photo credit: Chase Daniel
There are a few undeniable truths we’ll gladly stand behind: cheese is at its best when it’s melted, curly fries are the superior potato form, and themed bars are always more fun than their regular counterparts. Maybe that’s why we love Tiki Tatsu-Ya so much. Basically a tropical resort—with a beach house upstairs, and a mysterious cave downstairs—waterfalls, totems, and giant pu pu platters will make you forget you’re at a tiki bar next to a gas station on South Lamar. Grab a tropical shirt to fit in, because unless you’re a huge skee-ball enthusiast, this is the most fun you’ll have at a bar in Austin all year.
The drink menu folds out like a giant pop-up book, full of drinks that generally lean classic, with a distinct Tatsu-Ya twist. That means mai tais made with miso-almond orgeat, painkillers with shiro-miso coconut cream, and a slurping bastard (their take on a suffering bastard) with shochu, ginger, and ume shrub. And while all of those are fun, it’s the large format drinks that steal the show. The lights start to flicker and thunder rumbles as your server brings your beverage, a cloud of smoke trailing behind them. It’s like ordering sizzling fajitas at your favorite Tex-Mex restaurant, but the tortillas are subbed out for long, bendy straws.
But the fun doesn’t stop there. If the name wasn’t an indicator, this is from the folks that brought you Ramen Tatsu-Ya, Kemuri Tatsu-Ya, and DipDipDip Tatsu-Ya, so you know there’s going to be strong attention to the food that combines Japanese, Hawaiian, and Polynesian influences. Hawaiian/Japanese staples like musubi, usually served with a giant slab of spam, instead get topped with teriyaki glazed foie gras—a much more expensive alternative that proves that sometimes, money can buy happiness. A pu pu platter the size of a small table will be one of the best app sampler platters you’ve encountered. And a tropical cheese plate—complete with tropical accoutrements and King’s Hawaiian crostini—provides us with a glimpse into how affluent seagulls on the beach would probably spend their hard-earned money.
There’s a long, fictional backstory about the bar involving a surfing company, abandoned caves, and 17th century Japanese explorers. And you can hear it playing over the speakers in the bathroom by a guy that sounds a lot like Sam Elliott (that guy who always plays a cowboy in movies). But if you don’t want to face some awkward looks by standing next to a toilet for its 17 minute duration, you can also just listen to it on the website.
Reservations here can be hard to get. Grab a spot when you see one, then spend the next couple of weeks mentally getting into vacation mode. Maybe use that time to pick up a new tropical shirt and listen to some kind of 17 minute long story about two brothers who found a cave and turned it into a tiki bar. If you need help finding one, we have some suggestions.
Pu Pu Platter
This is basically a sampler platter, with a little bit of a lot of things. There are ribs, wings, beef skewers, taro tots, and something called crab lagoon, which is basically a little pot of cheesy crab dip. Order this for the table if you want something for everybody to snack on, then place an extra order of crab lagoon afterwards.
Spam On The Half Shell
If you’ve had spam, you kind of know what to expect. The difference is that here they make their own spam in house, then mix it in with some diced mango, season it a bunch, and smoke it. Fans of spam will like this, but if you’re new to the protein or generally aren’t a big fan, this might not be your best entrypoint.
The gold standard of tiki drinks, in our book. The mai tai here pairs together some Jamaican and Martinique rums, giving the final blend a bit of a funky, grassy flavor that tastes a lot better than the way we just described it. And Tiki Tatsu-Ya’s miso-almost orgeat gives the drink an almost-savory element.
There are a handful of large-format drinks on the menu here, but this one is our favorite. It’s made with a base of gin and lemongrass shochu, then pumped up with tropical fruits. The end result is something tart, tangy, and delicious. We’d almost describe it as refreshing, if it were a little less potent.