Restaurant Review: North Austin's Ebisu Japanese Restaurant Boasts Fresh Modern Sushi

Anyone for sake mac & cheese and other tasty surprises?

Ebisu Japanese Restaurant

13376 Hwy. 183 N. #400, 512/243-5554,
Mon.-Thu., 11am-2:30pm & 4:30-10pm; Fri.-Sat., 11am-2:30pm & 4:30-11pm; Sun., 11am-9pm
Nigiri (Photos by John Anderson)

Few things in this business give me more pleasure than simply writing about fantastic dining experiences that occur, sans controversy, outside the well-beaten path of PR reps, pricey Downtown real estate, and festival circuits. Such is the case with a new Japanese eatery named for the Japanese god of fishermen and luck – one of the Seven Gods of Fortune – as well as a major district of Shibuya, Tokyo (known for Yebisu Garden Place): Ebisu claims the "freshest sushi in North Austin, TX." And so it seems to be.

Sake mac & cheese
Sake mac & cheese

Located in the Galleria Oaks Shopping Plaza off Anderson Mills and Highway 183, in the building that formerly housed Hoover's and Thai Passion, this restaurant marries the simplicity of well-crafted sushi with gorgeous presentation while successfully tackling a large menu of other items. They offer pretty great service, and the atmosphere is clean, dimly lit, and welcoming with déjà-vu-level familiarity (what was this building's first iteration?). It's no surprise that the three-person team behind Ebisu brings decades of experience to the table. Executive Chefs Jay Chung and Joo Chung run Yanagi, a five-store Japanese restaurant chain in California, and made the move to Texas late last summer.

Ebisu Ol’ Fashioned
Ebisu Ol’ Fashioned

My first visit was a girlfriend's birthday dinner, party of six, with mixed levels of sushi knowledge, on a busy Saturday night. It's worth noting that with three visits under my belt, I've yet to make or need to make a reservation, though they do take them. It's refreshing to just pop into a nice spot to eat, no planning ahead necessary.

North Austin's Ebisu Japanese Restaurant Boasts Fresh Modern Sushi

We started with delightful miso soup and spicy edamame, allowing time to digest the diverse menu, which is broken into 11 sections: starters (hot and cold), donburi (rice bowls), salads, hot platters, combinations, sushi/sashimi, specialty rolls, noodles, desserts, and drinks. Their delicious Old-Fashioned is made with Bulleit bourbon, Meletti amaro, Angostura bitters, and served with two skewers of spiced pork belly and Luxardo cherries. We opted to order a metric ton of rolls, family-style, and were genuinely pleased with every offering, as well as the service.

North Austin's Ebisu Japanese Restaurant Boasts Fresh Modern Sushi

These are not your average American 1-inch-diameter six-slice rolls, turned inside-out with rice outside of the nori and stuffed mostly with cream cheese and "spicy tuna," though they do offer rolls with those ingredients. Chung's intense level of expertise and dedication to artful plating exceeds expectations, and most of his rolls clock in at almost two inches and eight pieces, prompting oohs and aahs across the table with every delivery. I'd need much more space to detail each of the rolls, but handily, the menu features both descriptions and vibrant photos. The Ebisu, 911, Spider, Hot Nights, Firecracker, Tarantula, and Sexy (no rice) rolls were among our collective favorites, but the lobster roll – an incredibly decadent platter, served warm, of baked "baby" lobster with crabmeat and masago wrapped with soybean paper and slathered in unagi (eel) sauce and mayo – is memorable to say the least. In fact, I'm unsure what would happen if one person devoured this almost-too-rich creation alone, but it's probably somewhere in the neighborhood of a DMT trip – you know, the "spirit molecule" associated with ethereal visions during near-death experiences.

We lived, and the owner, who has been working the floor hosting, serving, and greeting at each visit, also brought a complimentary crispy salmon skin salad for the group and returned again with an on-the-house green tea tiramisu for the birthday gal.

It's not all modern sushi rolls here, though, and Ebisu might be one of the best lunch options in town, with affordable combinations and sushi options. One of my writers joined me midday midweek, and we went an entirely different route. I'd seen mention on Instagram of their sake mac & cheese, served with tubular pasta, a béchamel/sake reduction, hondashi, and scallions with a threaded pickled beet garnish. I thought about this small, wonderful side constantly until I returned weeks later just so my boyfriend could try it. The blistered shishitos were executed perfectly, and our beef bibimbap, one of a handful of Korean dishes, arrived sizzling hot, allowing the rice on the bottom to crisp nicely. To be clear, many of the bold rolls are too saucy for my liking, so this trip we opted for the Futomaki, with Japanese pickled veggies, cucumber, avocado, fish powder, and tamago wrapped traditionally (with the nori outside/rice inside). Delicious, though it might have actually been too large – hard to eat whole, not conducive to cutting. And again, the service was friendly and knowledgeable.

Date night, my third visit, was unique in that the service was lackluster (perhaps because our server seemingly had friends at the bar, where she was also making some drinks; her peers and the omnipresent owner filled in the gaps), but the food was even more enjoyable. Again, that sake mac & cheese: I just adore it, particularly when juxtaposed with bright, fresh nigiri and very hearty pork katsu – maybe the largest katsu portion I've ever seen, and the juiciest, with a lovely golden fry. My guy declared he'd happily return for that dish alone. Our hamachi crudo was delicate, the fresh jalapeños a welcomed kick in the palate. In addition to a solid cocktail menu, Ebisu has a nice selection of hot and cold sake, soju, and Japanese whiskeys. I also opted for the signature sushi, a 10-piece chef selection of incredibly fresh, generously portioned, beautiful fish – ours featured bonus pieces of monkfish liver and uni in nori. My hamachi toro (yellowfin tuna belly), a favorite litmus test, was as buttery and delectable as any I've had.

I'll definitely be back soon for happy hour, as they boast Monday specials and a daily reverse happy hour, and I'm excited to try the seafood yaki udon, sashimi sampler, and Mountain roll. And while I'm unsure if this review conveys much more than a hardcore appreciation of the menu, that's the thing: Ebisu lives and breathes within the balance of elevated/approachable dining and straightforward/beautiful creations. Their primary focus is excellent food, not reinventing the wheel, and their passion is evident across the menu. More restaurants would be well-served to follow suit.

13376 Hwy. 183 N. #400
Mon.-Thu., 11am-2:30pm & 4:30-10pm; Fri.-Sat., 11am-2:30pm & 4:30-11pm; Sun., 11am-9pm

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for over 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

More Food Reviews
Restaurant Review: Birdie’s
Restaurant Review: Birdie's
A neighborhood restaurant, for some

Melanie Haupt, May 6, 2022

Restaurant Review: JewBoy Sub Shop
Restaurant Review: JewBoy Sub Shop
Remembrance of subs past

Melanie Haupt, Feb. 18, 2022

More by Jessi Cape
Gardeners and Librarians Join Forces to Catalog Seeds
Gardeners and Librarians Join Forces to Catalog Seeds
Seed banking on the future

April 22, 2022

Tips for Starting Your Seed Collection
Tips for Starting Your Seed Collection
Home gardener Jennymarie Jemison shows you how to save seeds

April 22, 2022


Japanese, sushi

One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Can't keep up with happenings around town? We can help.

Austin's queerest news and events

Eric Goodman's Austin FC column, other soccer news

Behind the scenes at The Austin Chronicle

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle