UT alumnus Otto Phan was majoring in petroleum engineering, but he never felt that academia was exactly the right for him. Now, Phan has rolled a home for himself in sushi and chirashi bowls with his restaurant, Kyoten Sushiko.
When Kyoten Sushiko first opened in 2014, the Mueller-area restaurant was simply a food trailer parked on East 6th Street. In July 2016, the restaurant moved to its current upscale location. In addition to a designated “lunch area”, there is dinner seating area in a separate room away from the main area at a wooden bar facing the chef.
Dinner is served as an “omakase,” where diners eat from a 21-piece chef-preselected menu. Lunch, on the other hand, is a bit more casual and can be bought at the front counter. Although there is a steep price difference between lunch and dinner, Phan’s precision and dedication to his work are reflected in the quality of every roll he makes. Although a career in the culinary industry wasn’t his first dream, Phan’s love for food stemmed from his natural love for eating.
“I started cooking halfway through my college career,” Phan said. “I studied cooking more than I studied what I should have been studying, but I still graduated. I was already making sushi by my last year of college.”
Phan credits Tatsu Aikawa, owner of local restaurant Ramen Tatsu-Ya, for cultivating his interest in sushi.
“(Aikawa) took me in before he was making the best ramen in the city,” Phan said. “He was the head sushi chef at another restaurant and he hired me. Once I started making sushi, I never had another job since.”
After Phan realized his full potential as a chef, he decided to open his own place to beat out the competition.
“I realized I could be better than everyone else in Austin,” Phan said. “When (you) realize that (you) could be better than everyone else within a certain radius, that is when you do it.”
Phan credits his impressive skills to a strong work ethic and desire to learn from the best in the industry.
“You learn on the job,” Phan said. “If you are willing to work hard and get paid very little, you can go as far as you want in the culinary world. That is what makes the culinary world so wonderful and competitive. You work very hard for very little money and you can work in the best restaurants in the world.”
His restaurant has drawn several loyal customers in the UT community including biology freshman Brianna Fogel.
“Kyoten Sushiko is the best,” Fogel said. “It is such a cute, intimate place with tons of delicious options.”
Phan believes his dedication to traditional Japanese cuisine differentiates his food from his competitors. Although Phan is now an expert in sushi craft, he constantly strives to polish his abilities in order to continue his success.
“You have to work very hard and try to get better each day,” Phan said. “You have to have that same mentality day in and day out. The more effort you put in, the better results you’ll have. There are some things that will work better if you just sit on your couch, but sushi is not one of those things.”