Meet Uchiba, Chef Tyson Cole’s New Gourmet Cocktail Lounge in Downtown Austin
Learn what to expect and what to order at the Uchi team's latest addition to the local food and drink scene
It’s no secret that Chef Tyson Cole knows how to make a major impression on Austin’s dining scene. His iconic sushi restaurant Uchi regularly ranks among Austin’s most critically celebrated eateries, his more casual spot Uchiko is a happy hour all-star, and Loro (his collab with fellow Austin legend Aaron Franklin) attracts enthusiastic crowds on a daily basis. That’s why we were so excited to learn that Cole planned to open an Austin location of Uchiba, his stylish Dallas cocktail bar. Uchiba made its public debut on October 6, and now that we’ve had the chance to visit more than once, we’ll tell you what to expect, what you should order, and what makes Uchiba a very welcome addition to the downtown Austin food and drink scene.
Modeled after Japanese izakayas
Uchiba models its service after Japanese izakayas, which are casual bars serving cocktails, sake, and small plates designed to pair with their drink offerings. It’s a similar concept to Spanish tapas bars, and at Uchiba, the snacks and cocktails will be changed out on a seasonal basis to showcase the freshest-possible ingredients.
The overall aesthetic of Uchiba falls into several different categories — this isn’t a one-occasion venue, but rather a drinks destination that can suit multiple groups and gatherings. The entry area doubles as a cocktail lounge; while guests wait for a table or bar seat in the main dining room, they can relax on Nordic-inspired leather chairs and enjoy a beverage. The minimalist-meets-cozy vibes extend throughout the entire restaurant, from the polished marble bar to the gauzy white curtains to the upholstered banquettes to the wood paneling along the walls. It’s the chicest tavern you’ll ever visit, and that environment proves equally appropriate for a date night or an after-work happy hour.
An impressive cocktail menu
While Hai Hospitality (the parent company behind Uchi, Uchiba, and its other affiliated spots) is best known for Cole’s inventive food menus, Uchiba leans heavily into the cocktail side of the operation with impressive results. The cocktail menu includes a wide breadth of options; Uchiba highlights their own creative signature beverages, clever twists on classic cocktails, and an array of non-alcoholic and low-ABV options.
The Japanese influence shows through via prominent ingredient choices. For instance, Japanese whisky serves as the core spirit for many of these drinks, and elements like aged sake, yuzu, and dashi (a vegetable stock used as the base for miso soup) are used to add flavor dimension. Beverages like the Subarashi (a sweet, spicy, and smoky libation with reposado tequila, joven mezcal, and hibiscus-lime agave), the Nikko Martini (a classic martini with a twist–Lillet Blanc subs in for white vermouth and aged sake and umami bitters bring intriguing notes to this very dry drink), and the low-ABV Heiwa-chu Paloma (with grapefruit, anise, and earthy sweet potato shochu in place of tequila) give the Uchiba bar team the chance to play with bold flavors and unexpected combinations.
But the real showstopper of the cocktail list is the $25 A5 Cold Rock. This “deconstructed Old Fashioned” is served in four pieces: a rocks glass containing an ice sphere, a whisky glass with Suntory whisky that’s been washed with A5 Wagyu beef fat, a dropper filled with umami bitters and a syrup made with aged tamari and turbinado sugar, and an orange peel. The server will instruct you to first take a small taste of the whisky; the savory flavor of the Wagyu beef is immediately noticeable on the palate, and the richness of the fat lends the whisky an almost unctuous texture. Next, you’ll add a couple of droppers of the bitters-syrup blend (more drops will result in a sweeter cocktail, so use your own discretion) to the rocks glass. Then you’ll pour in the whisky and twist the orange peel over the glass to release its oils and aromatics before giving the drink and the ice sphere a good stir. The result is a beverage with plenty of familiar characteristics for cocktail enthusiasts, but a few unique touches and the interactive service model elevate it to a delightful degree.
Sharable plates and small dishes
In true izakaya fashion, the food offerings at Uchiba focus on shareable plates and small dishes. The structure of the menu makes it easy to build a full meal, but if you’re just looking for a light bite to tide you over in between cocktails, that’s also an easy option. Sushi, sashimi, and nigiri are all well represented (as one might expect from a sibling of Uchi and Uchiko), and while Uchiba provides plenty of toro and yellowtail and unagi and other seafood-based favorites, their determination to feature plant-based dishes on a sushi-heavy menu is an exciting choice. Mushroom dumplings, watermelon and eggplant nigiri, and tofu maki rolls all prove that meat-free diners will be very happy at Uchiba.
Yakitori, or grilled skewers, are staples on izakaya menus, so it stands to reason that Uchiba strives to serve the best-possible version of these whimsical drinking snacks. Pork belly with fish sauce caramel, portobello mushrooms with broccolini pesto, and Wagyu bulgogi with kimchi are among the many flavorful yakitori options available at Uchiba.
Perfect food & drink pairings
As we mentioned, the expert bartenders and chefs at Uchiba think a great deal about how their drinks and dishes should coexist, so we were excited to sample the “Perfect Pairs” section of the menu, which includes a spirits pour (or a mini cocktail) with a single bite of food. We especially enjoyed the musubi roll with Spam served alongside a pour of tepache (a fermented pineapple beverage from Mexico) and watermelon sashimi with kimoto (or fermented) sake
Beautifully designed, sophisticated space
Uchiba brings a remarkable combination of sophistication and casual coolness to the downtown bar scene. Whether you’re swinging by after work for a fantastic martini, meeting friends for pre-dinner snacks and cocktails, or settling in for a full dinner, Uchiba’s beautifully designed space, warm and informative hospitality, and high-octane flavors will make you glad that you chose to step in off of West 2nd Street. Learn more and book your table on the Uchiba website.