It is no secret that Japan is my favorite place to visit. If I ever got the opportunity to move there, I would in a heartbeat. Until that day comes, I’m here in Austin, TX always on the lookout for how I can get my Japan fix in between trips to the Land of the Rising Sun. Fun fact, Austin has many “sister cities” including Oita in Japan.
There are a bunch of Japanese restaurants/attractions in Austin but this is a list of places that specifically remind me of my trips to Japan. Without further ado, here are my top places to get a little bit of Japan in Austin, TX.
Convenience stores in Japan are pure magic. The snacks, the drinks, and the surprisingly delicious meals are hallmarks of a great konbini. Asahi Imports brings all that and more to Austin. It’s equal parts konbini, grocery, and gift shop. There is an excellent selection of snacks from Japan and grocery items you won’t find in most stores to fill out any recipe lists for making your own Japanese meals at home. But the best part is the onigiri corner. For the uninitiated, onigiri is a nori wrapped rice ball that has a filling. The filling can range from fish, to pickles, to shrimp, honesty you can put just about anything in there. Onigiri are a staple of Japanese convenience stores and biting into one from Asahi will take you right to Japan.
This is one of my favorite places to get sushi in Austin. Ichiban is Austin’s original tatami-style restaurant. There are regular tables but if you want to have a special experience ask for one of the tatami-mat booths. You are required to take off your shoes before sitting in the booth, just like many restaurants in Japan. My favorite thing to order here, besides sushi is takoyaki. After my first trip to Japan I fell in love with this street food and searched high and low to find a place in Austin that made it. Eventually I found Ichiban and their perfect takoyaki that tastes exactly like the ones I bought from a vendor at a cherry blossom festival in Tokyo.
A 100¥ store directly from Japan! This is the Japanese equivalent to a dollar store. At Daiso you can find inexpensive snacks, homegoods, stationary, beauty products, and so much more! It’s a fun place to explore and grab up a bunch of Japan goodies at a low price point.
Kura Revolving Sushi
Every time I’ve been to Japan I love to spend at least one meal at a conveyor belt sushi restaurant. There is something so fun about seeing those little plates of sushi buzzing around! At Kura you can get the full conveyor belt experience. There are premade dishes to grab off the belt or you can place an order through the touchscreen at each table. It’s a great way to sample a bunch of different dishes. It is especially fun if you go with a group because at each table is a gacha machine and the more plates you order the more prizes you can win.
Transport yourself to Harajuku with kawaii character macaroons, jiggly cheesecake, and tasty taiyaki by visiting OMG Squee. They have other delights like boba, soft serve with rotating flavors, and even some specialty seasonal items like pie! If you have your heart set on a jiggly cheesecake I recommend ordering in advance, they are super popular and sell out quickly. And, yes, get the powdered sugar on top!
This is one of my favorite restaurants in Austin. DipDipDip is an upscale shabu-shabu restaurant. If you are unfamiliar with shabu-shabu it’s like if hot pot and fondue had a Japanese baby. This is one of the few restaurants that I’ve been to in Austin where I cannot stop talking about the food and the experience. It’s a lot of fun to select your menu and cook your meal right at your table.
Attached to DipDipDip is a Pop-Up sandwich and ice cream shop. Originally they were serving ice cream in cones but have most recently been selling ice cream tacos and pints to go. The sandwiches are all Japanese inspired flavors like shrimp tempura and chicken karaage. I recently picked up a pint of the Strawberry Yuzu Cookie and fell in love.
Now we are getting fancy! Otoko is an intimate restaurant featuring an incredible multi-course omakase experience, putting together tokyo-style sushi and kyoto-style kaiseki. It reminds me of the best sushi I’ve had in Tokyo and the delicate courses I enjoyed in Kyoto. There’s nothing quite like stepping into Otoko and being transported directly to Japan through the beautiful setting and delightful dishes of each course. A couple of times a year they also host a tuna breakdown where a whole tuna is brought in from Japan and head chef Yoshi Okai expertly butchers the fish in front of a cheering crowd. Can I consider this my favorite spectator sport? Bites of fresh tuna are prepared by the team from Otoko and handed out. If this event comes across your calendar be sure to book tickets.
Another store directly from Japan, Kinokuniya is a bookstore stocked full of manga, magazines, Japanese books, and stationary. Japanese stationary is the best! There are also movies and gifts. Most specifically there is an impressive section dedicated to Studio Ghibli.
Zilker Botanical Garden
This is one I just recently found out about when I started getting emails from JASGA. There is a Japanese Garden in the Zilker Botanical Garden and it is beautiful! The garden was created in the late 1960s by Isamu Taniguchi, an Austinite who was born near Osaka. The garden was a gift to Austin and arguably has one of the best views of the Austin skyline. In fact the main gate to the garden was given as a gift to Austin from its sister city in Japan Oita.