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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Gracias Madre Serves Vegan Mexican That Even Meat-Eaters Will Love

That naughty V word. You know the one I’m talking about. No, not that one you perv. I’m talking about “Vegan”.

I don’t think it would come as any surprise to any of my readers that I’m pretty obsessed with meat. All types of meat. And to be honest, I usually don’t consider a meal complete without the inclusion of some sort of meat.

But, a situation recently arose that gave me the perfect excuse and opportunity to check out a completely vegan restaurant that I actually had interest in trying. Amy’s vegan and gluten-free cousin was staying with us in SF and it was my task to find suitable places to eat that we could all enjoy. I had heard wonderful things about the Mission vegan Mexican spot named Gracias Madre so I figured that it had the greatest shot at solving our puzzle. Seriously though, people love this restaurant. By reputation, it’s the kind of place that people claim will make meat-eaters completely forget that everything they are eating is even vegan. That’s a tall order – I’ll see about that. I’ll put that crazy claim up to the ultimate test – me.

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The Incredible Burmese at Rangoon Ruby has Finally Arrived on Polk

I’m so excited, it’s finally here. I’ll keep this short, but the brand new location of my all-time favorite Silicon Valley restaurant Rangoon Ruby, has opened a sister location a block from my SF apartment. In a space that used to be a lackluster sushi spot called Sushi Rock, my beloved Palo Alto Burmese favorite has planted roots. From the moment Sushi Rock had shuttered, I was aware because the place is actually in directly eye line from my apartment window. I anxiously awaited something new and interesting to come and take over the space. And I was over-the-moon elated when I saw a Coming Soon banner indicating that it would be a location of the exact place I missed most after transitioning from Palo Alto to SF.

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California Freshness at Rusty’s Southern in the Tenderloin

I always get really excited when new restaurants open, especially when they are close to enough to my home that they can easily become part of my regular dinner rotation. This particular new opening in the Tenderloin was only under a week old, but I couldn’t help but find myself drawn to it. Rusty’s Southern may be in a dicey part of town, but this spacious spot is serving up affordable, California-inspired takes on North and South Carolinan Southern classics. In a town desperately in need of more Southern food, what more could you ask for?

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Bold, Playful Flavors Found at Montrio Bistro in Monterey

Every month or so, we like to head south of San Francisco down to Monterey. For us, it’s a nice way to take a mini-vacation and because it’s a beautiful place within driving distance and we have family there to crash with. We’ve done a variety of food exploration in the area on our own, but as is usually the case, a recommendation by a local resident usually holds more weight than what I can uncover. In our hosts’ opinion, Montrio Bistro is one of the best restaurants in all of Monterey and it happened to only be a five minute walk from their downtown home.

The restaurant is located right on the main drag of town and even though we had headed over quite late on a late Sunday night, it still wasn’t easy to grab a table for four. Quick on my feet, I pulled up OpenTable at exactly 8:48 PM and successfully nabbed a table for us all at 9:00 PM. Bam, that did the trick. Only a few minutes later, my name was called and we were seated in the surprisingly bustling restaurant.

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Quenching Late Night Sushi Cravings at Ryoko’s in Union Sq.

Back when I was living in New York, I think I took for granted the fact that it really was “the city that never sleeps”. Literally any hour of the day, I could get my hands on anything I craved. Bars stayed open to 4, delivery services ran around the clock and worked lightening fast, and there was always a restaurant open serving exactly what I was in the mood for, no matter what crazy hour it was that I wanted it.

Now, let’s compare that to San Francisco, where bars start winding down at 1 AM and close at 2. It’s a place where most restaurant and bar kitchens close around 10 PM and food delivery is an utter joke. If it’s past 10 PM and you feel like having a great late night meal, you’ve got to approach the situation with a little more care and a lot more knowledge.

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O-Toro: Another Solid Spot for Fresh Sushi in Hayes Valley

*Editor’s Note 4/17/15: O-Toro has since relocated to a larger space only a block away at 298 Gough St.

I’m constantly looking for sushi joints in the Bay Area serving really high quality fish at very reasonable prices. I’ve got spots all over the region (see: Wayo, Tataki, Sushi Tomi, Live Sushi Bar, and Geta) and I’ve even already got a place I love in Hayes Valley, but Domo is quite small and doesn’t take reservations so it’s not super easy to rely on it as a go-to spot in that neighborhood. Only a few blocks away is another well-reputed sushi den called O-Toro that actually does take OpenTable reservations and also sounded like it had a lot of potential to become my new go-to sushi bar in that neighborhood.

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Vibrant, Authentic, & Upscale Thai at Kin Khao in Union Sq.

Kin Khao is a restaurant that’s been on the tip of everybody’s tongue from the moment it opened just over a year ago. Nearly everybody loves Thai food, but there is just something totally unique about the twists that Kin Khao interweaves to these regional classics that gets people buzzing. It’s been written up in nearly every Bay Area publication – Hell, it’s even been written up in the New York Times by Mark Bittman and was included as #6 on Alan Richman’s 25 Most Outstanding Restaurants of 2015 in GQ. What could it be about this Thai spot that makes it so damned special?

I guess it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that both the chef and owner of Kin Khao have a pretty impressive food industry pedigree. Chef Mike Gaines spent a good chunk of time working at David Kinch’s famed molecular gastronomy hot spot Manresa and the owner and restauranteur behind Kin Khao is a famed Bay Area food blogger named Pim Techamuanvivit whose passion for her Thai heritage guides the restaurant’s concept. She also happens to be dating famed and celebrated Chef David Kinch who I’m sure has some tangential effect on the place. Yet somehow, with all of these compelling reasons to check this place out laid out in front of me, this was still only the first time I had gotten the chance to visit.

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Wacky Japanese Double Date Night at Suzu & Pika Pika in Japantown

One night a few weeks back, a friend who lives in SF called me to up to ask if Amy and I were free that evening. She and her fiancé wanted to go out for a dinner double-date night and it was up to me to pick the place. Amy and I were not feeling particularly great that night so we decided that ramen would be the perfect pick for a low-key double date that could provide us a delicious meal and make us feel great. I had heard particularly good things about a strange, little place in Japantown called Suzu so I selected that as the destination for all four of us to head to that evening.

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Date Night with Fancy, Open-Faced Sandwiches at Tartinery in Nolita

I’d never thought to go to Tartinery in Nolita before, but I’ll be damned if that place wasn’t an absolutely perfect spot for an impressive first date. You wouldn’t know it from the street, but inside the understated exterior of this restaurant there’s an incredibly sexy, well-thought-out, subterranean dining room with large vaulted ceilings with exposed brick walls accented by lots of black iron and flickering candle lights. It’s a really incredible space and if you’re looking to put the vibe in the air, this place is perfect for that.

The menu is also great for two people getting to know each other. It features a vast array of French-inspired open-faced sandwiches known as tartines. And there’s a wide selection of very accessible toppings offered – so you know that picky eater Tinder first date is going to be able to find something they can eat – yes, even vegetarians.

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