bottle (though you are welcome to bring your own wine for $20 corkage).

I don’t know how long one person alone – with the help of a single waiter – can do this with the passion and creativity that Chef Phan puts into his new place. I could be forced to update my priors about the theory of the firm.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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Comments

  1. Have you tried Sushi Junai by campus or their other location in North Austin? It’s made to order all-you-can-eat sushi. I think it’s $20 for lunch and $30 for dinner

  2. “He’s young and passionate about his craft which is taking the freshest and best ingredients, serving them as simply as possible but with the best technique, and doing it thoughtfully.”

    Hopefully your 8th grade English teacher isn’t a blog reader. The comma usage in this sentence is atrocious.

  3. Did you ever have the omakase counter at sushi taro in DC? One of the best experiences ever. Much better than Masa given the price.

  4. Have you tried Musashino – now at its new location near 29th and Lamar? It’s old school sushi – not the nouveau, hipster Uchi, Uchiko types. It’s been my benchmark to beat. Curious what you think.

    I’ll be the first to admit that DC sets a very, very high bar, but … I don’t agree with the blanket dismissal of Austin Asian restaurants. I think Austin has excellent Vietnamese. I would agree Chinese is atrocious, and the Thai is meh – with the possible exception of Sway.

  5. Gary, I’m happy you enjoyed the meal, but that looks to me like an unwise way to spend $150. In fact, I would say you’d get better value forking out some miles, flying to Japan, and buying 10 plates of sushi from a stand-alone kaitenzushiya for 3500 yen. Or you could bust out 15,000 yen and get some major-league sushi. I just think sushi in the US is generally of poor quality, loaded with gimmicks, and ruinously expensive. And in the middle of Texas? It’s hard to get decent quality sushi far from the coast even in Japan.

  6. @norvaNRT the fish isn’t out of local waters, as it isn’t in most of the US including the top places in New York. No question this place isn’t Sukiyabashi Jiro in Ginza.

  7. @austinpop I eat sway. It’s pretty good, but not as good as the best of DC. Vietnamese is fine, better than you’d expect here, I’m not suggesting you cannot eat it. It’s just not Four Sisters or anything in the Eden Center.

  8. I live in DC. Curious – why’d you leave? And what would you recommend for the best Thai/ Vietnamese in DC? Is it all in the suburbs?

  9. @Jason combination of work-related and love of the new city, I did after all live in DC for 18 years! Best Thai is unquestionably Elephant Jumps (order off the specials board, and the authentic menu). Vietnamese I’m less sure on, there are several consult tylercowensethnicdiningguide.com

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