photo credit: Raphael Brion
If you’re going to blow well over $300 per person on dinner, Otoko is where to do it. The omakase-only experience combines an Austin rock ‘n roll barbecue smokeshow with a traditional kaiseki approach.
This is not a temple to sushi with hushed tones. The 12-seat tasting counter is technically located up a staircase in the courtyard at the South Congress Hotel, but the futuristic design makes it feel like you’re dining in a fancy spaceship that plays Bowie, Sun Ra, and Fugazi. Otoko is ready to rock.
The omakase experience is a dizzying procession of small plates and nigiri that sometimes veers into the brilliant. Otoko’s menu brings together fish, smoke, umami, and vinegar—playing with Japanese, Texan, and Mexican ingredients. So you’ll see dishes like a shima aji sashimi topped with hoja santa and yuzu ponzu, or kabocha tempura dusted with a smoky sal de gusano. While this all might sound a little heavy-handed, these are subtle touches. The fish remains the star of the show.
At the tasting counter, you’ll have front-row seats to the chefs preparing the food, where they’ll happily explain the components of the dishes over the blaring music. But most of the time, they seem a little bored. Which is a little different than other top-tier sushi restaurants like Tsuke Edomae, where the chef interacts with diners quite a bit more. And while Tsuke Edomae is more minimalist (and significantly more affordable), Otoko wins out with a more overall celebratory package, like the exceptional cocktails from their adjoining bar Watertrade, and optional sake, wine, and tea pairings.
The elephant in the room is that a meal at Otoko will set you back well north of $300 a head (unless you do their once-monthly $150 abridged 12-course omakase, which is a pretty good deal). At these prices, you’d expect flawless service, but sometimes we have to ask for a water refill. All that said, there’s nothing quite like a meal at Otoko. The food is fun, creative, and unexpected—in a lot of ways, Otoko could only exist in Austin (or at least Texas). There are other restaurants in town that do similar food—Texas meets Japanese—like Loro, Kemuri Tatsu-Ya, Lucky Robot, Uchi, or Uchiko. But Otoko is doing it on a much higher level.
Sign up for our newsletter.
Be the first to get expert restaurant recommendations for every situation right in your inbox.
The hassun, or seasonal platter, is the opening course consisting of a series of smaller dishes. Sort of like your Discover Weekly on Spotify, it changes all the time, and it’s full of unexpected bangers that you always forget to save. There’s often castelvetrano olives in some form. Sometimes there’s soft shell crab, sometimes there’s boquerones, or sometimes there’s cured kanpachi.
Some sushi spots go a little hard on the garnishes for the nigiri, overwhelming the flavor of the fish by overloading it with a bunch of extra ingredients (sort of like Sriracha Cool Ranch Doritos, it’s just too much). Otoko is more subtle, doing simple things like adding meyer lemon zest to kanpachi, or dressing oysters with smoked roe and yuzu ponzu. Quality and flavor-wise, the nigiri here is some of the best you’ll find in Austin.
Uni is something most sushi chefs don’t mess with too much, letting it speak for itself—but at Otoko, it’s dressed with smoked tamari, freshly ground wasabi, and white sturgeon caviar. Phenomenally delicious, it’ll ruin uni for you forever. “Why isn’t all uni prepared this way?” you ask your cat when you get home, who doesn’t really have a good answer.
The mushimono course changes frequently, and a recent iteration combined jamon Iberico, hedgehog mushrooms, and uni bottarga. Jiggly and earthy and rich, this is one of the most memorable things we’ve eaten in a while. It’s so luxurious, there’s even a fancy spoon to eat it with.
The Texas-meets-Japan smokeshow is in full effect when they sear the hamachi directly on binchotan coals right in front of you, and then top it with smoked tamari and herbs. It’s like a smoke machine at a rock concert, but instead it’s in the kitchen. Good thing they have solid ventilation.
The tempura at Otoko is often mushrooms or squash, and the batter is shatteringly crisp. The tempura would be great on its own, but they get a Super Mario super star and basically turn invincible when it gets topped with the citrus-y, numbing sansho pepper or the spicy, smoky sal de gusano, a Oaxacan worm salt.
Otoko offers a sake pairing, and they also offer wine and tea pairings. We have not done the tea pairing because some of the tea is caffeinated and we didn’t want to stay up all night, but if you do it, report back. They’ll even do cocktails from their adjacent bar, Watertrade.