Where to go for Innovative Twists on Japanese Traditions in Austin

Everyone that's even partially aware of the Austin dining scene has heard of Uchiko. It's generally regarded as one of the top dining destinations in the city and I've known for many years that I needed to see what all of the excitement was about for myself. I think the restaurant may have actually first come to attention when the now-famed chef Paul Qui tore his way through Top Chef Season 9. He basically wiped the floor with his competition utilizing his signature Asian fusion style and I took notice. Paul has since moved on from Uchiko to work on other Austin ventures such as his food truck East Side King and namesake restaurant Qui. But, Uchiko remains as exciting and buzz-worthy as ever.

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A Meticulous, Experimental Tasting Menu at Barley Swine

*Editor's Note 3/29/16: Barley Swine has relocated its entire operation to a larger space at 6555 Burnet Road since my visit.Many of my previous visits to Austin had been during Austin City Limits where my schedule was jam-packed full of concert-going and nearly every moment of my usual 3-day stay was booked up. But, this Christmas-time trip was a little different. We were in town for a full week with plenty of time to relax and do bit of gastronomic exploration.I've experienced a variety of Austin's lower-key options including mini-trips to the outlying barbecue towns of Lockhart and Elgin, but I had never before really experienced Austin's more elevated dining scene. First on my list of places to try was a little, Southern, tasting menu-only restaurant called Barley Swine and sister to another amazing Austin hot spot called Odd Duck – both which recently received 2015 James Beard Award nods.

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Get Schooled in the Art of Mac & Cheese at Homeroom in Oakland

Who doesn't love Mac & Cheese? Just about every American has a sort of nostalgia towards it. I think there's just something about that dense, cheesy mess of noodles takes us right back to grade school and having Mom whip together a quick after-school snack.But now as an adult living in the Bay Area, I've figured out where everyone goes to relive those childhood memories in the form of boozy brunch. In the mostly residential Oakland neighborhood of Temescal, there's Homeroom – a super-casual schoolhouse themed spot whose name and decor only serve to further the emotional connection between the food and being a little kid.

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