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Is Uchi a must for West Coasters who already eat their weight in seafood?

Advise me please dear Austin 'hounders:

6 of us will be visiting Austin for the first time at the end of May. I'll be in town for 4 nights (wed-sun), the rest for 3 nights (thurs-sun). We're all West Coast ladies in our early 30's, and are visiting for the first time.

I've been tasked with organizing the dinner destinations and have been given the following instructions: excellent food, quintessentially Austin, fun atmosphere, no jacket/tie required.

So far, I've decided on the following:

Thurs: something casual as the others will be tired from traveling. Likely tex-mex/interior mexican or bbq, not sure where yet but there are hundreds of posts on these topics. That said, is Fonda really romantic? I've read a few comments that it's romantic, and I'd hate to drag a group of ladies there if we'll be the only group in a room full of doe-eyed couples.

Friday: Max's Wine Dive

Saturday: Uchi

Vespaio was also in the running for either Friday or Saturday, but I think the group would prefer Max's.

Bbq is going to have to happen in there somewhere, as will a few taco stands, but I'm afraid there are only so many meals we can handle! So, dear friends, I am looking to you for guidance: is Uchi really a must do for West Coasters? Is it quintessentially Austin or should we use that night for either bbq or mexican (two types of cuisine that we are sadly lacking where we're from).

I read in one of the threads that there was some nasty back and forth between some recent visitors from Seattle who had dined at Uchi. I regard these comments warily, and I think they've since been removed as I can't find anything but outstanding reviews about this resto.

If you do suggest we dine at Uchi, what can we expect dinner to run per person? I've seen the menu, but don't know the portions and they suggest eating "family style" so I have no concept of how much we'll be ordering.

Thanks, as always, for the wonderful advice!

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  1. Uchi should still be on your list! I just moved back to Austin after four years of sushi heaven in the Bay Area, and I still think Uchi is amazing, both in quality of sushi and experimentation with the menu. It's just not like any other sushi restaurant. But it is a little pricier than your average nice sushi joint - plates aren't huge, but they're very rich, so a little goes a long way.

    1 Reply
    1. re: 2kindsofcheese

      Wonderful, thank you. I called Uchi and they're maxed out for their reservations on both Fri and Sat. I suspected as such. Any ideas what time we should be showing up to be seated around 8 or so? There are 6 of us.

    2. Uchi is a must for everybody/anybody! Yes.

      1. I don't know. Uchi is pretty good, but I'd suggest doing more Mexican/Tex-Mex/and BBQ while you are here vs places like Max's & Uchi. While good, Max's and Uchi are similar in style to many restaurants on the West Coast so I'd suggest concentrating more on places that are harder to duplicate out there.

        1 Reply
        1. re: Mike B

          Do you mean places like Fonda and Salt Lick etc? I hate narrowing down the names because I realize that the topic (bbq especially) is as firecely debated as religion... Tex-mex though seems to be a little less fierce - I keep hearing Fonda over and over again. thoughts?

        2. Fonda San Miguel would be just fine for a group of gals! It's interior-mex rather than tex-mex, so you can eat there as well as a tex-mex place!

          As far as quantity at Uchi, I'm usually there as one of a group of four persons, and it seems like generally each dish or roll provides two bites/portions for each of the four of us. We usually order about five dishes, I think, for the four of us. You may have a two hour wait.

          1. fonda is a pretty cool environment and not overwhelmed by couples. Inre Uchi- Think Nobu, maybe better.

            2 Replies
              1. re: ieathereforeiam

                I never considered Fonda to be a romantic place.-lots of kids there on weekends but I never really cared for it as much as others on this board

              2. As an early 30s lady myself I say absolutely on Uchi. I have lived in LA and NYC and Uchi is the best overall food/experience combo of any japanese restaurant I've been to. It is tough for a group as they only have one or two tables that seat 6, so I would go around 6:30 if you want to sit down by 8/8:30. Go down the street to Paggi House for a drink if you don't want to wait there. I would budget $75/person if you're ordering mid priced wine/sake.

                I do not recommend Max's. I've been twice now since it opened and while the food is tasty it is impossible to find anything on the menu that's healthy but if you're ok with lots of heavy fried food in a really loud atmosphere then go for it. I think there are much better places out there.

                Other recommendations for a group: Vespaio, Lambert's, Perla's, La Condesa, Olivia are all fun, trendy places with great food. I love Fonda San Miguel although it will be a slightly older crowd and is not in downtown or SoCo but it's worth going.

                2 Replies
                1. re: egood

                  Obviously, the reason we love chowhound is the wealth of opinions, but I would not recommend Uchi for someone who lives in LA, SF, or NY.

                  When I lived in LA, people would recommend CA barbeque for visitors and I would cringe. Don't get me wrong Dr. Hogly Wogly Tyler Texas barbeque was some of the best in LA, but would be out of business in Austin within a year.

                  I am not putting Uchi anywhere near that same category, but I would generally recommend Mexican or barbeque to visitors because our bad Mexican and barbeque would trump their best. Manuel's may be an answer (while the food is not as good as Fonda San Miguel, it is downtown and good.

                  1. re: egood

                    egood - I really appreciate the comment about healthiness. I've actually just posted another question about healthy options in Austin (eg Borboleta, Bouldin Creek Coffee House etc). Do you have any other healthy recommendations for breakfast, lunch, dinner? Simple, clean, fresh, preferably organic finds are very welcome. I'm guessing Whole Foods is an obvious stop. Thanks in advance!

