Best of both worlds

Food & Wine says this East Austin restaurant is best in U.S.

Food & Wine says this East Austin restaurant is best in U.S.

Kemuri Tatsu-ya
Kemuri Tatsu-Ya was lauded by Food & Wine for its thoughtful combination of Japanese and Texas cuisines. Kemuri Tatsu-ya/Facebook

When Ramen Tatsu-Ya chefs Takuya Matsumoto and Tatsu Aikawa first introduced their idea for an Austin izakaya, the concept seemed audacious. It wasn’t as if the culinary world hadn’t seen fusion before, but the pair was doing it in an entirely new way. At their east side restaurant Kemuri Tatsu-Ya, Matsumoto and Aikawa are connecting the dots between Texas barbecue and traditional Japanese cuisine in part as a thesis on the immigrant experience in America.

If all that sounds heavy, it’s not something diners ever feel during the actual experience of the restaurant. Kemuri never mashes up influences for the sake of novelty, instead finding the natural links between its twin inspirations. That’s a big reason why after a little more than a year in business, the restaurant keeps racking up national accolades.

The latest comes from Food & Wine, who named the East Austin eatery one of its Restaurants of the Year on April 10. This is not the first time a major publication has noticed Kemuri. Last year, the restaurant also wound up on the exclusive Best New Restaurants list from Bon Appétit.

Food & Wine gave particular praise to the BBQ Tsukemen, a dish the magazine said “sums up the spirit of Kemuri.” The magazine called the ramen “a three-day labor of love that stacks collagen-rich chicken and pork feet for texture with smoked brisket burnt ends, kombu, and katsuobushi. The result is murky magic that you’ll want to polish off like a shot of whiskey.”

The magazine also cited the “house party” atmosphere, including customary greeting of “irasshaimase” (welcome) as soon as guests walk through the door. To the editors, the beverage program of schochu and Japanese whisky, along with snacks like cherry wood smoked edamame and a sticky rice tamale, is like “a tightrope strung between two cultures that feel, suddenly, like an obvious match.”

Kemuri joins Houston's Better Luck Tomorrow as the only other Texas restaurant on Food & Wine's list. Led by beverage pro Bobby Huegel and chef Justin Yu, the restaurant was lauded for being “the kind of all-occasion neighborhood restaurant that’s hard to come by in a sprawling city like Houston.”

As for Kemuri Tatsu-Ya, it will be up for another Restaurant of the Year honor on April 12 at Fair Market, when CultureMap presents our annual Tastemaker Awards.