I’m sitting on the sushi counter at Kyoten Subsequent Door and feeling utterly weirded out. It’s solely partly due to the meals. I had simply downed a chunk of uncooked hamachi so buttery, it dissolved into nothingness in a fraction of a second. This vanishing act left me to marvel on the distinct grains of rice — tender, heat and spiked with a splash of vinegar.

But when that is proprietor Otto Phan’s second restaurant, how can or not it’s such a nice, well-run operation? It began the second I opened the door. Did somebody simply greet me with a good day and stroll me to a snug lounge space? What are all these meticulously positioned lighting fixtures and color-coordinated decorations on the partitions? How can Kyoten Subsequent Door be roughly 10 instances nicer than the final time I visited its sister restaurant Kyoten, but value a lot, a lot much less?

Phan landed in Chicago again in 2018 on a mission. The Texas chef opened Kyoten in a random, unmarked storefront in Logan Sq., declared it could be Chicago’s greatest sushi spot and overtly yearned for Michelin stars. Phan was undoubtedly brash, however his drive sounded actual. If that meant ignoring particulars unconnected to the meals, then he would. I nonetheless take into consideration the pristine fish I sampled 5 years in the past, however I additionally bear in mind how the room had all the atmosphere of a bare-walled bachelor pad.

The unique Kyoten has modified loads since then. It underwent a monthslong transform in 2021 with the assistance of designer Su Yang. Phan additionally shifted Kyoten’s focus to solely wild-caught fish, which had a big impact on the associated fee. When it opened in 2018, a seat at Kyoten went for the then-unheard-of worth of $220 per particular person. Quick ahead 5 years, Phan nonetheless doesn’t have that Michelin star, however seats now go for $440 to $490 per particular person, relying on the day.

So it’s a bit stunning {that a} 15-course meal at Kyoten Subsequent Door goes for under $159. “Kyoten grew to become a really costly restaurant,” Phan stated. “It made sense to take over the house subsequent door and supply a extra inexpensive possibility. Plus, as you mature and also you get sufficiently old, you wish to practice extra sous cooks and supply alternatives.” This explains why you gained’t discover Phan behind the counter of Kyoten Subsequent Door, however you can find the very hospitable Jorge Villa and Mugi (who goes by solely his first identify).

Well, Phan requested Yang to assist design the brand new house, and the result’s even lovelier. Costly sushi eating places are likely to cross off a frigid and steely environment as clever minimalism, however Kyoten Subsequent Door exudes a peaceful heat. Although not fairly on the absurd degree of precision discovered at The Omakase Room at Sushi-San, it’s nonetheless a pleasure to spend a pair hours right here consuming principally uncooked fish.

Kyoten Subsequent Door pretty, inexpensive than authentic

Together with the cheaper price, Phan needs prospects to know the important thing variations between his two eating places. Whereas Kyoten throws in plated dishes alongside the best way, Kyoten Subsequent Door retains it easy. “Kyoten Subsequent Door is solely a sushi restaurant,” Phan stated. “It’s nigiri, nigiri and nigiri, with a roll and tamago.” Subsequent Door additionally makes use of a unique type of rice (it’s barely smaller). It additionally makes use of quite a few farm-raised seafood choices, together with salmon from New Zealand, which Phan adores. “Some fish farms are doing actually good issues, and also you wish to promote them,” Phan stated. “The waters round New Zealand are unbelievable.”

Wherever it comes from, the salmon that begins the meal is luxuriously wealthy with none flabby greasiness. The meal races ahead from there, shifting from the firmer masu (typically referred to as cherry trout) to the sweeter madai (purple seabream). By the point I reached the aforementioned hamachi, I used to be practically in a trance.

The place most omakase eating places wind down the meal with a succession of progressively fattier cuts of tuna, Kyoten Subsequent Door brilliantly subverts this by placing them within the center. “In case you simply go lightest to heaviest, it’s going to be actually boring,” Phan stated. “Folks could be too full to understand essentially the most prized items.” Cooks with lengthy tasting menus, take be aware.

The leaner, crimson akami tuna has a easy and tender texture that’s additionally remarkably savory. Evaluate that with the toro, which had a lot fats it melts on contact together with your tongue. The following course amps up the fattiness much more, because the chef locations an absurdly wealthy, although slim slice of wagyu on prime and torches it till funky, beefy aromas whirl across the room.

From right here, fats turns into much less vital than texture. A plump, juicy and candy scallop, scored on prime to suit neatly on the rice, comes subsequent, refreshing your palate. The aji, Japanese horse mackerel, sports activities a shiny silver pores and skin, together with a agency, toothsome chew. Then comes uni, wrapped up with rice in crackly nori. Unhealthy uni is a mushy, muddled mess, however this felt like a rush of cooling saltwater.

The scallop, scored on top to fit neatly on rice, at Kyoten Next Door.
Aji, or Japanese horse mackerel, at Kyoten Next Door.

By the point I downed the tamago, the standard eggy dessert to a sushi meal, I used to be satisfied I had simply skilled one of the best omakase in Chicago. There have been no theatrics or elaborate toppings, simply chew after pristine chew. In my head, it was even higher than the meal I had at Kyoten 5 years in the past.

However what does that imply about its rather more costly sister? Is Kyoten Subsequent Door truly the higher possibility, particularly in the event you’re simply searching for a conventional sushi expertise? Or has Kyoten improved that a lot in 5 years? If it’s the latter, wouldn’t that make Kyoten one among Chicago’s greatest eating places?

I’ll let you understand how that goes subsequent.

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2513 W. Armitage Ave.

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Tribune ranking: Three stars, wonderful

Open: Wednesday to Sunday, 6-9:30 p.m.

Costs: $159 per particular person

Accessibility: Bogs on first ground

Noise: Dialog pleasant

Rankings key: 4 stars, excellent; three stars, wonderful; two stars, superb; one star, good; no stars, unsatisfactory. Meals are paid for by the Tribune.