I don’t know about you, but I’ve never heard of a Texas Izakaya before, and I know some of you might not have ever tried Izakaya in general —Japanese pub food— but Kemuri Tatsuya brings the heat (or just smoke) and opened this first concept marvelously! If you are a Ramen Tatsu-ya follower, it’s the same guys. One thing I’ve found hard about Austin since moving back from NYC, is that it’s very rare to see a restaurant open with an original concept and to see a menu with dishes that aren’t already flashing around the Austin dining scene. The space they took over on the east side used to be Live Oak Barbecue, and they have kept their smoker to add life to their entire menu. You heard right, smoked meats in Japanese form. Therefore, we’ve got Smoked Eel, Mackerel, Fish Collar, Pork and Rice Sausage, Beef Tongue, Kurobuta Pork Belly, etc.
The inside is pretty dark and feels exactly like what happens when you cross a Japanese gastropub with a Texas BBQ restaurant. It has quite a collection of both cultures signs from Texas Independence Day and Big Red to Japanese pop stars, and curry photos that look like imitations of Andy Warhol’s tomato soup can. Outside you’ll find large format booths with red lanterns, and you can see the smoker.
The menu is divided into Munchies, Smoked, Skewers, Rice Stuff, Ramen, and they do have lots of daily specials that are rare like Grilled Rayfins and Fish Liver. If nothing else, please start with the “Hot Pocketz.” I repeat gouda and brisket smashed into one of the best bread wrappings that is somehow made out of tofu but delicious. Make sure to add the jalapeño accompaniment to your bites. To be honest, this isn’t something I’d normally order at a restaurant like this where there are so many unique meats and proteins to try, but I’m certainly glad I did as it melted in my mouth and is something I’ll order every time I’m back. I loved the Cucumber Sunonmono with nori Vinaigrette and Chili Oil as it’s very refreshing and will be a good palette beginner before all the smokiness. Skip the smoked octopus addition. It’s not as tender as you’d expect.
The Fish Collar is the best dish on the Smoked menu. It’s flaky as can be, really cool to look at because let’s be honest, have you seen a fish collar on your plate? It’s dressed with yuzu salt and lemon and can serve two healthfully and three if you are willing to share more. I like the eel a lot as well but after I had the smoky octopus and fish collar I was ready for a different flavor. The Miso Marinated Scallop skewer is another home run. Buttery and lovely as can be.
We ended on the Sticky Rice Tamale stuffed with beef tongue, chorizo, and shiitake. The theme of this restaurant is really to give you a wild ride and adventure. You don’t have a complete idea what you are getting and it is such a satisfying surprise every time! This “tamale” is really rice wrapped around all the other ingredients in a tamale looking form. Obviously, I loved this as well because it’s a Mex-Japanese hybrid done well.
Besides smelling like smoke when I went to bed and tasting a little smoke in my throat still, I have no complaints about Kemuri Tatsu-Ya. It’s a great place to take friends in town where you can get a big table and really enjoy something authentic and true to Austin. There is something for everyone if you don’t want to try some of the unique dishes – they do have a poké and classic karaage fried chicken thigh bites. It’s no surprise it made GQ’s Best New Restaurants List for 2017.
!! Beware: Closed Monday and Tuesday!!