Austin restaurant chain Zen became a sibling a few months ago, when founder Adam Weisberg opened Lucky Robot in the space that formerly housed the South Congress incarnation of Zen. It took me a few months to make it there, but my first meal there was so delightful that I was back again the next day.
Like Zen, Lucky Robot offers Japanese-inspired fare, but the dishes at Lucky Robot feel significantly more special to me than Zen's offerings. The flavors and presentation are much more refined, and the entire experience feels less "fast food-ish" than Zen, without too much of a markup (entrées run from about $8-$13, and the portions are very generous). Ordering is done via iPads on the tables, which is kind of fun, especially since the iPad version of the menu features photos of every dish. Also, the digital menu makes it easy to spot gluten-free, vegetarian, vegan, and low-calorie items, a feature that those on special diets will appreciate. One minor irritation with the iPad ordering system, though: it does not make it easy to split the ticket amongst multiple parties. Only one credit card can be used per transaction, and you don't get an itemized bill (the former issue is fixable if you ask your server to run the cards).
Wondering what to get? Here's what I've tried:
Bo Ssam ($8.50). Brown sugar-crusted pork belly...need I say more? Just in case the answer is yes, it's served with rice, red leaf lettuce, kim chee, ginger scallions and ssamjang (an amazing, spicy, bean-paste-based sauce that I am determined to recreate at home so I can put it on everything). Snuggle some pork belly up in a lettuce leaf, dress it with whatever of the other ingredients you like (in my case, all of them), roll it up, and go to town. Probably not recommended for a first date. Highly recommended for a tenth date (if s/he minds you eating delicious, messy food, you might as well kick them to the curb).
Lucky Robot is open 11a-10p Monday through Friday, and 10a-10p Saturday and Sunday. They offer a "Tokyo Brunch" both weekend days that features more typical brunch-ish entrées like eggs and pancakes, but with Asian riffs, like soft-shell crab, sriracha, and matcha green tea whipped cream. Much of their regular menu is available during brunch time, too, so if you'd rather start your day with a pile of pork belly, no one is going to stop you.
More craveworthy, moderately-priced, Asian-inspired fare in Austin? Lucky us.
1303 South Congress
Austin, TX 78704