Everywhere Austin Chef Yoshi Okai Eats and Drinks on His Days Off
Follow the Otoko chef's gameplan, from breakfast whiskey to dinnertime mussels
Sit down at Otoko in Austin, and you’ll meet Yoshi Okai. The fun-loving chef serves a unique tasting menu blending Tokyo-style sushi with Kyoto-style kaiseki in the 12-seat restaurant, and he also runs the attached izakaya, Watertrade, which serves bar bites alongside Japanese whiskies, sakes and cocktails.
Born in Kyoto, Japan, Okai moved to Austin in 1998 to focus on his band, eventually working in restaurants and honing his sushi skills at local favorites Uchi and Uchiko before landing at Otoko in 2015.
When not working, Okai still plays in a band: Kuroneko (“Black Cat”), a reference to a 1968 Japanese horror film. He says that he sees parallels between making sushi and making music: they both require flexibility, and they both make people happy. It’s a nice sentiment. And to ensure you’re happy the next time you’re wandering around Austin, he shared some of his favorite dishes and drinks in town.
Follow his lead, and you could start and end your day with whiskey.
“On my days off, I wake up and go to Yellow Jacket for shots of whiskey and tequila. Maybe I shouldn’t say that, but it’s true. For eating, though, I’m going to Clark’s. Champagne and oysters are my favorite. On work days, I don’t eat anything, I might just steal pastries from the hotel. [laughs] I used to make smoothies at home and drink tea. I need to do more of that again, but I’m so busy!”
“Normally I’m staying on the East Side. Sometimes I go to Paperboy — they open early and their sandwiches are huge, and pretty cheap, too. It’s really good. I go to Kinda Tropical sometimes, but it feels more like snacks than lunch. The yucca fries are so good, and the fried shrimp with rice is good, too. So easy, good food, nice drinks, with outside seating.”
Coffee and Snacks
“I don’t drink coffee. Too much caffeine makes my hands shake, but I like matcha. I go to Mañana, which is right downstairs [from Otoko]. I also drink kombucha. My favorite is Matcha Peachu from Kosmic. It’s so good. For snacks, I like LoLo. I haven’t been in too long, but I like it. Sardines with tomato sauce is my favorite there. June’s All-Day is also good for all-day snacks and outdoor seating. I don’t eat meat, so I like the fried eggplant there and the salt cod croquettes — and wine, of course.”
“Dinner is easy. I always go to Justine’s or Suerte. At Justine’s I get mussels with fries, escargot and crab salad with avocado, then I’ll drink an espresso martini because I don’t have to work, so it doesn’t matter if my hands shake. I like Suerte because it’s always changing. Ceviche, tacos, a random mushroom dish…whatever Chef Fermín Núñez makes, I eat! Fermín is always making good food.”
“Drinking is easier to answer. I like Yellow Jacket, White Horse, The Liberty, Frazier’s, Nickel City and The 13th Floor. Most important are the Jell-O shots with Pop Rocks at Frazier’s — they’re so good and so cheap. Those are all my neighborhood places to go. They’re like my living room. I also like The Roosevelt Room and Small Victory for fancy cocktails.”
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