ATXReview

photo credit: Mackenzie Smith Kelley

Uchi review image
8.5

Uchi

$$$$(512) 916-4808
Hours:WED
5PM-10PM

The year 2003 brought the world a lot of pop culture icons—"Hey Ya" came out, the fifth Harry Potter novel took the world by storm, and even American Idol runner-ups were household names (remember Clay Aiken?). Is 2003 the most underrated year in recent history?

Considering it also brought Uchi to Austin, we’re going to petition for a resounding “yes.” The folks behind this sushi and Japanese fusion restaurant have since built an empire spanning multiple states and concepts, but it all started right here on South Lamar. And while Uchi may have built a name on sushi, it’s when they break a bit from tradition and bring us something of their own invention that has made them into a name Austin has come to associate with birthdays, anniversaries, and special celebrations

Despite being just a short walk from Zilker Park, this is not a place you should show up for after an afternoon of disc golf and sand volleyball. There’s a casual elegance to it—the restaurant embodiment of a sweater dress. The dining room is in an old remodeled house with cozy booths and floral wallpaper, with a large open sushi bar that we’re going to guess was not part of the original blueprint. If you were lucky enough to grab a reservation two months ago, you’ll probably find yourself in the dining room. The sushi bar—where you can see all the action up close—is held for walk-ins, but we’ve found a few glasses of sake make the wait go by pretty quickly. 

Mackenzie Smith Kelley

Uchi review image

Uchi’s menu can be a bit intimidating, like when a server hands you basically a textbook of obscure sounding wines to choose from. With nearly two full pages (in tiny font) of items, ranging from crudos and carpaccios, to grilled branzino and pork belly, you can choose your own adventure. The servers know the menu inside out and are here to guide you (there’s also an omakase option). Just tell them what you like or don't like, and let them steer the ship—they don’t take a two-day long sauce training because they’re big fans of tiny spoons. 

You can’t mention sushi in Austin without Uchi’s name coming up, meaning some nigiri and sashimi should definitely be part of your order. They have a core menu with more classic pieces, like salmon or yellowtail, but the really good stuff is on their toyosu section—named after the famous fish market in Tokyo where their fish is flown in from daily. The selection is always changing, but you can expect to find things like aji (horse mackerel), bluefin otoro (extra fatty tuna belly), and hokkaido uni (sea urchin). Just keep in mind some of these bites definitely come at just-flown-in-from-Japan prices. 

Mackenzie Smith Kelley

Uchi review image

But while you can, and should, make some traditional nigiri a part of your order, also consider Uchi’s less conventional side. Because for every bite of bluefin akami (lean tuna loin), you can also expect to find things like a 72-hour short rib nigiri that tastes like it just spent those last three days in silent meditation to realize its true potential. The machi cure—one of their most popular dishes—is made up of multiple layers of yuca crisps, each topped with a slice of smoked yellowtail, marcona almonds, and Asian pear that have been pre-built into composed bites—they’re like nachos that don't play by the rules. Other classic dishes like the hama chili bring together yellowtail, ponzu, thai chili, and orange slices bring together familiar flavors in new combinations. It’s a nice reminder that even a couple decades later, Uchi still knows how to hang. 

There are a lot of things from 2003 that we’ll never forget—and while we honestly can’t tell you who won the last season of American Idol, Uchi’s name is one that Austin will remember for years to come. 

Food Rundown

Machi Cure

This is one of the most popular items at Uchi, consisting of thin yuca chips with smoked yellowtail, marcona almonds, and asian pear. Each bite is already built out for you and stacked on top of the last—like nachos but with all the ingredients swapped out—so there’s really no way to mess up eating this.

Mackenzie Smith Kelley

Uchi review image

Hama Chili

Another one of Uchi’s signature dishes, made up of a few slices of thick yellowtail swimming in a pool of spicy, tangy ponzu broth with some orange wedges for a bit of sweetness. This is one of those dishes that will have you putting orange slices on all of your fish moving forward, but probably with less excellent results.

Mackenzie Smith Kelley

Uchi review image

Nigiri

Unless you’re a fishmonger or Aquaman, there are probably a few pieces of fish you won’t be entirely familiar with. We like to just tell our server how many pieces we want and let them do the choosing. But there are also a few non-fish options, like a 72-hour short rib that’s crispy on the outside, but pretty much melts into a beef-flavored butter after that.

Mackenzie Smith Kelley

Uchi review image

Hot Rock

If there’s one dish that’ll draw the eyes (and envy) of everyone around you, it’s the hot rock. It’s a pretty simple dish. A few slices of raw A-5 wagyu, a little bowl of ponzu, and a really hot rock. Cook, dip, eat, smile, repeat.

Mackenzie Smith Kelley

Uchi review image

Zero Sen Roll

Most of the rolls here keep things pretty simple, but they never fail to bring interesting flavors together in unexpected combinations. Here we get yellowtail with avocado, shallots, and cilantro in a way that just works.

Mackenzie Smith Kelley

Uchi review image

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