                  2. I'm so grateful to all of you for your responses. I think we're going to leave this one up to the foodie Gods as Uchi is fully booked on the nights we're looking. I have put us down on the cancellation list but something tells me that if we want to try the resto, we'll have to put in our time in line - which will really depend on how keen the rest of the group is. I'll keep you posted!

                    2 Replies
                    1. re: sf toronto

                      2 cents, and late at that-but no one seemed to answer one of your questions. I'd say $75 a person pretty easily with wine.

                      But I'm always kind of baffled by people who go to Uchi for the sushi...there are literally dozens of places, all perfectly adequate that have great sushi.
                      I say that to say that sushi seems a waste-what you get at Uchi is one of the most inspired Japanese menu's I have ever seen, with excellent execution, from appetizers to deserts.

                      1. re: NWLarry

                        Amen! For "traditional" sushi/sashimi in Austin, it's impossible to beat Musashino, IMHO. Not only the quality of the fish and the preparation has no rivals, the portions are very generous. Afterall, Uchi's Tyson Cole apprenticed at Musashino for 6+ years.

                        I go to Uchi to enjoy Tyson's amazing creativeness with Japanese cuisine.

                    2. Well dear Austin 'hounds, I've been back on the Coast for a week and I'm still missing your fine city. Thanks to all for weighing in on my various posts and for leading me down the path to good eats.

                      Uchi didn't end up in the cards (the only opening was for 5:30 and a 2 hour wait wasn't going over well with half of the group). Nevertheless, we had many a memorable meal and here's the mini report:

                      Vespaio - sat in the bar area my first night (was just 2 of us at this point) and had the Cioppino (seafood stew in a rich, tomato broth). I was in comfort food heaven as was my friend who had the risotto with lamb. My friend, the self-professed lamb conoisseur (she hikes up a hill in Croatia every second year to feast on lamb roasted in an open spit that she claims is the best on earth) savoured every morcel and believed it to be one of the best cuts she'd ever tasted (outside of Croatia!). I'm still amazed at how fresh the seafood was throughout Austin. I'd never imagined that I'd enjoy it so much, but it really was fantastic.

                      Max's Wine Dive: again, another superb meal for all involved (6 of us). The service (Molly was our waitress) was excellent and the food outstanding. I was a little worried about what I'd be eating this night as I tend to stick to clean and simple meals and I'd read that I wouldn't be able to find anything healthy. The kitchen had no problems accomodating my request and sent out a beautifully grilled piece of salmon with a simple side of steam spinach. It was perfect really, especially after devouring the fried oyster appetizers! The rest of the group noshed on the boar and fried chicken and were thoroughly pleased.

                      Casa de Luz: While I made it to Casa, I never had the chance to eat as it was a couple of hours before my flight and I was already stuffed. From what I could tell though, the food was totally up my alley. Alas, it will have to be one of my first stops next time I'm back in town. The staff did suggest that I pop into Daily Juice before heading to the airport though, so I stopped in and picked up what has to be one the yummiest smoothies I've had in a while. I think it was called the Subliminator (berries, peanut butter and 100 other ingredients), but man oh man was it delish.

                      Bouldin Creek Coffee House - dragged one of my friends here for breakfast one morning and was in veggie heaven. The vibe of this place is so perfect that if I didn't have to get back to the hotel to greet the rest of the group who was arriving that morning, I would have lingered for the entire day. I shared this meal with the professed lamb conoisseur (see Vespaio entry above) who has also declared that she won't eat a meal if it isn't accompanied by meat. Needless to say, she didn't know that Bouldin was a veg resto until we arrived, and although I was greeted with the momentary "I'm going to strangle you" glare when she found out, she seemed rather thrilled with her meal. In fact, she not only said that it was remarkably good (the beans won her over) but I even overheard her recommending the joint to others during our stay. I'd probably be at Bouldin every week if I lived in the 'hood.

                      Driskill Grill/Bar - as it turned out, we ended up eating breafast at the Grill every morning, and while I can't offer a comparison, I can tell you that we were a tough crowd of 6. I say though because our palates varried between "I need meat at every meal" to "oatmeal and green tea, please" so needless to say the kitchen certainly had their work cut out for them every morning. The breafasts couldn't have been fresher, cleaner, or more consistent. As for the bar, we sampled everything off the menu during happy hour (fabulous happy hour, btw) and again I was blown away by the quality of the seafood. The prawns and tuna sashimi were regular requests among our group!

                      Honourable mention - finally, props are a must for the Kababalicious stand just off 6th Street (is it 7th?). It's unfortunate that one has to navigate through the street urchins that frequent 6th to get to this gem, but let me tell you, that falafel was one of the best falafels I've ever sunk my teeth into... and trust me, I've eaten a lot of authentic Lebanese food. The food was so good that the rest of the group made a nightly pilgrimage here for a variety of kebabs and falafels.

                      That's about it, folks. Really just an excuse to write and let you all know how much I appreciated the input. Uchi will have to wait!

                      Till next time...

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: sf toronto

                        Thanks for the detailed follow-up. That doesn't happen that often. It is nice to get an outsiders opinion of Austin!